Category Archives: Education

6 things we learned about connecting kids with natureFrontiers in the Environment Children November 12

Why should we help children connect to the natural world? And how can we best do so? Cathy Jordan, University of Minnesota Extension specialist and associate professor of pediatrics in the Medical School and Sarah Milligan-Toffler, executive director of the Children and Nature Network, shared their thoughts on the subject at this week’s Frontiers in the Environment talk. Here are six things we learned:

Screen time is full time. Studies suggest that children spend up to 60 hours per week indoors. This mirrors the growing trend of being disconnected from natural world. As technological devices become more prevalent and children are becoming increasingly overscheduled, we’ve reduced the amount of time they’re spending outside.

Nature is important. Nature has been proven to be beneficial for children in almost all parts of their life. Not only does it help prevent obesity, reduce stress and build self-esteem, it can also help increase focus inside of the classroom. Moreover, cognitive functions, social skills, leadership and collaboration can all be improved by spending time outside. But the list doesn’t stop there. These are just some of the many benefits that children can gain by being connected with the natural world around them.

Never underestimate the benefit of a scraped knee. As a society, we’ve shifted our perception of risk. We’ve traded the physical risks of the outdoors in favor of the safety of the indoors. But it is important to recognize that this type of lifestyle carries its own types of risk, such as a reduced sense of community, lowered levels of self-confidence and many other psychological impacts. By spending less time outside, children are losing the opportunity to experience what they’re capable of. Falling and scraping your knee may hurt, but it also plays a fundamental role in childhood development by teaching kids about limits, danger and consequences.

Parental choices matter. Parents can help by getting outside and playing with their children. They can encourage free play and continue to emphasize play as children age. These experiences don’t always have to be adventurous trips to national parks. A trip to a local park or even playing in the backyard can be just as effective. Parents can also make intentional choices in other parts of life, such as where they send their children to school. They can also bond together to create groups that encourage outdoor play, such as the Family Nature Club.

Education and the environment don’t have to be an either-or. Instead of simply teaching about the environment, educators can use the environment to teach about all everything else. Known as the Environment as an Integrating Context model, this approach gets students actively engaged in what they’re learning. Students could read about a park while they’re sitting in it, or they could take inspiration from the outdoors to journal. Using the environment in this way also promotes transdisciplinary work, where teachers can work collaboratively across class boundaries.

It takes a village. True connections between children and nature will need more than individual actions. It will take a community effort. Policy-makers and planners can help by promoting green spaces. For example, Minneapolis has a goal of having every resident live within six blocks, or a 10-minute walk, from a park. This type of thinking and development can help re-create the bond between children and nature.

Like to learn more? Watch a video of the presentation here.

Acara: from idea to enterprisenews_AcaraSp15_main

University of Minnesota students: Do you have an idea for a business that could help solve a social or environmental problem at home or abroad? Whether that idea has been bouncing around in your brain, written on a napkin or is in the planning stages, IonE’s Acara social venture program can help you make it a reality.

Acara guides students through the steps it takes to turn ideas into viable enterprises. Through course work, competition and collaboration Acara prepares the next generation of leaders to develop practical business solutions that address some the world’s most pressing challenges. Here’s what they have in store for spring and summer 2015. Continue reading

Resilient community on the risecourtesy of City of Rosemount

Only one month into the fall semester there is already an unseasonable chill in the air. But things are heating up in classrooms across the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Duluth campuses as more than 200 students in dozens of classes begin work on an impressive array of projects with the City of Rosemount, this year’s Resilient Communities Project partner community.

RCP, an initiative of the Sustainability Faculty Network at the University of Minnesota, with funding and administrative support provided by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and the Institute on the Environment, organizes yearlong partnerships between the University and Minnesota communities. The partnership is bringing the expertise of hundreds of graduate students to sustainability-related projects identified by Rosemount city staff and community partners. Continue reading

Earth science for your viewing pleasurePhoto by Will von Dauste

Did you know that humans eat more water than we drink? That tidbit is explained in “Eating Water,” one of four three-minute films that use data and imagery to explain scientific concepts. The films were created by the Science Museum of Minnesota as part of Science on Sphere, a project of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration that aims to explain complex environmental concepts in easy-to-digest portions. Continue reading

Boreas is a stew of leadership opportunitynews_booya_main

The Boreas Leadership Program is gearing up for its fall programming. Boreas is a co-curricular leadership development opportunity at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. We invite all U of M graduate and professional students to participate in Boreas programming, which helps students catalyze environmental solutions.  The program is idealistic in its aim of helping emerging leaders at the U develop into the world-changers they want to be and world-changers society needs.

The program is also pragmatic in its approach; leadership skills workshops are a core part of the programming. A schedule of workshops is offered each semester in four areas: communications and media, public skills, integrative leadership, and systems thinking and tools. Continue reading

Big questions: Frontiers’ fresh lookbig questions

This fall, the Institute on the Environment is refreshing our popular Frontiers in the Environment series. We’ll ask some Big Questions and host solutions-focused conversations about the next wave of research and discovery.

Each week, we’ll ask a pressing question such as, “Can we build a more resilient food distribution system?” Researchers and other experts from IonE and the greater University and Twin Cities’ communities will dive into the topic, sharing cutting-edge insights to move us closer to the answer. Continue reading

Sustainability studies: Something for everyonenews_students_outside

Sustainability. It has become such a common word, we take it for granted that everyone knows what it is and how to practice it. But what is it, really?

Sustainability is the concept that humans use natural resources to meet current physical, social and economic needs while maintaining adequate resources for future generations.

In our homes, schools, communities and businesses we incorporate sustainability into our day-to-day lives. Some things are so ingrained we hardly think about them anymore: flipping off the lights when we leave the room; tossing bottles into the recycling bin; taking shorter showers. University of Minnesota Twin Cities undergrads from any major who want to do even more can make sustainability part of their academic program — and eventually, their career — through the sustainability studies minor.
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