Thursday, January 8, 2009
No Child Left Inside - Rants and Raves
There was some great discussion going on recently over on Garden Rant about the No Child Left Inside Legislation that has passed in the House of Representatives. There was some debate about whether federal funds should be allocated for environmental education programs. Here’s a great video that explains why these programs are important.
It can be very hard to persuade schools to make “Edible Schoolyard”-type programs a part of the curriculum. In our school, the 4th grade science curriculum includes a unit on plants, but otherwise, this is something that teachers need to fit into their schedule. With the pressure they are under to prepare students for standardized tests (ala No Child Left Behind), it’s not surprising that the greenhouse experience is not always real high on their priority list. An Edible Schoolyard program would also compete with arts and athletic programs – and they have their own advocates who also (rightly) feel shortchanged.
In our school, the Courtyard Garden Committee is part of the PTA and a great deal of the garden maintenance money comes out of the PTA budget. The parent volunteers pretty much go from classroom to classroom, knocking on doors, peddling projects to the teachers. The teachers are receptive to a point, and become more receptive when supplies are delivered. They sometimes shy away from regular maintenance once plants have germinated, because it requires a time commitment that they just don’t have.
It’s too bad that that children aren’t taught more practical skills in school. Who is to say that making salsa from tomatoes and herbs that they’ve planted themselves isn’t more practical than mathematics. It’s too bad that they can identify more corporate logos than species of plants in their own backyards. Any federal funds that can address this would be welcome, I think.
Another goal is to interest children in the outdoors so that they get off the couch, away from the TVs, computers and video games, and outside playing and exploring their neighborhoods. What’s standing in the way? Parents. They are afraid to let their kids out of their sight because the media has convinced them that child abductors and perverts lurk behind every tree. They’re afraid that their kids won’t remember to look both ways when crossing the street. They are too busy to accompany their children on outdoor adventures. They’ve spent hundreds of dollars on video game systems and naturally they want them to be used.
I gotta admit that I'm somewhat guilty on all counts. I don’t know what the answers are, but I’m learning a lot from blogs like Free Range Kids, where Lenore Skenazy explores questions like why we feel the need to drive our kids to the bus stop, and why you might be called by the police if you allow your child to ride the train on his own. On Mike Lanza’s Playborhood blog, he writes about how he’s turning his front yard into an outdoor family room to encourage parents and kids in his neighborhood to socialize outdoors. Here in Rockland County, NY, Sonia Cairo at Keep Rockland Beautiful is putting together an Earth B.E.A.T enrichment program to take into schools with activities for kids that demonstrate gardening, recycling, energy conservation and nature study. Local educators can check out their Earth B.E.AT. School-to-School Symposium here.