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University of Richmond Symposium to Impact Design of Outdoor Spaces and Education

Because of society’s emphasis on new technology, daily outdoor play for many children has become a part of the past. Most children spend only 1% of their time outdoors. Our children's access and opportunities to play in natural spaces has severely decreased over the past decade. Studies have proven that the more time children are “plugged in” their health and social skills begin to suffer. It is now time for us as a community to work together with our schools to take action. The University of Richmond is addressing this “Nature Deficit” by convening a Sustainability and Nature Symposium on Wednesday, April 17th and offering a Summer Institute for Educators in July. 

“A child’s experience and connection with nature strongly predicts whether or not they will have an active interest and concern for both the environment and sustainability issues in adulthood. How do we expect our children to be passionate about nature if they don’t ever get to experience it? We are leaving them with a lot of environmental problems and expecting them to come up with creative solutions,” explains Cary Jamieson, Program Coordinator of Environmental Stewardship & Sustainable Design at the University of Richmond. “If children and adults have the opportunity to engage with the natural world they will have a greater understanding of how to learn from the local ecology to create solutions for sustainable living. This knowledge will help future leaders develop new technologies and innovations based on the science they learn from environmental education.”

On April 17th, U of R's Sustainability and Nature Symposium will include workshops for educators and a public lecture. Parents, community leaders, educators, eco-advocates, landscape designers and architects will come together to discuss ways to make the outdoors more accessible in education. Jamieson explains the role of the symposium: “As educators, we have the responsibility to provide a connection to local ecology. At the symposium we will be bringing together those who design spaces with those who will utilize them. Our goal is to bring all of the decision makers together so we can begin to make a difference in the lives of our children and in our environment.”

The Workshop from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. will be conducted by UofR faculty, landscape architect Warren Byrd, Jr. and leaders in Environmental Education. The free evening lecture at 6:00 p.m. will feature renowned authors Richard Louv and Dr. Doug Tallamy. Louv and Tallamy will discuss the importance of connecting with the wonder of our world and challenge us to become better stewards.

The Workshop is $50 which includes lunch and resources. Register here

The Public Lecture is free and open to the public, registration required. Register here

The Symposium is made possible from the generous support of the Virginia Environmental Endowment, The Steward School and the University of Richmond.  

To keep the conversation and commitment goingUofR’s School of Professional & Continuing Studies will again be offering a week long summer institute for Educators in July, 2013. At the Sustainability and Nature Institute educators gain experience on how to create a successful outdoor classroom within their existing school facilities and connect to their curriculum. Watch this Science Matters video from 2012 to learn more.

Jamieson explains, “Creating a successful outdoor classroom experience can bring awareness and empowerment. Children have the ability to discover, create and be passionate about the environment and this exploration is vital to their success. The Summer Institute gives educators the ability and tools to give back children’s right for the discovery of the outdoors.”

Jamieson’s intent for the program in July is to help teachers learn how to incorporate lessons in math, science, writing, and art while engaging with the environment. “There is a belief that natural environments can only contribute to teaching science. But that is not the case. Last year we had an English teacher that used her outdoor classroom for reflection and writing poetry. A math teacher was able to measure the height of trees and have the students design their own outdoor facility using the site analysis skills gained during the institute,” explains Jamieson

Guest speakers and group sessions with administrators, landscape designers, grant funders, and environmental educators will take place. The partnership with The Steward School allows for a field trip to the Bryan Innovation Lab, the first classroom in Virginia to integrate cutting edge technology with the outside environment.

Article by Carol Guzman, University of Richmond ‘16 and Debbie Mickle, Science Matters

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