In Queen Anne’s County, all middle school students were recently assigned Chromebooks. These small laptops are used daily in the classroom, providing lessons for students to work through and often replacing traditional textbooks. As someone who is constantly striving to decrease household screen time, I’m dismayed to find my child’s increase tenfold thanks to this new academic initiative.
School laptop use mirrors a growing trend to integrate technology in environmental studies. Technology has its place, as nature-centric apps, iPhone photography, online citizen science projects, and websites such as iNaturalist demonstrate. But there is also something to be said for face-to-face interaction with nature, without the filter of a screen or hand-held gadget. Let’s face it, most teens are already quite familiar with smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Yet the number of middle school students who can’t identify an acorn—much less the tree it fell from—never ceases to amaze me.
Our children’s unfamiliarity with the natural world should come as no surprise. American children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did just two decades ago. The National Wildlife Federation reports that “The average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen.”
Enter Adkins Arboretum. Each year, the Arboretum’s 400-acres of stream, meadow, and woodland habitat offer students, scouts, summer campers, and visitors the in-depth, unfiltered interaction with nature missing from so many of our lives. This interaction is key to the next generation’s commitment to preserving nature. Outdoor education—now that’s an academic initiative we should all support.
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator