Whether you’re an early childhood educator, a parent or a grandparent, there are tremendous benefits to getting children outdoors in nature. This Saturday, NoVA Outside is organizing a half-day conference called “Getting Kids Outdoors in Nature: Making it Happen” to provide support, strategies, ideas and the reasoning behind getting outside that will inspire any adult working with young children.
Green teams, eco-clubs, Earth Force crews: environmentally-aware students of all stripes came out to the April 10 School Environmental Action Showcase (SEAS) held at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts and on the blossom-filled grounds around Mason Pond. The event was the third annual showcase organized by NoVA Outside, a coalition of environmental educators that is in the process of becoming a non-profit organization.
This year, some 800 people participated from over 30 schools in Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church and 30 partnering organizations in addition to 40 invited VIPs. The lobby of the Arts Center turned into an expo filled with rows of tables where schools shared their pride in eco efforts on tri-fold displays. Students spent one of the rotations of the day staffing their table to explain to their peers what initiatives their schools had undertaken in the realm of environmental awareness. These included gardens, inventive recycling programs, energy awareness campaigns and more.
Students shared excitedly what they’d learned from other schools’ exhibits. Some schools actively promoted action items; Arlington’s H-B Woodlawn’s Earth Force team is hoping to get everyone to Turn Out the Lights from 10:00 to 10:30 p.m. on April 26 and circulated information about this energy-saving initiative.
The event began at 10:00 with a keynote address by Cassandre Arkema and Antonio Mestre of Arlington’s Washington-Lee High School. Students then cycled through rotations that included exhibiting in the Center for the Arts and enjoying hands-on activities outside on the lawn above Mason Pond. It was the perfect day to celebrate learning outside!
Dozens of professionals committed to environmental awareness showcased their projects under two large tents. Exhibitors included nature centers and science-based organizations with microscopes and wildlife displays, education programs like Arcadia Farm and School for the Future, businesses with eco-friendly products including WormWatcher.com showing its compost bin and Tom Noll with his new children’s book, The Bicycle Fence (which he donated to our Earth Day opening giveaway), the first in the Recycling Creatively with L.T. series, to be followed soon by a book about raising chickens for eggs.
The Fairfax Stormwater Planning Division invited students to investigate pond water and displayed a Field Guide it produced last year that has been given to all Fairfax County 5th grade students. It seemed thoroughly possible to spend almost the entire day outside doing experiments and talking to to experts in their fields.
But there was so much more inside! Middle school students on Earth Force teams had the opportunity to showcase their own research on the question of “What can you do to improve your watershed?” The “Caring For Our Watersheds” competition gave out thousands of dollars to competing teams, including first- and second-place winners George Washington Middle School and third place Kenmore Middle School.
This was the second year for the Caring for our Watersheds competition and the first year that SEAS hosted the KidWind Challenge, which has students explore the power of wind energy and design and create a functional wind turbine. The middle school winner was Lanier Middle School, and Jack Jouett Middle School won the open division. National KidWind Challenge takes place here in town on the National Mall on Saturday, April 26.
Last year I volunteered to help out at the event, but this year, with the busyness of launching this site, I made only enough time t show up and enjoy it! It was thrilling to see children so engaged and learning from one another and from people in positions they might someday hold, now that they know about all the ways one can make a career out of environmentalism. The day seemed like the best kind of field trip, one that helped students connect what they were learning to the real world, both in terms of consequences and environmental awareness and also awareness about opportunities to work in the field. For a nice snapshot of the SEAS event, check it out on Storify.
NoVA Outside is putting on its third Early Childhood Outside Conference also on April 26 at Westlawn Elementary school in Fairfax with the theme “The Arts in Nature” and is also sponsoring a book discussion on May 13 about Adventure: The Importance of Risk in Children’s Play.
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