No child left inside is locally important for all things start at home. I emphasize what people can do to promote healthy nature niches on their property for families and wildlife. Our children are among those that live in our home nature niches.
An organized No Child Left Inside movement has been around for over a century in many forms by different names and sponsors. Field and Stream Clubs across the country have programs where youth get immersed in the outdoors. The emphasis focuses around hunting and fishing with a goal to help youth understand the natural world they depend on for life. They gave me a scholarship to wildlife camp for a week in 1964 where I learned about birds, mammals, fish, outdoor skills, and habitat management.
The National Audubon Society Junior Audubon program takes kids outdoors to experience birds, plants, insects, and all ecology our lives depend upon. The local Junior Audubon is the longest running program in North America according to Grand Rapids Audubon leader Wendy Tatar. My parents subscribed me to Junior Audubon booklets monthly for years that taught about soil, worms, insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, plant communities and the list goes on and on.
4H programs focus primarily on animal husbandry and plant propagation for making ones livelihood but it leads to understanding how all nature’s creatures like soil bacteria and mycorhiza fungus are essential for maintaining a healthy world. Paige Gebhardt, 4H student, graduated salutatorian this year from Cedar Springs High School and will attend Michigan State University studying wildlife programs. She told me this spring she would love to work with wolves and become a wildlife biologist to enhance healthy nature niches essential for the health of our community.
Boy and Girl Scout programs have been among the most influential for my personal development. Boy Scouts got me outside canoeing, camping, hiking, observing with focused activities where I could study the natural world. The leaders often did not have the best nature knowledge but they loved it. By the time I was in high school, scout leaders and other scouts often turned to me with nature questions because I immersed myself in outdoor study. The first nature book I bought with my own money was A Field to the Butterflies, by Alexander Klots. I had been chasing winged jewels for years and wanted better understanding.
The Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) is an organization of outdoor leaders and teachers focused on experiential outdoor recreational activities and for responsible environmental stewardship that is not environmentally destructive. I was president of MAEOE working to lead local communities in Michigan to help return environmental and outdoor education as a priority again in 2007. In 1986, Dale Elshoff and I both moved to Michigan and we were already trained Project WILD facilitators. Together we led the first statewide teacher training in Project WILD to establish it in Michigan. It is a form of no child left inside that teachers and organization leaders use with youth.
It was the beginning of June 2005 when I was called to the Kent ISD office and told to lay off the staff at the Howard Christensen Nature Center on the last day of school. The superintendent told me they were closing HCNC because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. I objected and he commented that he was not saying it was not important but it was no longer a priority in America, Michigan, or our community. There were several people throughout the county that contacted the ISD and even the Grand Rapids Press but environmental education had become a political football instead of a community value so it was closed. The Kent County Soil Conservation District reopened it a year later for two years and then a nonprofit organization called Lily’s Frog Pad assumed management. Their programs and community involvement are growing at HCNC to promote No Child Left Inside.
Next week’s nature niche will focus on the current No Child Left Inside movement.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org or Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.