Governor Beebe: Arkansas Should Be Leader In Environmental Education

By John Lyon
August 01, 2007

FERNDALE -- With its abundance of opportunities for outdoor activities, Arkansas should be a leader in encouraging children to experience and learn about nature, Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday.

Beebe spoke at a teachers' workshop on environmental education, an approach to education that is receiving growing support across the country.

"Our youngsters are within easy reach wherever they are, even if they're down in Little Rock, of streams and lakes and rivers and hiking trails and outdoor opportunities," Beebe said after his appearance at the event. "Arkansas can and should be a leader -- it's our motto, the Natural State -- to encourage our young people to be able to get out and enjoy the outdoors."

U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., recently introduced the "No Child Left Inside" bill, which would amend the No Child Left Behind law to provide new federal funding for environmental education. The bill is supported by the No Child Left Inside Coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society and other groups.

The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, which organized Wednesday's workshop, is not part of the coalition but does support environmental education, Director Scott Henderson said.

"We hope to have future generations of good decision-makers about the environment and protecting our natural resources," he said.

About 300 teachers from across the state attended the workshop at the C.A. Vines 4-H Center near Ferndale in Pulaski County.

Keynote speaker Richard Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune and author of the book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," said children benefit physically, psychologically and spiritually from outdoor activity and contact with nature, yet children today spend much of their time indoors and inactive.

Video games are partly responsible, but adults bear some of the blame, he said.
"Broward County, Fla., last year started putting up "no running" signs on playgrounds," Louv said. "That is also happening ... in individual schools in San Diego. This is insane. Probably those schools are also handing out brochures after school to parents about child obesity."

Children need to connect with nature because in the future it will be up to them to preserve it, Louv said.

"Studies show that conservationists, almost to a person, had some transcendent experience when they were kids in nature," he said. "What happens if that window closes? Who will be the future stewards of the earth?"

Later in the day, the teachers were scheduled to head outdoors for training in several educational programs created by the state Game & Fish Commission.

"We're going to give them training and provide them some resources so they can go back to their schools and introduce this there," Henderson said.

Elizabeth Trumper, a first-grade teacher at DeSoto School in West Helena, said she was looking forward to a class on composting with worms.

"The concept of recycling is kind of hard to grasp," she said. "It's not a tangible thing; we're just so far from recycling centers. So to bring a live thing into the classroom and watch it eat our waste is really appealing to our children."