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
Traveling Scientist: Creature Feature
Traveling Scientist: Creature Feature

Inside the Outdoors Traveling Scientist programs provide hands-on opportunities for students from grades K – 12 to develop an awareness and appreciation of the sciences through exploration of the animal kingdom, California’s unique biodiversity, energy and health to name a few. In addition, the lessons students learn through Inside the Outdoors programs give them a foundation of science literacy that leads to environmental stewardship. Students become active in their communities as they look for solutions to address the larger environmental issues.

When students participate in a Traveling Scientist program, textbooks come to life through the five senses. Hawks, owls, and other raptors are brought into the classroom to teach students about the roles these predators play in the balance of nature. Students visit lab stations which include experiencing hawk vision and discovering the diet of an owl through an owl pellet dissection, turning science into real-life experiences through seeing and touching local wildlife.

Traveling Scientist programs make science fun for students of all ages and grade levels. Programs like Creature Feature (PreK), Me and My World (K) and Amazing Animals (K-12) introduce students to the animal world where they learn and explore the unique characteristics and behaviors of mammals, reptiles, birds, and other species of the animal kingdom. In Scales or Slime (1) students compare and contrast reptiles and amphibians to discover the characteristics of each class of animals. Experiencing snakes, lizards, frogs, and salamanders through their sense of touch and sight, students develop a more positive attitude towards these animals. Students discover what makes birds unique as they work cooperatively and visit different lab stations to learn about the natural history of birds in the Feather Fun (2) program. Traveling Scientists bring live birds to show students their special adaptations and habitats. Hawks, owls, and other raptors are brought into the classroom to teach students about the roles these predators play in the balance of nature in the Birds of Prey (K-12) program. Stereotypes and fear towards insects and spiders are lessened as students learn about the animals’ body parts and experience the thrill of touching live arthropods in Eight Legs or Six? (3). Through lab stations, students discover the important role some of these animals have on Earth as decomposers.

Inside the Outdoors hands-on experiences encourage students to use their innate curiosity to discover science concepts that they might struggle with in books or on screens. These lessons integrate curriculum aligned with California Content Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, making learning enjoyable and more understandable for students who have a variety of learning styles.

Hands-on learning has been shown to bridge language barriers and close the academic achievement gap. By providing programs that are low-cost or free, with the help of generous donors in the community and through corporate funding, students from underserved communities have access to the same programs as their more affluent counterparts. This is particularly important among at-risk students from low-income communities, where high school drop-out rates are higher.

Reports indicate U.S. students finished 25th in math and 17th in science in the ranking of 31 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (National Math + Science Initiative.) Local programs to help improve that standing must be aligned with state academic standards so that they complement classroom learning. They should also include techniques that evoke a child’s sense of play, creativity and discovery because research shows that this kind of engagement will “lead to a depth of understanding and commitment that are often less possible when the same material is encountered in books or on screen.” (Making Science Matter.)

Traveling Scientist: Birds of Prey
Traveling Scientist: Birds of Prey
Traveling Scientist: Scales or Slime?
Traveling Scientist: Scales or Slime?
Traveling Scientist: Amazing Animals
Traveling Scientist: Amazing Animals
Summer Camp fun with Rosie the Tarantula
Summer Camp fun with Rosie the Tarantula
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Mango Elementary School Garden
Mango Elementary School Garden

I grew up in a small town in Ohio. Bordering my elementary school were woods filled with creeks, wildlife, and pathways that led to hours of learning. My teachers routinely took us into those woods.

There, we studied everything from art to science. We drew pictures of trees filled with birds and butterflies. We built secret forts. We turned over logs to look for bugs as part of our science class. Every student knew and loved those woods.

My childhood experiences inform my work as an adult. Today, I co-lead Inside the Outdoors, an environmental education program in Southern California. We connect over 120,000 children each year to nature’s classroom. The most challenging part of my job is the significant number of families in my area who lack access to nature. The mountains, beach, forest, and desert are all within an hour’s drive – but many families have never been there. Backyard or nearby nature is virtually non-existent. Our communities are concrete. Schoolyards are often small and have only minimal ornamental landscaping. It is heartbreaking to realize that while the students can see the mountains from their schoolyards and homes, they do not know what it feels like to spend time in nature.

Trying to find solutions to the disconnect from nature requires creative thinking. During a Children and Nature Network Conference a few years ago, I met John Thielbahr. John is a dedicated advocate for Natural Teachers and the outdoor classroom. His mentorship guided our work to develop opportunities to connect to nature through schools. Nurturing John’s ideas and community support from the Disneyland Resort and OC Waste and Recycling, Inside the Outdoors has helped ten schools build butterfly and vegetable gardens.

These gardens serve as a place to learn, connect, and restore the soul.

  • Students at Brea Olinda High School learn science in their garden. They work side-by-side with students of all abilities to plant, nurture and harvest vegetables used to explore the senses of sight, taste, touch and smell through hands-on lessons.
  • Students, parents, teachers, and staff at Mango Elementary School partnered with Inside the Outdoors and Auto Club Speedway volunteers to transform an unused grassy area into a native plant outdoor classroom
  • An alternative education class turned a muddy area outside of their classroom in a shopping center into a vegetable garden. They were impacted so significantly by the tiny garden that they paid it forward by helping a nearby Boys & Girls Club start a garden composting program.

The students and teachers who use these gardens gain a better understanding of science. They learn to accept others and they give back to their community. Each day they spend in the garden strengthens their connection to the natural world. Even casual observers witness how greening a schoolyard nurtures children and education. A garden creates a space for teachers to guide students through hands-on learning. It connects children to nature, to each other, and to learning. It transforms learning into doing.

This year, Inside the Outdoors will help ten additional schools turn small unused areas into high impact natural spaces where students will get their hands dirty as they learn, develop teamwork skills, and spend time immersed in nature.

In these gardens, students will grow their own lives.

Native Plant Garden and Outdoor Classroom
Native Plant Garden and Outdoor Classroom
Luther Elementary School Garden
Luther Elementary School Garden
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PreKinder student looks over the new school garden
PreKinder student looks over the new school garden

I grew up in a small town in Ohio. Bordering my elementary school were woods filled with creeks, wildlife, and pathways that led to hours of learning. My teachers routinely took us into those woods.

There, we studied everything from art to science. We drew pictures of trees filled with birds and butterflies. We built secret forts. We turned over logs to look for bugs as part of our science class. Every student knew and loved those woods. 

My childhood experiences inform my work as an adult. Today, I co-lead Inside the Outdoors, an environmental education program in Southern California. We connect over 120,000 children each year to nature’s classroom. The most challenging part of my job is the significant number of families in my area who lack access to nature. The mountains, beach, forest, and desert are all within an hour’s drive – but many families have never been there. Backyard or nearby nature is virtually non-existent. Our communities are concrete.  Schoolyards are often small and have only minimal ornamental landscaping. It is heartbreaking to realize that while the students can see the mountains from their schoolyards and homes, they do not know what it feels like to spend time in nature.

With community support, Inside the Outdoors has helped ten schools build butterfly and vegetable gardens. These gardens serve as a place to learn, connect, and restore the soul.

  • With help from Boeing volunteers, Pitzer College students, parents, and Inside the Outdoors' staff, elementary school students from West Randall Elementary transformed a rocky unused area into a California native plant garden. As soon as the garden installation was complete, a young child wandered the school's new garden in awe, already immersed in the school's new outdoor classroom.
  • Special needs students from an alternative education high school joined classmates, teachers, Disneyland VoluntEARS, and Inside the Outdoors' staff to create a garden were science comes to life and makes learning fun. 
  • Students, parents, teachers, and staff at Mango Elementary School partnered with Inside the Outdoors and Auto Club Speedway volunteers to transform an unused grassy area into a native plant reading garden.
  • Students from Chino Hills High School joined teachers, Boeing volunteers, and Inside the Outdoors' staff to create a garden for science, culinary arts, language arts, and more!

The students and teachers who use these gardens gain a better understanding of science. They learn to accept others and they give back to their community. Each day they spend in the garden strengthens their connection to the natural world. Even casual observers witness how greening a schoolyard nurtures children and education. A garden creates a space for teachers to guide students through hands-on learning. It connects children to nature, to each other, and to learning. It transforms learning into doing.

This year, Inside the Outdoors is partnering with Boeing to help ten additional schools turn small unused areas into high impact natural spaces where students will get their hands dirty as they learn, develop teamwork skills, and spend time immersed in nature. 

In these gardens, students will grow their own lives.

Students of all abilities thrive in school gardens
Students of all abilities thrive in school gardens
Families work together to create a school garden
Families work together to create a school garden
Volunteers & teachers at Chino Hills High School
Volunteers & teachers at Chino Hills High School

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Capturing the moment
Capturing the moment

Students enrolled in AP environmental science courses at Brea Olinda High School recently spent their lunch break educating schoolmates and staff about the importance of water reliability and smart usage.

Spearheaded by OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors program and led by Brea Olinda High teacher Andrea Ramos, the “Water Expo” on May 19 featured a number of display tables set up by students from each period to reflect unique themes, including “What Would a Waterless Future Look Like” and “A Look at Fresh Water in the World.”

We’re told students also created their own marketing materials, including a Snapchat filter, an Instagram frame and the hashtag #bohswaterexpo. Those who attended were even asked to take a pledge to protect water and reduce the amount they personally use each day.

“We are so thankful for the amazing partnership we’ve forged with Inside the Outdoors,” Ramos said. “The Water Expo provided a wonderful creative outlet for students to take what they’ve learned and share it with others.”

Andrea's class is part of Inside the Outdoors' "What About Water" high school program, offered in partnership with the Municipal Water District of Orange County and its member agencies.

To learn more about Inside the Outdoors' partnership with Brea Olinda High School, visit the links below. 

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Junior Naturalist - ITO Summer Day Camp
Junior Naturalist - ITO Summer Day Camp

Mikayla attended Inside the Outdoors’ Outdoor Science School (OSS) in 2007 during her 5th grade school year.  She spent a week with her teacher and classmates at Camp Cedar Crest in the San Bernardino Mountains immersed in nature’s living laboratory.  At OSS, students learn by doing.  The classrooms are on outdoor trails where hands-on experiments, activities, games and songs are used to teach grade appropriate science concepts such as Astrology, Forest Ecology, Geology and Wildlife Biology.  Every moment at Outdoor Science School is a teaching moment. Students discover the spectacular night sky while observing constellations and study local nocturnal animals and their adaptations during night hikes.  The weeklong experience also provides an ideal atmosphere for development of leadership and social skills and self-esteem. Both students and teachers leave knowing more about the natural world and themselves.

A year later, in 2008, Mikayla attended Inside the Outdoors’ Summer Day Camp and loved the experience so much that she joined the ranks as a Junior Naturalist for the following three years.  Each year, at each site (3 sites and 6 weeks to choose from), a new theme is selected and activities and games are planned around that theme. The “Animal Planet” theme offered young survivalists the opportunity to learn the 10 essentials of hiking and how to construct a natural shelter, build a compass for navigation, master plant and animal identification, and face challenges that only teamwork can solve.

In 2014, Mikayla applied for an Animal Care Assistant position and has been caring for the menagerie of program animals at Inside the Outdoors ever since.  Each day over 100 animals, such as a Tegu lizard, Bull python, owl, Red-tailed hawk, California desert tortoise, tarantula, rabbits and rats are handled, fed and cared for. Mikayla’s favorite ITO program animal is Dexter, the Opossum.

What began as a spark for environmental science as a 5th graders is today a fire!  Mikayla has continued to follow her passion for nature and wildlife by pursuing a degree in Zoology, volunteering her time teaching high school ROP students animal health care, and working at a small animal vet in addition to caring for the wild and exotic animals of Inside the Outdoors.

Mikayla has been an animal lover and advocate for as long as she can remember, and especially passionate about crocodiles and wildlife research. Visiting the Australia Zoo that her childhood hero, Steve Irwin, made famous has always been a dream of hers.  Who would have ever thought one day she would be selected to participate in an expedition on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve (SIWR).  The SIWR, located on Cape York Peninsula of Australia, is a vast mosaic of rainforests, wetlands and savannas.  The Reserve has been set aside as a tribute to the conservation work of Steve Irwin and a place for scientific research and discovery.

In August 2016, Mikayla was 1 of only 8 people chosen for this amazing opportunity.  She spent two weeks working alongside the Australia Zoo Croc Research Team and scientists from The University of Queensland building croc traps, pioneered by Steve Irwin and the most humane crocodilian capture technique.  Using the techniques she'd watched Steve do hundreds of times in videos and on TV she helped measure and tag crocodiles while getting up close to the world’s largest living reptile during the catch and release process.

All of the information gained on this expedition has helped advance Mikayla's education. Caring for the exotic animals used in Inside the Outdoors field and school programs has prepared Mikayla for her goal of becoming a zoologist and wildlife conservationist.  Collectively all of these experiences have shaped her life.  It has been an honor and a pleasure for Inside the Outdoors to be part of Mikayla’s journey.

Mikayla and Dexter, the Opossum
Mikayla and Dexter, the Opossum
Mikayla with Teri and Robert Irwin
Mikayla with Teri and Robert Irwin
Mikayla with the Australia Zoo Croc Team
Mikayla with the Australia Zoo Croc Team
New best friends - Mikayla and a crocodile
New best friends - Mikayla and a crocodile
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Organization Information

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
$13,805 raised of $50,000 goal
 
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