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Mapping to Increase Student Awareness of Local Wildlife

Originally appears in the Summer 2012 issue

During most of our 200,000-year existence, human beings have lived close to the land, hunting and foraging for food and using the habitat to create shelters and clothing[1]. It is not surprising, then, that people who rarely or never spend time in nature are more prone to illness, aggression, anxiety, and depression[2]. Only in recent human history have we separated ourselves from nature, destroying natural habitats to build concrete cities.

Nowadays, we spend most of our time indoors in climate-controlled environments, and it is not unusual for children to spend very little time outside. Overprotective parents and busy schedules ensure that children’s time outside is spent on structured and supervised activities, not exploring nature. Children who don’t spend time freely exploring the environment miss out on developmental benefits, including the improvement of motor skills, socio-emotional well being, and cognitive skills, such as sense of direction and awareness of one’s surroundings[3], or, as Richard Louv familiarly calls it, “nature-deficit disorder”.

As teachers, we can all help combat nature-deficit disorder by taking our students outside for school activities as often as possible. Taking students into a local, familiar natural area[4], such as their school grounds, will aid them in understanding ecological concepts and how their local ecology is influenced by human activities. Once they discover plants and animals on school grounds, students will be enlightened to the life that constantly surrounds them. This in turn will help them begin to form a relationship with nature. As we know, students who spend time learning about natural areas feel a greater sense of ownership towards those areas, and are more likely to protect or restore the environment[5].

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Hannah Wyatt teaches 7th grade science at White Oak Middle School in Cincinnati, Ohio.