Adult Pro-Environment Behaviors Shaped by…Harvesting?

David Sobel’s piece “Look, Don’t Touch” in Orion Magazine has shaken up the small world of my little nature club and the big world of the Get Outdoors movement. I’ve just discovered Living On Earth‘s interview with Sobel, here.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the Orion essay, here’s the kernel of Sobel’s argument: “rule-bound” environmental education, in which kids are prohibited from picking, touching, messing about, disrupts the natural mechanisms that connect young children with nature for life and lead to strong environmental values in adulthood. He goes so far as to say, in the aforementioned radio interview, that berry-picking and mushrooming with parents, i.e., natural resource consumption as a focal point of nature experiences, has shown to have the most power. Much food for thought, there.


Touch, Pick, Play…..Learn

Here’s something I’ve been considering a lot lately. How does environmental stewardship develop, exactly? Where is that sweet spot between the lure of science as a discipline and the pleasures, and love, of the outdoors? David Sobel’s take:

Most environmentalists attributed their commitment to a combination of two sources, “many hours spent outdoors in a keenly remembered wild or semi-wild place in childhood or adolescence, and an adult who taught respect for nature.” Involvement with organizations like Scouts or environmental clubs was cited by significantly fewer of the respondents. Chawla found that environmentalists talk about free play and exploration in nature, and family members who focused their attention on plants or animal behavior. They don’t talk much about formal education and informal nature education. Only in late childhood and adolescence do summer camp, teachers, and environmental clubs start to show up as being contributors to the individual’s environmental values and behaviors. It seems that allowing children to be “untutored savages” early on can lead to environmental knowledge in due time.

via Look, Don’t Touch | Orion Magazine.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, later today I’m meeting with teachers to develop a several-hour visit for a mixed-age, Montessori fourth and fifth grade class to a restored pond habitat. It’s to be an experience to feature Kingdom Protista—a la Montessori and Big Picture Science—in its finest.

One of these days I’ll  understand how my past as an Africanist historian funneled me bass-ackwards into being an amateur urban habitat ecologist…but not right now—for it’s time to bring on those elegant, silent Protists.

“Clean the owl …

“Clean the owl cage.”

Rockport, Massachusetts: Halibut Point State Park, where the mental owl cage gets a sprucing up.
Rockport, Massachusetts: Halibut Point State Park, where the mental owl cage gets a sprucing up.

Those who ponder the variants, whys, and wherefores of outdoor education will want to read this terrific post by Sean Musselman on what’s become a buzz phrase—”authentic learning experience.”

Meanwhile, as I write this,  I’m cleaning my own metaphorical owl cage by taking two disparate generations of family members on a coastal New England kite-flying expedition.

Summer Reading & The “I Wonder Circle”

I’ve been catching up with Sean Musselman’s blog about science education. (Clicking “follow” is so easy. Actually reading content, not so much. I’m repeatedly rediscovering bloggers in my network that are overdue for the harvest. Musselman’s blog is a case in point.)  His recent post about the use of texts in science classes is useful, including this:

The National Science Teacher Association’s Science and Children has been publishing a list of outstanding trade books for several
years now with connections to learning strands and activities to boot.


This got me thinking about what’s all the rage in parent-school talk—summer slippage in skills development.

I’m going to check out some of the titles on these lists on our next trip to the library (off the bat: Leopard and Silkie, by Brenda Peterson, and Moonbird, by Phillip Hoose).   I’m also resolved to check my inbox more regularly for Sean’s posts.

Musselman also blogged recently about the “I Wonder Circle” and about the nature of inquiry in teaching elementary science. Those of us getting our toes wet in citizen science and OOST-based science may also find his posts on this subject useful.

Fire Up Your Engines: Screen-Free Week Starts April 29th

Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff
Giant Bubbles for Health. Photo by Harald Bischoff

Screen-Free Week (April 29–May 5, 2013) gets a lot of flak, not to mention wolf-crying from some parties. Is it a slippery slope towards the denial of digital citizenship if we suggest kids should spend less time on computers, tablets, and e-readers?

There are many good arguments for children to be educated in technology and that schools train kids to be good digital citizens. Technology, screens, media—it’s part of our landscape now, and equipping our kids for survival means giving them that skill set. However, “advergaming,” dopamine-induced calm, and using ipads to fill kids’ downtime doesn’t hold any benefit for them (perhaps, it does, though, to overstressed parents and caregivers). Daydreaming, running around, and real-life play has a developmentally functional role.

Turning off our phones, ipads, gaming devices, and televisions for a week—filling the downtime with uptime instead of screen time, is a way to model connectedness for kids. The other kind of connectedness.

Is Screen-Free week a haven for Luddites and anti-technology, granola-crunching, bread-baking, wooden-toy-pushers? Well, I may be a card-carrying member of the last three of those groups, but I’ve also been networked and tweeting for a good long while. I’m never going back, but I am vigilant about screen-time in my household.SFW-logo-with-2013-date-and-website

This TEDxRainer talk by Dr. Dimitri Christakis is a good introduction to research on how TV and video exposure affect the development of attention skills in children. His lab found that the more cognitive stimulation kids received by age 3 (reading, museum visits, singing to kids), the better their ability to pay attention at age 7. TV and video had a correspondingly negative effect on later attention skills. For every hour of TV watched per day before age 3, there was a 10 percent negative difference in attentional skills at age 7.

Need more reasons to consider going screen-free and talking your school, household, or significant other into joining you? Here’s an excerpt from the Institute of Medicine‘s Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policy:

Major federal government initiatives have concluded that screen time is related to weight outcomes, and to adequacy of physical activity, but do not limit their definition of screen time to media that contains food advertising. The CDC’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends behavioral interventions aimed at reducing screen time based on “sufficient evidence of effectiveness for reducing measured screen time and improving weight-related outcomes”. They define screen time as “time spent watching TV, videotapes, or DVDs; playing video or computer games; and surfing the internet.” In identifying research gaps, they point out that important research issues remain, including that “additional research is needed to identify how screen time affects health outcomes”. One of their research questions is “What is the mechanism for screen time being associated with weight-related outcomes?” (Community Guide, 2010).

Healthy People 2020 positions screen time as a direct competitor with adequate physical activity in children from birth to 12th grade. Key physical activity objectives recommended by Healthy People 2020 (HHS, 2010) include: increase the proportion of children aged 0 to 2 years who view no television or videos on an average week day; increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 through 12th grade who view television, videos, or play video games for less than 2 hours a day; and increase the proportion of children and adolescents aged 2 years to 12th grade who use a computer or play computer games outside of school (or nonschool work) for less than 2 hours a day.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)(2001) recommends limiting children’s total media time to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day and discouraging television viewing for children younger than 2 years of age. Yet, a recent study suggests that more than a third of health care providers fail to discuss television guidelines with parents (Spivack et al., 2010).

Although the committee thought it was reasonable to assume that the relationship between screen time and obesity found among 2 to 5 year olds is likely to be similar in the birth to 2 age group, there was insufficient evidence about this relationship for the committee to make an obesity prevention recommendation for the younger age group. The committee notes, however, that there is evidence unrelated to obesity (e.g., about cognitive development) that has led others to raise concerns about any screen time in this age group. Thus the committee believes that discouraging screen time in this age group may be important for other reasons, as noted by AAP (2001).

Full document here:

You can find a slew of suggestions for Screen-Free Week organizing and activities at Consider a granola-making party for your neighborhood gang of rascals (then tweet about it the following week).

Breaking News: Cambridge Young Women Quilt for Sustainability

Sprouts of Hope, an offshoot of Jane Goodall‘s Roots and Shoots comprised of a handful of girls who are now at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School,  is presenting their “Imagine a Sustainable Life Quilt” to the City of Cambridge today at City Hall, making Mayor Davis and all of us here in the people’s republic proud. Apparently  citizens can request to have the quilt visit public sites around Cambridge. Did I mention Clara Wainwright was involved, Bill McKibben’s portrait is on the quilt, and the kids met Gloria Steinem?


November/December Events

Coming up at the Harvard Museum of Natural History on Thursday evenings, (11/15, 11/29, and 12/13)…I’ll be there!

Woodlands and Waters, Forests and Faucets: A Look at Massachusetts’ Woods, Water Bodies, and Water Supplies for the Boston Metro Area

Lecture by Betsy Colburn, Harvard Forest


Betsy Colburn,  Aquatic Ecologist at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, MA, investigates how forests affect the water cycle – e.g., streamflows, groundwater, floodwaters, wetlands, and clean water for human uses.  In this talk, Dr. Colburn will look at how major changes in land use have also changed the sources of water for metropolitan Boston, and going forward, how hold proposals for future forest conservation and land use have important implications for life in eastern Mass., as well as in the rural central and western areas. Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street. Free event parking in the 52 Oxford Street garage.

The Ants of New England

Lecture and booksigning with Aaron Ellison


Ecologist Aaron Ellison (of the Harvard Forest in Petersham, MA) and co-authors have  just completed the new Field Guide to the Ants of New England (Yale Univ. Press), the first user-friendly regional guide devoted to the diversity, ecology, natural history  and beauty  of the “little things that run the world.” Lavishly illustrated with more than 500 line drawings and  300 photographs, Ellison’s guide introduces amateur and professional naturalists alike to more than 140 ant species found in the northeast U.S. and eastern Canada.   Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street. Free event parking in the 52 Oxford Street garage.

Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds

Author talk and booksigning with Jim Sterba


Although Americans may spend 90 percent of their time indoors, we now live in closer proximity to wild animals now than anytime in our history.  Journalist Jim Sterba traces our 400-year relationship to wild animals, from the 19th-century “era of extermination” to the conservation movement of last century,  and up through the current age of “sprawl.”  Today, Sterba argues, our well-meaning efforts to protect certain species has allowed some wild populations to burgeon out of control, costing billions in damage, degrading ecosystems, and deepening disputes that have polarized communities. Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street. Free event parking in the 52 Oxford Street garage.

Fun with Science Blogs

I’m a non-scientist who has has cobbled together a very partial understanding of science from whatever training I had in high school or college, whatever I read touching on science thereafter, and whatever PBS and BBC documentaries I’ve managed to watch (before I had kids and after they came of documentary-watching age, more recently). We polymath-wannabes have to troll the back alleys of the—oh, it’s called the interweb now, is it?—for what we can get. I like that some kids are using blogs for science writing.

Samantha J., a high school student recently wrote about climate change and its effect on butterflies in Massachusetts.

Here’s a whole high school biology class with its own web page..

Sarah Laskow and Charles Choi blog about science writing. Here’s Sarah’s piece on real books as sources.

Marc Kuchner has an interesting post about improvisational acting as a tool for scientists at soapboxscience, the guest blog area of the journal Nature’s website.

A Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) holds an Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), one of the lucrative fish found in the Antarctic’s waters.[from]

Also at, I’ve been checking out  Nature’s Boston Blog and the schemes and memes blog.

The Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education blog, though mostly full of news items rather than thought-pieces, is also pretty good.

What science or informal science blogs do you follow? I’d love to build a list here.