It was way back in 1994 that I can account for an “aha!” moment that defined just how I would continue to plan the environmental education programs from that point on for the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District.
Researchers say that although it may not appear in the shape of a light bulb above our heads, “aha!” moments are marked by a surge of electrical activity in the brain. A study report that appeared in an article in a medical journal in 2004 showed that about one-third of a second before the “aha” moment, there was a sudden burst of high-frequency brain waves and this type of activity is associated with high-level processing of information.
O.K., O.K., so I digress. I will get back to my story. So, here I was helping a local high school team prepare for the regional Envirothon competition. The students were reviewing tests questions from previous years and came across a question that asked for the methods of how to measure the age of a tree and determine rate of growth.
One of the students indicated that the only way to measure the age of a tree was to cut it down and count the rings. This caused a wave of recall from several members of the team. They said “Don’t you remember what we learned in fifth grade at the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District’s Outdoor Days program?”
The students continued their explanation by recalling the hands-on experience provided to them by, now retired, Jim Elze, ODNR service forester. They very excitedly remembered using “that borer thing” to extract a core from the tree that would provide them with the answers that they were seeking.
At that moment I experienced that “sudden burst” of high-frequency brain waves. Actually too, I felt a sense of pride that these young people retained this information from five years earlier. It confirmed to me that day there is no substitution for hands-on nature learning and “that borer thing” (increment borer) experience caused an environmental memory spark for those students.
And as I can affirm, hands-on learning is not just for the young. A parent once told me he attended one of our nature-based outdoor programs with his son as a school chaperone. Although he has been a hunter most of his life he learned more that day than he could realize about the environment, the habits of wildlife, and the wonders of the real world.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts are great resources of the real world. Parents and educators can benefit greatly from an educational association with county-based district. Many districts offer outdoor camps, farm tour experiences, stream monitoring activities and more.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, examines research and concludes that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
I encourage you to contact your local district for a call to action to help address that deficit.