Today kids are more preoccupied with play stations than playgrounds. It’s a condition affecting children as young as kindergarten-age. “They are living in an iPad world” explained Megan Meyers, a 27-year veteran of teaching kindergarten in Howell Township, New Jersey. “They don’t play outside anymore. Some kids are even afraid to play outside because they fear insects and animals - even dirt!”
To prove her point, Megan recalls Nicholas--a student from last year who logged endless hours in front of smartphones, tablets and TVs. The truth is, Nicholas was no different than most kids. In fact, research shows that kids as young as five are spending seven hours per day in front of technology and as little as 15 minutes outside, playing in nature.
Megan understood that the educational stakes were high for Nicholas as he was withdrawn, often lost his focus and struggled with sensory issues. She explained, “This is what we worry about as teachers. If we can’t connect with kids when they are young, as young as kindergarten, they may miss out on critical learning experiences and it can hold them back for years.”
Luckily for Nicholas and hundreds of other elementary school-age children, Kids for Conservation (KFC), a free educational program offered by Monmouth Conservation Foundation to schools throughout Monmouth County, is helping them to connect with nature. For some kids, KFC can even make a difference developmentally, helping them to navigate a variety of challenges. Through lesson plans, the program empowers all children to feel like young environmentalists—champions of local wildlife, farms, sources of clean water and conservation. The program is made possible through the generosity of individual supporters and grant funders whose donations underwrite the program costs.
To put KFC into action, Megan would often turn the outdoors into a hands-on lesson with homework to “have fun” and collect leaves. With each outdoor venture, Megan noticed a transformation in her young student. “You should have seen how drastically Nicholas changed in his attitude towards the outdoors, specifically about animals, after we watched the eagle camera [part of the KFC curriculum that allows students to get a live view of life within an eagle’s nest]. It was like a different child had emerged. He was completely focused when watching the eagle and confident enough to be a leader in the class discussion afterwards,” she explained.
Having witnessed the results, Megan is passionate about KFC and how the program engages young children and ignites their curiosity. “The kids in my class are so excited. They forget about the video games and think about how they can help—whether it’s a bee, an eagle--or farming. Every school needs this chance and it’s especially important to introduce very young kids to science concepts such as conservation issues.”
All the teachers participating in the KFC program will have a lasting impact. By creating excitement and a passion for nature and building compassion for the environment during especially formative years, all translate to a more promising future for the preservation of farms and open spaces, not to mention healthier and more robust communities. As the iconic environmentalist, Rachel Carson, noted in her book, The Sense of Wonder, a child “needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it (nature), rediscovering within him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
Now, more than ever, we need to invest in the kids of Monmouth County—the next generation of caretakers for our land and the wildlife that depends upon it. For more information about Kids for Conservation and how you can help support this important work, please visit http://www.monmouthconservation.org/kids-for-conservation or click below.