For years I’ve lamented the fact that my students, of all ages, don’t spend any time outside. They are over-scheduled, overworked, and over-parented (sometimes); there is no time to play outside. During my first year of teaching we went on a field trip to the local nature center and I can still picture a group of students standing on the bus steps exclaiming, “But there’s mud here! I can’t walk in mud!”. They promptly pulled out their phones, tablets, and video games. My current students have asked me to ban cell phones in our classroom because the temptation to Snapchat, play Clash of Clans, or send a text is just too much. And now there is Pokémon Go.
I somehow missed the Pokémon craze as a kid. I think I was a little too old for it the first time around (or I was just too busy reading) so considered me shocked to find clumps of players wandering my local park. My husband has downloaded the game and we’ve walked the dogs all over town in order to help him catch and hatch more monsters. Last night we took a group dog walk at a county park, a county park that would normally be close to empty at 8pm, and stumbled upon dozens of people of all ages playing the game. I could not believe it! There were shouts of “I missed the Jigglypuff!” followed by “No! The park is red now!”. They may not have been identifying local species, but they were spending a lot of time outside playing.
Then my SAT students started talking about the game. Today, during a heatwave when it felt like it was over 100 degrees outside, half of my students took a walk during our break. A walk! Usually they just whip out their phones and put their headphones in their ears, shutting out the world. But today there were no headphones! No sitting at their desks! One teen told me, “I walked 5 miles yesterday. I don’t think I’ve ever walked 5 miles in my LIFE”. I had to laugh at his exaggeration, but I understand what he was trying to say. Suddenly these teens are walking around their neighborhoods and visiting local parks and landmarks. They are meeting people in these places, friends and acquaintances, and walking together trading tips. It’s beautiful to watch.
So this teacher will probably still ban phones in the classroom next year, especially because students requested it, but I will also encourage them to play Pokémon Go during lunch. And after school. Maybe even before school. And we will talk about the parks they visit and what else they notice in those parks. I may not love the fact that they are still glued to a screen, but any time spent in nature is time well-spent. Time outside can help reduce stress and help kids and teens feel more connected to the environment. I’m loving that! Pokémon Go might be the lure we need to get students outside and involved with the ecosystems in their own neighborhood. Because they may start out with their faces looking at a screen but I hope that they will also start to pay attention to the landscape around them. Maybe the next time they go outside they’ll leave the phone at home and go wade in that cool creek they found or climb that really weird looking tree.