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Naturaleza por dentro

Por: Eduardo Dueñas, Lead Environmental Educator | For an English version of this blog post, see here.

Siempre me encantaron los olores, colores y sabores de los dias. Yo era un nino inquieto que le gustaba levantar piedras en el patio de mi casa para ver que sorpresa me esperaba. Ese mismo nino que corria afuera cada vez que llovia para poder oler la tierra mojada.

Un nino que durante los partido de futbol le gustaba chupar pedazos de cesped y tirar piedras al rio.

Desde muy temprana edad me interesaron las plantas y los animales, gustos que me llevaron a explorar muchos lugares y conocer personas increibles.

Despues de estudiar sobre los procesos de la vida, no me quedaron dudas que la naturaleza hay que respetarla y llevarla por dentro.

Es imperativo para el bienestar de todos que los jovenes crezcan sin barreras fisicas o mentales sobre la naturaleza. Asi se convertiran en sus protectores para siempre.

Durante el transcurso de mi maestria pude estudiar a fondo las repercusiones de las acciones humanas sobre la naturaleza, dejando en claro que nuestro estilo de vida no solo destruye nuestra salud sino tambien todo lo importante que nos rodea.

Es por eso que en mi tesis final plasme la necesidad de replantear la forma de como aprendemos y de como percibimos nuetro entorno.

La educacion por ende sera la unica esperanza para cambiar el mundo y poder dejar un verdadero legado para las generaciones futuras.

The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education es una organizacion pionera con mas de 50 años de experiencia en la porteccion y conservacion ambiental.

Me siento feliz de trabajar en un lugar como The Schuylkill Center donde se comparten y desarrollan muchas ideas sobre la comprencion y proteccion de nuestro medio ambiente. Los programas incluyen jovenes y adultos de diferentes edades, procedencias, razgos etnicos y niveles educativos.

Mi oficina es en el bosque con los ninos donde ellos juegan y exploran libremente. Durante algunas caminatas dibujamos, recolectamos plantas, hojas, semillas, raicez y hacemos te de algunas de ellas, otras veces arte o  escribimos  observaciones en su hojas de trabajo. Me gusta sentir que soy bienvenido en este lugar y ver en mis estudiantes el curioso niño que solia ser.

Eduardo DuenasEduardo Duenas es un Educador Ambiental que trabaja para la organizacion ambiental,The Schuylkill Center. Primero se involucró con el Centro como voluntario antes de trabajar a tiempo completo en programas educativos como; lecciones para grupos guiados en el SCEE, al igual que programas después de la escuela y programas comunitarios. Eduardo Tiene una formación en estudios ambientales, con un máster en Gestión Ambiental y Desarrollo Sostenible. También tiene experiencia como maestro de aula y le encanta trabajar con niños de todas las edades.

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Nature from Within | Naturaleza por dentro

By Eduardo Dueñas, Lead Environmental Educator | Para una versión en Español de este post, por favor ver aquí. 

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved the scents, colors, and surprises of each day.  I was a curious child who always liked to pick up rocks in the yard of my house to see what surprise awaited me underneath- a colorful beetle, a squirmy worm, or a family of ants. That same curiosity drove me to run outside everytime it rained to feel the rain and smell wet earth.  I was the curious kid who would suck on blades of grass and throw stones into the river during a soccer game.  From a young age, I was interested in plants and animals- passions which led me to explore many new places and meet incredible people working for positive change, ecological awareness, and conservation of our fragile planet.

After studying biology, I was left with no doubt that we must respect nature and carry nature within us.

It is critical for the wellbeing of everyone that children are able to grow up without physical or mental barriers removing them from nature. For some children and communities, it can be difficult to access natural areas or to find ways to connect with nature on a daily basis.  When we help children to spend time in nature and understand the environment around them, they can become protectors and champions of our natural world.

In earning my master’s degree, I had the chance to study in depth the repercussions of human impact on nature – from unsustainable urban development to monoculture farming.  It became clear to me that many modern lifestyles impact our own health and the health of the natural world around us.  Because of this, I chose to focus my Master’s thesis on the need to readjust the way we learn about and perceive our surroundings- the natural world.  I believe that education is our strongest hope to change the world and leave a positive legacy for future generations. As Baba Dioum said “”In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

I feel lucky and inspired to work at a place like the Schuylkill Center, where every day we share and develop ideas about understanding and protecting our natural world. I love that our programs include children and adults of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities – like our after school programs with urban schools in Philadelphia, our outreach programs with Latino communities, and our family-friendly education and volunteer programs -like toad detour- for all ages.

Today, my office is the forest, where I work with children to guide them as they play and explore freely.  During hikes, we draw, collect plants, seeds, or roots to make teas, sometimes we make art, or make notes about what we see in workbooks.  It is fulfilling to me to be able to support a love of nature in my students, I see in them the curious kid I used to be.

Eduardo DuenasEduardo Duenas is an Environmental Educator at the Schuylkill Center. He first became involved with the Center as a volunteer before working full time with guided educational groups at the Schuylkill Center, after-school programs, and community outreach programs. He has a background in environmental studies, with a Master’s degree in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development.  He also has experience as a classroom teacher and loves working with children of all ages.

Prescribing Nature in Philadelphia

By Aaliyah Green Ross, Director of Education

Dr. Chris Renjilian, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) pediatrician, sees nature and play as essential parts of his primary care practice. But he worries that his guidance isn’t always enough. NaturePHL is about to change that. With NaturePHL, pediatricians like Dr. Renjilian will be prescribing nature to children across the city.

This summer marks the official launch of NaturePHL, a collaborative program that helps Philadelphia children and families achieve better health through outdoor activity. It’s a collaborative involving four core partners – the Schuylkill Center, CHOP, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, and the United States Forest Service. It’s a new website indexing all parks, trails, and green spaces in the city, so anyone can search their neighborhood for places to be outdoors. But NaturePHL is most importantly a toolkit that pediatricians will use to prescribe outdoor activity and time in nature. This innovative program is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.

The program will launch in two CHOP clinics, ultimately reaching 21,000 children over a three-year pilot. This intervention is dearly needed to reconnect families with the outdoors.

The last several decades have seen a substantial shift in the way most U.S. children interact with both natural and built environments. One recent study says that for children ages 6-17, the average weekly time spent engaged in outdoor activities decreased from one hour and 40 minutes in 1982 to only 50 minutes in 2003; current trends suggest the amount is even lower today. In short, childhood has moved indoors, with significant health impacts.

The same study concluded that time spent looking at screens and other sedentary behaviors dramatically increased over the same time period, a trend that the Centers for Disease Control has linked to the rise in childhood obesity rates. Children who are sedentary and obese are more likely to suffer from a range of medical problems, including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and psychological issues including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

But there are solutions: Active, outdoor play has been shown to have positive effects on several health indicators, from reduced stress and better sleep to improved focus and self-control.  A 2009 study by the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research found lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within a half mile of green space.

The potential to leverage nature and outdoor activity for betting health is what first drew the Schuylkill Center to reach out to CHOP in 2013 and open the conversation that, four years later became NaturePHL. The tools developed for NaturePHL will aid physicians in helping their patients change sedentary and indoor behaviors for free play and time outdoors. And there is plenty of space to do so.

Of Philadelphia’s nearly 91,000 acres, green spaces account for over 10,000 acres, about 12% of the city’s land. Despite the abundance of open spaces to engage in outdoor play, many of our city’s kids don’t get the daily 60 minutes of physical activity recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The reasons for this  are many: lack of time, safety concerns, and general unawareness of local green spaces were among the most common barriers identified by families participating in NaturePHL’s focus groups.

Knowing that connecting more children with better health through nature would depend on successfully overcoming these barriers, a NaturePHL team of pediatricians developed a way to integrate a discussion of outdoor activity into annual well-child visits. If a clinician determines that a child needs to spend more time outdoors, they will offer counseling and issue a prescription to play at a park, go for a bike ride, or take a walk around their neighborhood, among other outdoor activities. To make it easier for parents, pediatricians will offer educational materials with suggested activities and strategies to make spending time outside more feasible for their family.nature for young 017

“Our city’s many vibrant parks and green spaces can be a part of every child’s prescription for health and wellness,” says Dr. Khoi Dang, a pediatrician based in the CHOP South Philadelphia primary care clinic who has been deeply involved in planning and developing NaturePHL.

But providing a toolkit to talk about outdoor activity and issue nature prescriptions alone won’t be sufficient to achieve the program’s goals. We also need to support patient families in their efforts to fulfill prescriptions. This is where the Nature Navigator comes in.

Like social workers who help asthma patients adhere to recommendations, the Nature Navigators are community health workers trained to serve as liaisons between clinics and patients, helping patients access health services and motivating them to practice healthy behaviors. We’re excited to be hiring one Nature Navigator this summer, who will follow up with patient families receiving nature prescriptions to help them spend more time outdoors, and will even meet with families to lead children in outdoor activities to help make nature time part of their daily lives.

This is central to the Schuylkill Center’s work. In our vision statement we imagine “a world where all people learn, play, and grow with nature as a part of their everyday lives.” With a program like NaturePHL, we’re able to reach  new audiences and connect many thousands of children with nature in a new way. At the same time, the program will help the Schuylkill Center reach a more ethnically and economically diverse group of people. CHOP’s Cobbs Creek and Karabots primary care clinics serve a largely African-American client base – a demographic that hasn’t traditionally participated in our programs much.

In addition, the Schuylkill Center and Parks and Recreation are creating new programs designed to help families be in nature. Some will be NaturePHL-branded, with clinicians leading hikes or nature play, at parks and green spaces around the city.

These events will be searchable from the NaturePHL website, naturephl.org, developed by local design studio P’unk Ave, making it easier for doctors and patients to identify ways to spend time outside. At the same time, the website’s reach goes beyond the children receiving nature prescriptions. For anyone looking to enjoy time outdoors in Philadelphia, naturephl.org offers a way to search parks by amenities such as events, wheelchair and stroller accessibility, nearby SEPTA routes, playground equipment, picnic tables, and other features.

The website also provides a unique platform for partnerships with several community organizations, adding value to the site and broadening the program’s reach. Partnering with the Clean Air Council’s new program, Go Philly Go, NaturePHL will include multimodal transportation options and directions on each park page.  Another collaboration with Philly Fun Guide allows us to list events happening at parks and green spaces throughout the city, elevating opportunities for patient families to engage in outdoor activities.

Above all, NaturePHL is at the frontier of environmental education and healthcare. Integrating these two seemingly disparate sectors, the program will also serve as a national model.

A press conference to announce the official launch of NaturePHL will be held on Wednesday, July 26 at Cobbs Creek Recreation Center, and the first nature prescriptions will be issued at CHOP’s Cobbs Creek and Roxborough primary care clinics starting August 1. We are thrilled to see this program come into fruition after nearly four years of planning, research, and collaboration. We invite you to join in by visiting www.naturephl.org to plan your next family nature outing!

NaturePHL is supported in part by the Barra Foundation and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. An excerpt from this piece was published in our summer newsletter in June 2017.

About the Author

Aaliyah Ross joined the Schuylkill Center as Director of Education in March. She enjoys flipping rocks in Smith’s Run while looking for salamanders, and discovering new parks to explore with her 4-year old daughter.

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Nature: Fostering children’s social interactions

Children Need NatureBy Rachel Baltuch, Nature Preschool Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our nature preschool program. Read more posts here.

While researching the effects of unstructured play time in nature for young children, I discovered that the benefits are vast and encompass most aspects of children’s development. Play time in nature tends to affect children’s cognitive development, which includes intellectual learning, problem solving skills, and creative inquiry, and can lead to increased concentration, greater attention capacities and higher academic performance.[1]  These children also demonstrate “more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often.[2]

Additionally, the benefits of free play time in nature include reduced stress and symptom relief for some children with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.[3] Lastly, unstructured free time in nature can improve children’s social skills, ranging from increasing children’s positive feeling towards one another, decreasing the amount of bullying and violence between children, increasing children’s imagination and creativity, and increasing their communication and language skills.[4] Continue reading

Children playing in field

My Path to Nature Education

By Nicole Brin, Sycamore Classroom Lead Teacher

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Pennsylvania Land Trust Association for their series on conserved lands, like the Schuylkill Center, in communities around the state.

Rows of stuffed animals- bears, bunnies, dogs, lions- all lined up in the grass of my suburban Connecticut backyard as they got ready to start their school day. Their teacher, eight-year-old me, prepared to teach them all the things that I already knew in the wisdom of my few childhood years. I made attendance sheets, created lesson, and planned field trips to the garden behind our shed. I knew that one day I’d be a real teacher, sharing all the cool things I loved about life. Continue reading

Hidden Life of a Toad Cover

Book Review: The Hidden Life of a Toad

By Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator

Doug Wechsler’s children’s book The Hidden Life of a Toad (Charlesbridge, hardcover, 2017), released just this week, explores what happens in this mysterious process called metamorphosis – from eggs to tadpoles, tadpoles to toads. Amazing photos and descriptions walk you through this phenomenon day-by-day. Doug has witnessed the annual event of toad migration that takes place each spring at the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, across the street from the Schuylkill Center, where they spend the winter in the forest. Each year volunteers gather for Toad Detour, a citizen scientists program to help the toads to safety cross the road, at Hagy’s Mill Road and Port Royal Avenue, to get to their spring breeding grounds. It is not unusual to see Doug on the ground focusing his camera and waiting for the perfect photo of the American Toad as they cross the road. As volunteer coordinator, I’ve spent the past six springs helping toads cross Port Royal Ave – and educating volunteers and the public about this Roxborough phenomenon. Still, I learned lots of things about the American Toad by reading this book!

We always knew some of the basics from watching toads come out of the woods and cross the road to get to the other side, which in this case was the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve. We knew they loved that shallow water in which to lay their eggs. We knew the males would often follow the females toward the breeding ground and sometimes catch a ride along the way by finding the female of their choice before crossing the road. Continue reading

Kids walking on the beach

Put that phone away!

By Damien Ruffner, School Programs Manager

June 29th, 2007 changed the world forever: This is not the date of a presidential election, or the start or end of a military conflict. It’s not the day humans first traveled into space, or discovered some profound scientific theory. Think smaller, about 4 inches to be exact. It’s the date the first iPhone was released. And here we are, one decade into the smartphone generation.

The aspect of my position at the Schuylkill Center that takes up the most time every year is the Adventure Treks summer camp program, and specifically the 10-12 year old camp group. This means this upcoming summer, for the first time, I’m going to have kids coming to my most popular program that have never existed in a world without a smartphone. Older generations are in a constant struggle with these kids and their blasted phones. “Put those away!” “Am I going to have to confiscate that?” “No phones will be allowed on this trip.”

I’ll admit that I am guilty of saying a few of these phrases in my career as an educator. But is it the right way? It’s a question I struggle with constantly. If a 10 year-old comes to camp this year with a phone, how can I tell him or her that they can’t have it? Their whole life has been integrated with this device. It’s used in schools. Complicated schedules are logged and tracked. They have pictures of their friends, contact information for their parents or guardians. It’s a 21st century security blanket. Think about it like this: What if you went to a camp and the person in charge said there was going to be no running water or indoor bathrooms at this camp. And it’s simply that way because whoever was in charge didn’t have running water at camp when they were younger, and neither should you. In other words, it’s the “right” way to experience summer camp. Things have changed, and as educators, we have to adapt. Continue reading

Ben Franklin Bridge Walkway

On The Circuit: 6th annual Richard L. James lecture

By Elisabeth Zafiris, Acting Director of Education

On February 23rd the Schuylkill Center will welcome Robert Thomas, a founder and principal of Campbell Thomas & Co. Architects and Planners, as our 6th Annual Richard L. James Lecturer. This year we’ll be talking about The Circuit – a remarkable network spanning the region and connecting urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Thomas dedicated over 40 years advocating for parks, trails, and greenways, planning and building the green infrastructure that Philadelphians and visitors are fortunate enough to call their own. Thomas served on the original committee that created the Schuylkill River Trail, and was involved in drawing the first maps of The Circuit, an ever-growing network of regional trails. A lifelong cyclist, Thomas himself knows how important these trails are; for decades, Thomas has biked everywhere he goes, never owning a car. The Circuit Coalition, in turn, brings together 72 organizations to promote these 750 miles of trails. Continuing this work, Thomas advocated for bikes to be allowed on SEPTA trains, working alongside the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia. It’s safe to say that he’s a strong champion for the rich trail system we enjoy today.

Thomas brings his rich experience and perspective on trail systems to the annual lecture. He’ll discuss how The Circuit was created and regional vision to “Connect The Circuit” by linking all 750 miles of trails. Turning our attention to the future, Thomas will explore the coalition that has gathered around The Circuit and discuss the trail system’s future.

The Circuit trails are of special interest to the Schuylkill Center – our property borders the immensely popular Schuylkill River Trail. At the James Lecture Executive Director Mike Weilbacher will share details how the Center’s master plan invigorates our connection to the Schuylkill River Trail.

In the meantime, visit us – and come via the River Trail! Thomas recommends taking the Septa Manayunk/Norristown line to the Miquon station, walking the River Trail to the Schuylkill Center’s back entrance, and then walking up the back of the property – it’s route he recently took himself, and one that demonstrates what he thinks is the future for transportation – a linkage of cycling, public transit, trails, and roads that serve all people and places.

Past James lecturers include Kenneth Finch who spoke about the importance of keeping nature play in children’s lives in 2013 – coinciding with the announcement of our Nature Preschool, which opened later that year. In 2014, Dr. Michael Suk discussed the health benefits of nature; and, in 2015, Sarah Wu, of the city’s Office of Sustainability, walked a crowded auditorium through how climate change will affect Philadelphia’s future. The Richard L. James Lecture is an opportunity to think deeply about important environmental and regional issues, and this year’s lecture will be no exception.

This essay first appeared in the Winter 2017 Quill, our members’ newsletter.

Nature preschoolers treat penguin doll at play clinic

Children Need Nature: An Emergent Curriculum Study

Children Need NatureBy Kristina Eaddy, Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

Why do leaves change colors? What is under the frozen ice? And where do birds go during the winter? These are questions we hear every day, as Nature Preschool teachers. Young children’s minds are full of wonders and questions, trying to learn about, connect with, and understand the world they are surrounded by.

At Nature Preschool, we nurture this natural curiosity in young children by following the emergent curriculum approach. The goal of an emergent curriculum is to create meaningful learning experiences that capture children’s passion, foster inquiry-based experiences, and instill a love for learning. In contrast to a traditional, thematic-teaching approach, topics are not pre-planned in advance nor are they conducted in one- or two-week increments. Instead, a subject of study arises from the interests and developmental needs of the children in a group at any given time. A study can last anywhere from a couple of days to weeks, or even months, depending on how long the interest in the topic persists.

Continue reading

Plants on classroom windowsill

Bringing Nature into the Classroom

By Damien Ruffner, School Programs Manager

Here at the Schuylkill Center, we set yearly themes. It doesn’t necessarily dictate all of our goals and events throughout the year. Rather it is an ongoing conversation that the staff members have that consequently is reflected in our programming. In 2015 we marked our 50th anniversary, working these celebrations into many aspects of our work. In 2016 our theme was climate change. For 2017 the conversation around the Center is “What does environmental education look like in the 21st century?” It’s a simple enough question, but the answer is not so simple. We’re so early into this span, and who knows what kind of advancements in technology will shape the later part of the century?

My biggest goal, and first step, in answering this question is reminding people that nature is not “over there.” It’s easy to think that we live in civilization, and nature is some destination. There has been this separation in the 20th century of nature and people. That has to change if we want to move forward with environmental education. The great outdoors is not a place you drive to, pay an admission price to get into, and then take a few pictures of. It’s all around us, all the time. It’s in the trees planted along Ben Franklin Parkway. It’s in the grass behind your house. It’s in the fields we mow to play baseball.

My first introduction to nature was in my classroom. Our principal, and lead teacher, brought the outdoors into our world. She had animal stations that we were in charge of. She had more plant species than I can remember (all native to the Mid-Atlantic region) and it was our responsibility to care for them. When I was younger, I thought it was busy work. Put a ten-year-old in charge of the plants for this week and he can almost babysit himself. It’ll focus his energy and keep him from disrupting class with his friends, as ten-year-olds tend to do. Looking back now I see the true purpose. It was to foster an appreciation of plants and animals I never would have come in contact with. I began to care for these species even though I was never taught a single fact about them. I’d go home and water the wilting plants my mother had on the windowsills. I’d find box turtles in my back yard and return them to the forest. I caught and showed my mother salamanders, much to her dismay, before returning them to the stream that ran through my neighborhood.

The easiest way to foster an appreciation of the outdoors is to simply introduce a student to the natural world. With limited resources, and ever growing testing schedules, a trip to a place like the Schuylkill Center might be out of reach. So I urge all teachers to bring the outdoors inside. Bring some plants in to decorate your room and assign students to take care of them. Bring in a pet like a hamster or snake and keep it in the room where students can not only see it, but get used to it. Make it a part of their everyday lives and slowly, but surely, nature will not be “over there.”