“All education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are a part of or apart from the natural world,” notes author and environmentalist David W. Orr in Earth in Mind.
While modern distractions such as smartphones and tablets increasingly disconnect us from the world around us, the Center’s education program strives to reconnect students and the public to the natural world.
Every Spring and Fall, the Center welcomes hundreds of middle school students to the James Farm Ecological Preserve where we lead programs to reconnect students with nature while following Next Generation Science Standards to teach students about the ecological processes and systems that are behind the scenes (unless you know where to look) in the Inland Bays’ watershed.
We recently kicked off our Spring season and have welcomed students from Georgetown Middle School and Millsboro Middle School, with Selbyville Middle and Southern Delaware School for the Arts coming over the next month.
During each trip, we encourage students to get in touch with nature – literally. Students get down in the dirt to take soil samples and learn about the different physical characteristics of upland and lowland soils. They strap on waders and get in the water with a seine net to catch the bay critters that many people don’t realize are all around them when they swim (don’t worry – they’re mostly harmless…though anyone who has been on the wrong end of a blue crab or a jellyfish knows they can be annoying). And, we encourage them to look up (hopefully with a little bit of wonder) at the trees that rise high above the forest floor and the array of wildlife that calls the James Farm home.
Unfortunately, environmental educators like us are fighting an uphill battle. As urban sprawl becomes a more familiar sight than forest and screens (smartphones, tablets, etc) become increasingly ubiquitous, students are becoming less and less in tune with nature. These societal trends paired with increasingly scarce funding for environmental education programs mean that more and more children will be left inside.
Despite the challenges, the season is off to a great start at the James Farm. We look forward to welcoming more students throughout the Spring and this coming Fall. It is our hope that when these students leave us, they keep looking up and remembering that they are a part of the natural world.