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For kids, real connections to nature have a lasting impact

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Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 9:09 PM

With summer temperatures hanging on relentlessly, it seems surreal that we are already three weeks into the new school year.

But the flurry of youthful activity around town confirms that it has begun. And as it has been with the start of each school year for a number of years now, Durango Nature Studies has also begun its work in the schools through our environmental education programs and our after-school Nature Club. The work DNS does with schools to connect students to their natural world is perhaps our organization’s most important mission.

Living in Durango, we have ample opportunity to connect with our natural environment, and many of us do just that on a regular basis through any number of outdoor pursuits. But not everyone can capitalize on the opportunities that surround us.

As a partner with Durango School District 9-R, the DNS team of educators provides all public elementary and some middle school students with lessons on science topics and local habitats through hands-on activities in the classroom and through a field trip to our Nature Center. Topics covered align with Colorado and national science education standards for each grade.

This column has regularly touted the benefits of connecting children with the natural world. The physical, academic and emotional benefits abound. A student’s focus is better, test scores and grades improve and there are lower incidences of attention deficit disorder. When we connect with nature, we use all of our senses, and studies have shown that more time spent outdoors actually reduces the incidences of nearsightedness in children. Connecting with nature heightens our empathy and enhances our problem-solving abilities. It reduces stress and increases self-discipline, and it inevitably leads children to be more physically active.

Not only is that connection important for individual health, but it is also critical for the health of our communities and society at large. When we are connected to our natural world, we are inclined to support protecting our most precious resources, ensuring a safe and sustainable food supply and making decisions that benefit future generations.

I recognize that the programs that DNS offers to classrooms are a small piece of a child’s overall education, but we cherish the opportunity to provide children with the ability to connect with nature, particularly for children who may not readily have the ability to do so. I have heard enough stories from my short time at DNS that even those brief intervals have made a difference in the lives of many of our youths.

As we connect with students this year, we will undoubtedly have many students who have had numerous opportunities to get out into the natural world, but we will also get a chance to show some children aspects of nature that will quite possibly change how they see the world for the rest of their lives. And that always makes for a great day.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Email her at stephanie@durangonaturestudies.org.

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