Children and Nature: 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.

Refuge Friends Focuses on Education

Refuge Friends Inc. (RFI) was formed about ten years ago in December 2006. Since then we have worked with the staff of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (MVNWR) and its various partners to connect people with nature through environmental education, outreach, partnerships and advocacy. Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter (MRVAC) is one of the outstanding Refuge Partners.

With the New Year, RFI begins a new decade and welcome Kelly Cain and Stephen Thomforde as our new President and Vice-President as well as several new Directors including Greg Burnes, MRVAC Liaison. Visit www.refugefriendsinc.org to see our new logo and details of our flagship programs.

RFI operates the Blufftop Nature Store; profits from sales are a primary source of revenue for the Blue Goose Bus Fund. MRVAC and RFI members are eligible for discounts on items purchased so shoppers can enhance their Refuge visit and save while helping kids.

Our most important role is building capacity for MVNWR’s Partner Schools/Teacher programming with surrounding schools. In 2015, over 1500 students learned about nature in the outdoor classrooms of the Refuge thanks to transportation support from the Blue Goose Bus Fund.

Watch for more RFI news next month.

Refuge Friends

Every year we support the Refuge Friends to provide transportation for youth to attend a series of educational experiences at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge plus we help fund a summer intern. $2,000 of our grant is double matched by the MN Valley Trust and goes to the Blue Goose Fund that covers transportation costs for the Partner School Program and $1,500 funds an intern.