by Bryan Wood, Executive Director, Audubon Center of the North Woods
Less than 30 minutes a day. That is the average amount of time a child in the U.S. spends outside. This represents less than half the time kids spent outside just a generation ago. During this drop-off, screen time has exploded and now exceeds more than 7 hours daily. While the advances in technology are remarkable and make our world more efficient, connected and better in many ways, the loss of time outside is not without consequences. The last few decades of decreased outdoor time has coincided with spikes in childhood obesity, behavioral disorders and a fundamental change in the way kids communicate – through screens rather than in person.
We are living in extraordinary times where the world is literally at our fingertips, but we are also living in challenging times. 2014 and 2015 both set records for the warmest years in history, and 2016 is on pace to break them both. In fact, this August marked the 16th consecutive warmest month on record. Let that sink in for a moment. We are seeing the effects of climate change in Minnesota as we become not only warmer, but also wetter with increasingly frequent extreme rain storms. There are myriad effects we are only beginning to understand and address with climate change. The Earth needs our help and the children of today will be the decision makers of tomorrow. That is why it is so critical to get them outside and help them learn about the environment, understand what is around them and develop a connection to it.
For many of the 4,000+ K-12 students that attend the Audubon Center of the North Woods’ (ACNW) programs annually, this is the first time they have had any direct experience in nature. While here they learn about natural systems and the incredible diversity, beauty and ingenuity of life on this planet, and realize they are a part of it and have a role to play. With ACNW’s ability to provide lodging and meals along with educational programs, students have a truly immersive and impactful experience. The magic of a residential experience is that for a few days, they are living, breathing, eating and sleeping in their classroom. The classroom is the 535 acre campus of ACNW.
Studies show that the more time a child spends in nature, the more powerful the experience is. As a residential environmental learning center, ACNW can reach children on a deeper level than day-use nature centers can. We can not only fill their minds, but more importantly we can touch their hearts. We can leave them with an experience that they’ll carry with them and will impact their decisions and actions for years to come. We know the value these trips have and want as many children as possible to experience nature firsthand through a residential experience.
We are extremely grateful for MRVAC’s support of ACNW through K-12 scholarships that help south metro schools and youth attend our programs. If you have a connection to a school as a faculty or staff member, parent or grandparent, please consider talking to your school about an ACNW residential experience. We have scholarships, first year discounts, and fundraising options to help finance your trip. We also have a terrific staff that will work with you to make your school’s visit incredible. Your support allows us to make a difference in the lives of thousands of children every year. Thank you so very much.