Thursday, November 18, 2010

Green Guest of the Month: Tim Magner, Growing Green Minds at Green Sugar Press.

Last week I caught up with Tim Magner, creator of Green Sugar Press, a Chicago-based publisher of eco-conscious children’s books. This week Tim shares some ideas on how schools and parents can help children “grow green minds.”

1.) In addition to offering engaging eco-themed books, how else does Green Sugar Press spread its environmental message to the community?

The Chicago-area is fantastic. There are thousands of organizations working to do good things for kids. Everyday there are groups meeting and functions happening. Things are getting done. I’m only one tiny piece.

At the same time, environmental education, or as I call it “inspiring kids to understand where they live, who lives with them and how the world works”, is still at the fringe. If you’re not in a well-to-do school, teachers are squeezed for time, focusing on test prep. And in the affluent communities, with enrichment activities galore, kids face mounting pressures to do “well.” This means tests and extra-curricular activities so they can get into the “best schools.” Too often, rote memorization is rewarded at the expense of digging deep and learning critical thinking.

2.) So how should schools approach environmental education?

I don’t blame individual teachers and schools for the movement to a factory model of school. Politicians who pass laws like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” mean well. They think business leaders want kids that can read and write and do math. That’s true, but, more importantly, businesses need graduates that know what it means to remain creative, work on a team and problem solve. What politicians don’t understand is schools are not producing cars. Each child is different. And that’s what we want, and need. Too often, restless and curious kids are penalized.

A lot of schools do a little recycling or have a school garden, but, too often, even early teens at these schools can’t explain why they recycle or what impact it makes. I’m not against celebrating Earth Day, but why not consider the whole child? We know kids benefit from immersion in nature nearby. We know kids learn better with hands-on learning that’s relevant to their world. So, why not weave in reading, writing, math, science, history, PE and the arts using the surrounding environment?

This means no more cookie-cutter Amazon rainforest lessons to 2nd graders. This does mean teaching creatively, leaving the confines of the four walls of the classroom. This means connecting with the community you’re in. Invite local community members to visit your class. Bring in the town engineer. Yes, students have to learn state standards, but there are no laws which say how to teach them.

3.) You’ve said that the best way to encourage kids to care about nature is for them to “get outside and get dirty.” What are some suggestions you have for parents and teachers to help kids connect with nature?

It totally depends on the age of the children. For a two-year-old, an army of ants roaming around with a scrap of food twelve-feet from the back door may be their Serengeti. For a couple of seven-year-olds, the equivalent might be exploring a new park you bike to a mile from home. For a twelve-year-old, it may be their first overnight camping trip, sleeping under the stars.

The benefits of being outside, preferably with some unstructured, child-driven activity, are substantial. And this goes adults also. While I didn’t know Rich Louv two years ago, I reached out to him and he offered suggestions to me on our book, “An Environmental Guide from A to Z.” I mention Louv because of his idea of the Family Nature Clubs. It helps overcome a bunch of the obstacles associated with spending time in nature. A free downloadable PDF guide is available at their children and nature network site.

4.) When you’re not busy as a writer, editor, and environmental educator, what are your favorite ways to “get outside and get dirty?”

I love great tasting food, so have spent some time at local community gardens and rediscovered how great it is to pull weeds. It sounds silly, but there is something to getting your hands dirty- even if you’re an adult. No, it’s not something I need to do for twelve hours a day . What’s crazy is how easy it is to not get outside ourselves, but how much better we feel even with a little time in our semi-wild region! That being said, even when I get out for a run, I have to remind myself to forget the day-to-day grind stuff and to pay attention to what’s around me. When I’m lucky enough to be with kids outside, however, its’ far easier to stay in the present and take everything in.

Check out Green Sugar Press’s great books on nature and the environment at:

Then go outside and get dirty!

No comments:

Post a Comment