Connecting Children to Nature

by Inside the Outdoors Foundation
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Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
The Mission Continues - OC 1st Service Platoon
The Mission Continues - OC 1st Service Platoon

Over the past year, Inside the Outdoors Foundation has forged a meaningful partnership with The Mission Continues - Orange County 1st Service Platoon.   The Mission Continues is a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting veteran volunteers and innovative community organizations to create transformational change for communities in need all across the country.  Their goal is to empower veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact.  Veterans are deployed on new missions in their communities, so that their actions will inspire future generations to serve.

The Orange County 1st Service Platoon partners with community stakeholders in order to enhance underserved neighborhoods. "We believe in serving those who serve the community and achieve our mission through partnerships with non-profit organizations by tackling issues with a hands-on approach."  Focuses include improving school environments through facility renovation and beautification, increasing community and parent involvement, and promoting health awareness through school gardens and green spaces for physical activity.

On Saturday, November 17, 2018, 24 members of the Mission Continues - Orange County 1st Service Platoon and volunteers from the Wounded Warrior Projects spent the day working on site improvements and restoring habitat at Inside the Outdoors’ headquarters and field trip site on the 105-acre property at Rancho Soñado.  Rancho Soñado is an environmental education facility located in the Santa Ana Mountains.  Surrounded by preserves and national forest, Rancho Soñado gives students a chance to explore local ecology in a pristine environment represented by four Ecosystems: pond, riparian area, oak woodland, and chaparral.  60% of students attending an Inside the Outdoors program come from underserved communities and are sponsored through grants and donations.

The Mission Continues restored habitat by removing cattails obstructing local wildlife access in and around the pond at Ranch Soñado.  The pond lab station allows students to perform a "Westland Assessment" and practice the scientific method to determine if non-living factors are suitable for sustaining organisms.  Working in teams, students measure the temperature, pH, clarity and salinity of the water.  They also survey plant and animal varieties, compile their data and develop conclusions. 

In addition, the Orange County 1st Service Platoon performed maintenance on the "Energy Trail" used by students to learn about different native animals and how to identify where they get their energy. Service volunteers also built tabletop greenhouses for use in propagating plants that will be donated to local school gardens, constructed a new site kiosk and refurbished the picnic tables where students learn about the factors of a Zero Waste Lunch: recycling, reusing and composting to benefit the environment.

Platoon Leader, Emmanuel Martinez, runs the Orange County 1st Service Platoon like a well-oiled machine. He scheduled a brainstorm meeting with Inside the Outdoors staff to ensure that projects met the needs of our site, arrived 2 days early to drop off supplies and prep projects, and worked before, during and after the build day to ensure that all projects and veterans were well managed.  Additionally, Emmanuel returned after the event to create a road sign for Inside the Outdoors.  A personal project he took on as a thank you to the organization.

The Mission Continues has donated construction plans, all materials and supplies needed for projects, and provided nearly 300 volunteer hours to benefit the students attending Inside the Outdoors programs at Rancho Soñado and throughout the county since our partnership began.

I see Inside the Outdoors and The Mission Continues maintaining a successful relationship for years to come. The veteran group has already committed to working on a number of school garden projects with us in the 2018-19 school year.

Tabletop greenhouse construction
Tabletop greenhouse construction
Pond restoration
Pond restoration
Kiosk installation
Kiosk installation
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Field Trip to Upper Newport Bay
Field Trip to Upper Newport Bay

Outside the urban glare of Los Angeles, we found a night sky packed with stars and a still silence interrupted only by the wind’s whisper and the chatter of crickets and frogs. It was different, yet familiar.

 

My father packed little more than a kerosene lamp, a small tent and some fishing gear for those family camping trips of my youth. But it was never about what we brought or left behind. It was about immersing ourselves in the natural wonders of Southern California’s mountains, forests and beaches — and discovering that we were connected to something bigger.

 

An image of Orange County Superintendent Al MijaresWhether we were on a KOA Campground or Refugio Beach, every direction offered frontiers to explore, mysteries to be solved and scientific observations to be made, without textbooks, lab coats or microscopes. Allowed to chase our curiosities, my brothers and sisters and I were laying deep foundations for learning. But if you asked us, we were just having fun.

 

Today, technology has emerged as a primary frontier of childhood exploration. But while there are obvious benefits to raising tech-savvy children, I echo the sentiments of countless researchers who suggest we’re missing out on opportunities to nurture brain development and strengthen mental health when we close ourselves off from nature.

 

Author Richard Louv, who has written extensively on this subject, points to an emerging body of evidence connecting nature to greater physical and emotional health. By contrast, disengagement from the natural environment results in what Louv terms “nature-deficit disorder,” which, he says, correlates with attention difficulties, greater rates of physical and emotional illness, and reduced use of our senses.

 

Louv isn’t alone. A number of writers, psychologists and academics have produced volumes quantifying the benefits of direct exposure to nature. At the same time, studies continue to show we’re spending less time outdoors and more time with electronic screens, which do little to stoke happiness or well-being.

 

Access is part of our challenge. Census data shows that more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, some of which lack parks or open space. And while more children are participating in organized sports, fewer kids are experiencing the outdoors through unstructured play, according to Louv, who blames a perceived lack of time, as well as concerns about safety.

 

Students visiting wetlandsIn 2004, Rhonda L. Clements, professor of education at Manhattanville College in New York State, conducted a survey of 830 mothers nationwide. While 71 percent of them reported playing outdoors as children, only 26 percent said their kids did the same on a daily basis. Interestingly enough, the results showed little differences between rural and urban settings.

 

With supercharged academic standards and a greater focus on the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, some educators may choose to ignore these trends. But we do so at a tremendous cost given such extensive evidence that nature — in addition to being intertwined with a number of scientific fields — not only sharpens minds but amplifies learning in other subjects.

 

Indeed, a recent study of children ages 9 and 10 revealed that hands-on lessons in nature produce students who are more engaged in their other academic studies. Moreover, a duo from UC Berkeley points to more than 100 studies that demonstrate how exposure to nature can have positive impacts on thought processes, as well as our physical and mental health.

 

This is why environmental education programs like OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors are so vital.

 

Since 1974, Inside the Outdoors has been nurturing student knowledge and stewardship of the natural environment with highly qualified staff and 15 field trip locations throughout Orange County and Los Angeles counties. Lessons are aligned with the state’s instructional standards, and for classes that can’t venture out, the program dispatches Traveling Scientists to schools, often accompanied by wildlife.

 

Inside the Outdoors logs more than 150,000 hours of environmental STEM learning each year and has served some 3.5 million students to date. Suffice to say, many of these students might not otherwise have these experiences.

 

In April, about 100 teachers, school administrators and experts gathered in Orange County to discuss how outdoor and environmental learning experiences can be used to help develop a well-rounded curriculum. Jointly organized by OCDE, Inside the Outdoors and the state Department of Education, the symposium also offered educators a preview of how environmental literacy is being incorporated into the state’s Next Generation Science Standards.

 

Richard Louv was also in attendance as the event’s keynote speaker. The renowned author told the audience that “Every teacher who connects students to nature is doing sacred work.”

 

It is that and more. Teaching students about nature and immersing them in the natural environment is both transformative and enduring, producing benefits to our bodies and minds that we are only beginning to understand. Even as we prepare young women and men for an increasingly digitized world, we must continue to create opportunities to recharge their minds and spirits in the great outdoors.

 

As a child, my family didn’t take lavish vacations. But I am fortunate that we could occasionally escape the urbanized confines of Los Angeles to experience a larger world that asked as many questions as it answered, and today these trips are among my most cherished childhood memories.

 

Years later, I see how they prepared me for life as an educator, as well as for trips with my own sons, who similarly had moments to gaze up at the countless stars and wonder.

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Earth Fair
Earth Fair

You probably know that April 22 is annually observed as Earth Day. But did you know the entire month of April is celebrated as Earth Month?  Inside the Outdoors is certainly aware, and we’ve been making the most of it. 

In addition to coordinating hands-on science lessons for 10,000 students through Field Trip and Traveling Scientist programs, Inside the Outdoors has hosted 27 community events in April alone, promoting environmental education and stewardship to more than 12,000 community members and volunteers.

Of course we also got some help along the way. Employees from Boeing, Disney, Fluor, Wells Fargo, Western Digital and other corporate partners donated hundreds of volunteer hours, creating family environmental awareness activity kits, contributing classroom resources and picking up trash at local beaches and parks.  Events included several Earth Day fairs, made possible through partnerships with OC Waste and Recycling, Anaheim Elementary School District and the City of Newport Beach.

Inside the Outdoors hosted 60 Disney VoluntEARS at its Rancho Soñado site for a Family Earth Day Event where the group participated in building trash sorting stations, painting a kiosk, planting a garden for the program animals housed at ITO’s headquarters and trail maintenance, among other projects.

But it didn’t stop there.

The Disneyland Resort hosted high school students and teachers who won the Inside the Outdoors Foundation’s recent #Voice4Water video contest, while students from the Orange County Department of Education’s (OCDE) Tobacco-Use Prevention Education program partnered to help clean up Mile Square Park. Others caught up with Inside the Outdoors at the Imaginology learning festival, which took place at the OC Fair & Events Center in Costa Mesa.

Earth Month may have come to an end, but you can count on Inside the Outdoors to continue underscoring the importance of caring for the planet all year long.

In that sense, pretty much every month is Earth Month.

“During the school year, over 120,000 students, teachers, and families participate in Inside the Outdoors hands-on environmental science programs,” said Stacy Deeble-Reynolds, director of Community and Student Support Services at OCDE. “This allows them to gain the knowledge and skills needed to solve complex environmental issues.”

Join us and get involved in environmental stewardship  http://ito.ocde.us/Get-Involved/Pages/default.aspx

Earth Day Beach Clean-up
Earth Day Beach Clean-up
Environmental Stewardship
Environmental Stewardship
ITO's #Voice4Water Event @ Downtown Disney
ITO's #Voice4Water Event @ Downtown Disney
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What About Water?
What About Water?

Inside the Outdoors’ What About Water? program builds tomorrow's environmental leaders through Traveling Scientist and Service-Learning lessons that empower, engage, and educate students, teachers, and the community on water issues, awareness and conservation practices.

Hands-on lessons allow students to interact with a science concept, rather than just read about it or hear about it in a lecture, bringing the concept to life. Students may read about water recycling, but not really understand the process until they perform an experiment to separate coffee grounds from waste water. They may hear about water conservation from their teacher, but not grasp how important that is until they see the impact of the drought on a local freshwater pond. Research shows that hands-on lessons allow students of all learning styles to engage actively and retain what they have learned.

Two Traveling Scientist visits turn classrooms into hands-on science laboratories where students examine the water cycle, learn how pollution enters the watershed, conduct campus and home water audits, and develop ways to conserve water. Service-Learning gives students a voice and turns lessons into real-life action when they develop and implement a campus/environmental stewardship project to engage peers and the public in meaningful conservation efforts.

Service-Learning focuses on results-oriented activities that reinforce water education lessons by connecting classroom concepts to real-life projects. Change is more likely to be sustained when students learn AND take action. Research shows that Service-Learning has a lasting impact on communities as students become leaders with a voice in finding the solutions to societal issues.

Water Expos help students become educators as the entire campus is engaged in environmental stewardship activities such as water surveys, poster presentations, and lunch time interactive water education exhibits and games while encouraging water conservation pledges from their peers. Inside the Outdoors helps to host these 1-day water education fairs where student created education materials such as posters, PSA’s and newsletters enhance the education campus-wide.

The goal of What About Water programs and Water Expos are to sustain long-term water awareness, water conservation practices and behavior changes at schools and in the community.

While the need for science continues to rise, school budgets continue to be slashed, forcing schools to cut field trips, science labs, and other resources vital to reversing those negative trends. Community support is needed to restore resources to the classroom and improve academic outcomes as more than 60% of the students served by ITO come from impoverished communities, where students require sponsorships to attend. Funding from the Municipal Water District of Orange County and COX Charities make programs like What About Water? available to low-income students and underserved communities while promoting environmental conservation and stewardship.

“Service-Learning projects have helped me recognize and better understand my own strengths and weaknesses. Throughout the process, I’ve also learned that, no matter my age, I do have the ability to make a significant and worthwhile change in my community.” - Allison C., student from Mission Viejo HS

 

Quotes from What About Water? Participants

I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about water.” -Student, Mission Viejo HS

We had even more traffic at our Water Expo this year. The students created games to engage their peers and encouraged everyone to make a water pledge.” -Gwen Harris, Health Science Teacher – El Toro HS

We are so thankful for the amazing partnership we’ve forged with Inside the Outdoors. The Water Expo provided a wonderful creative outlet for students to take what they’ve learned and share it with others.” -Andrea Ramos, AP Environmental Science Teacher – Brea Olinda HS

Fun Facts - Student Research

  • It takes 3 gallons of water to flush a toilet
  • Showers use 2.5 gallons per minute
  • An average of 167 water bottles are consumed per person each year in the U.S.
  • The U.S. uses 400 billion gallons of water each day
  • It takes 900 gallons of water to produce an 8 oz. steak and only 20 gallons to produce a half pound of vegetables
  • .024% of the world’s water is available to us as liquid freshwater
  • 5.7 billion gallons of water is used to flush toilets annually in the U.S.
  • The average household drinks 1600 – 2000 gallons of water each year
  • Tap water costs $.004 per gallon, Bottled water costs $1.22 per gallon
  • Households can save an average of $1825 - $2312 per year by drinking filter water at home instead of buying bottled water

 

Ways to Conserve Water
Ways to Conserve Water
Water Bottle Usage in the US
Water Bottle Usage in the US
Water Conservation Pledge
Water Conservation Pledge
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Apollo
Apollo

 

If you were asked to share your first fond memory of science, you might cringe.  Or, you might have a flashback to a class where you struggled to pass a test. You might not be able to recall a memory.  But what if you were asked to describe your first fond memory seeing a hummingbird hover over a flower or a meteor shower in the night sky? It is likely that you can vividly describe a similar experience right down to where you were and what you felt.

Experiences in nature often produce moments of awe that leave impressions of a lifetime. In "Awesome awe: The emotion that gives us superpowers," New Scientist author Jo Merchant shared that "awe is the feeling we get when we are confronted by something that transcends our frame of reference."  According to Merchant, scientists have found that awe can be reliably reproduced in nature.  And, it is such powerful emotion that "even mild awe can change our attitudes and behavior."

So where do the experiences students have with Inside the Outdoors fit into the equation?  

Imagine if you're a 5th grade student from a community where your playground is the street or a vacant lot. Where community members have access to 20 feet of open space (your mattress is probably about 27 square feet). You cannot go to the park because there isn't one in your neighborhood.

You head to school one morning and board a bus for your Inside the Outdoors field trip. Upon arrival at the field trip site, you step off the bus and you smell the ocean.  You hear the waves crashing on the rocks.  You see a vast ocean, birds searching for food, and tide pools teaming with life. Science becomes real. It becomes awesome. 

After the field trip, you remember how you felt, what you saw, and what you learned.  When your teacher talks about adaptation, you think about the tiny little crabs who have figured out how to live in the intertidal zone. You connected with something bigger than yourself and science made that happen.

What if you're a high school student in an alternative education situation because you've given up on learning?  You come to class each day pretty sure no one can surprise you or make you care. But your teacher is determined to give you the best chance at learning so he invites an Inside the Outdoors' Traveling Scientist to visit the class.  Five minutes into the visit, you hear the call of a hawk. You look around the classroom and see canvas covering what looks like a large animal travel crate. Soon, the Traveling Scientist introduces Apollo, a majestic redtail hawk. Apollo spreads his wings and you can see his eyes, talons, and beak. You hear that Apollo is part of Inside the Outdoors because someone thought it would be a good idea to remove him from his nest as a baby.  He's imprinted.  You are determined to learn everything you can about this beautiful creature and you'll remember him for the rest of your life.  You decide at that moment to become a wildlife biologist or a park ranger.  You realize that you're excited about learning and that you can actually learn. Suddenly, one experience with a hawk changes your trajectory.

The moments of awe described above are real experiences described by students who participated in an Inside the Outdoors program.  Similar experiences are replicated every day of the school year and throughout the summer thanks to the generous community support Inside the Outdoors Foundation receives from community members. 

Thank you for helping us create moments of awe.

Crystal Cove State Beach Tide Pools
Crystal Cove State Beach Tide Pools
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Inside the Outdoors Foundation

Location: Silverado, Ca - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @itofoundation@yahoo.com
Project Leader:
Lori Kiesser
Program Development Manager
Costa Mesa, California United States
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