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Grand Rapids' best story overlooked at conference

Conference corridor conversations were dominated by melancholy buzz about layoffs and austerity. Many publications have evaporated. Others are shrinking. The recession and rise of Internet communications are blamed, but another significant factor is declining numbers of young people engaging in the outdoors – and purchasing magazines and books.
“How do we get more young people involved in the outdoors?” is the frequently asked question.
Grand Rapids has an innovative answer. About 60 fortunate sixth-graders from the Grand Rapids School District spend their academic year in a small school at the Blandford Nature Center. Students complete normal academic requirements but with a nature focus. “The kids are outdoors every day. They learn science and math by operating our maple-syruping operation and tend chickens and sell eggs,” said Lyndsay Lenoir, education coordinator. They do much more. By being outside over nine months kids develop outdoor confidence and comfort not possible in a traditional school. Nature centers traditionally involve children in outdoor activities, but normally contact is a brief field trip. A growing trend is the establishment of preschools at nature centers to enable young kids to spend many hours outdoors.
I may be the only nature center director who is an active OWAA member. My staff and volunteers host nearly 20,000 kids each year. Many have no mentor to introduce them to the outdoors, and a visit to the nature center to enjoy fishing, camping, beekeeping, hiking, or simply rambling is a life-changing experience.
The Blandford Nature Center takes it a big step further by enabling sixth-graders to have an in-depth outdoor experience while at school. Check out www.blandfordnaturecenter.org or www.indiancreeknaturecenter.org. ◊
richpatterson-webBy Rich Patterson, OWAA former president and director of the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.















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