Wild Delight is a blog focused on ways that middle school and high school English teachers can use nature to inspire their students as readers and writers. Nature-deficit disorder is a crisis in education and it’s not a problem that can be solved by science teachers alone. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (2008), believes that nature-deficit disorder is a term that can be used to describe the loss that children experience when they are not given the opportunity to have direct contact with nature and unstructured play outside (Driessnack, 2009). Louv coined the term when researchers began to realize the impact that nature had on children’s health and ability to learn (Louv, 2010). The onslaught of testing required by the No Child Left Behind Act has resulted in schools pressuring teachers to prepare students for tests, and time spent outdoors has suffered as a result.
Packed schedules after school, rigorous homework, extracurricular activities, and lack of parental involvement keep many students bound to homes, often tethered to computers and smartphones. For other students, safety and a lack of outdoor space is an issue. The end result is that many adolescents spend little time outside on a regular basis.
Why should English teachers make an attempt to bring nature into their curriculum?
- Over half of the world’s population live in urban areas, which has resulted in a lost connection to the natural world (Miller, 2005).
- Research by the National Kids’ Survey suggests that by combining nature activities with technology adults can help adolescents become interested in nature and more knowledgeable about local biodiversity (Larson, Green, & Cordell, 2011).
- Adolescents spend very little time interacting with nature, few of them can name the species found in their own ecosystem (Adams, et al., 1987).
- Nature study, nature writing, and nature readings were a vital part of American schooling from the 19th century to the late-20th century (Pyle, 2002).
- Lesson plans that get students outside and engaged with their local environment can help to develop a more environmentally-aware public (McKinney, 2002).
- Positive experiences with nature are the primary factor in developing environmental concern in students (Wilson, 1997).
- Teachers are in a unique position to be allies of biodiversity and environmental change but that the burden can not fall to just science teachers (Caamaño, 2011).
- Students obtain the most environmental information from activities in the curriculum that allow them to be engaged in nature, specifically those that allow them to find a special place in their local area. (Yucel & Ozkan, 2015).
- An interdisciplinary project can provide opportunities for students to engage in more relevant and engaging work that can foster critical thinking (Jacobs, 1989)
- Nature writing is full of succinct descriptions, metaphors, similes, word choice, academic and prosaic vocabulary, sentence variety, compositional risks, and so much more. Nature writing is often done in essay and narrative form, allowing for deeper reading in a shorter class period. Nature is outside our schoolroom, whether we are in the city or the country, and might be a single tree or patch of grass or a large field or fragmented forest. We can adapt nature writing and reading to our classes and engage them in the real world that they often don’t take the time to notice.
The benefits far outweigh the time spent planning. And of course, the Common Core standards place a new emphasis on interdisciplinary reading and writing. High school schedules don’t often make it easy for teachers to collaborate but by doing something simple, like focusing a thematic unit or project on nature, students can read deeper, write more, and find connections between disciplines.
Sarah Mulhern Gross is a high school English teacher at High Technology High School in New Jersey. Often rated as the top STEM school in the nation, High Tech focuses on collaboration between subjects (and not just STEM subjects). Sarah, currently pursuing a master’s degree in biology though Miami (Ohio) University and Project Dragonfly’s Advanced Inquiry Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, is passionate about helping students become science-literate while also becoming more conscious of the nature that surrounds them. Her writing has appeared in Scientific American, The New York Times Learning Network, The Washington Posts’s Answer Sheet, and much more. She can be found blogging here, at thereadingzone, and on Twitter.
Adams, C., Thomas, J., Lin, P., & Weiser, B. (1987). Urban high school students’ knowledge of wildlife. Adams L. & Leedy D. (Eds.), Integrating man and nature in the metropolitan environment (Pages. 83-86). Columbia, Maryland: National Institute for Urban Wildlife.
Caamaño, J. (2011). A vision of conservation from school. Conservation Biology, 25 (6), 1091-1093.
Driessnack, M. (2009). Ask the expert. Children and nature-deficit disorder. Journal For Specialists In Pediatric Nursing, 14(1), 73-75 3p. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6155.2009.00180.x
Jacobs, H. H., & Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. (1989). Interdisciplinary curriculum : Design and implementation.Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Larson, L. R., Green, G. T., & Cordell, H. K. (2011). Children’s Time Outdoors: Results and Implications of the National Kids Survey. Journal Of Park & Recreation Administration, 29(2), 1-20.
Louv, R. (2009). Do Our Kids Have Nature-Deficit Disorder? Educational Leadership, 67(4), 24.
McKinney, M. L. (2002). Urbanization, Biodiversity, and Conservation The impacts of urbanization on native species are poorly studied, but educating a highly urbanized human population about these impacts can greatly improve species conservation in all ecosystems. BioScience, 52(10), 883-890.
Miller, J. (2005). Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 20(8), 430-434.
Pyle, R. M. (2002). Eden in a vacant lot: Special places, species, and kids in the neighborhood of life. Children and nature: psychological, sociocultural, and evolutionary investigations, 305-327.
Wilson, R. (1997). A sense of place. Early Childhood Education Journal,24(3), 191-194.
Yucel, E. O., & Ozkan, M. (2015). Development and implementation of an instructional design for effective teaching of ecosystem, biodiversity, and environmental issues. Kuram Ve Uygulamada Eğitim Bilimleri, 15(4), 1051-1068.