Imagine public schools as places where children eagerly learn a variety of disciplines in the heart of the environment. Proponents of the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI) say this may soon materialize into a reality for education in the United States.
This past week, Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced the bipartisan No Child Left Inside Act of 2011. It calls for students to develop environmental literacy through outdoor activities integrated with academic learning.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson authorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a U.S. federal statute, as part of the "War on Poverty" initiative of the 1960s.
Today, the education system is guided by the familiar No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), authorized by George W. Bush in 2001.
“An unintended consequence of that act was that many disciplines got pushed out of the classroom. Focus was on reading, math, and on testing. Consequently other things didn’t get done,” said Don Baugh, executive director of the National Coalition for NCLI, in a phone interview.
As an example of how a class would gain environmental literacy, Baugh said, “In teaching math, teachers are using authentic real world examples of the environment. Often that is what engages kids—the environment and the world around us.
“If you are able to take kids outside and have an activity, even on the school ground, you can do a lot that involves math, social studies, English, language arts, and certainly involves a lot of science,” Baugh said, noting one example in which urban students learned to read by having the local environment as the context for learning.
According to the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, environmental literacy means for “an individual to act successfully in daily life on a broad understanding of how people and societies relate to each other and to natural systems, and how they might do so sustainably,” according to the group’s website.
The state of Maryland took the lead in environmental education this past year and required its high school seniors to be environmentally literate in order to graduate.
Areas with expected improvement via the NCLI Act are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM.Other benefits to the NCLI Act are associated with just being outside in general. On average, school children in the United States spend 30 minutes outside for recess only.
In July 2010, Harvard Health School noted five benefits of being outside: vitamin D levels will go up; more exercise (especially if you’re a child); happier moods; concentration will improve; and faster healing, and less stress.