David Sobel
Courtesy Photo

In our techno age, where most kids’ noses are pointing at digital screens, David Sobel is loudly preaching the gospel of going outside, arguing that the exploration of nature should be a critical component of education. He brings that message to town on Saturday, September 19, when he’ll discuss Why Young Children Need Nature as part of In Bloom in Santa Barbara, a 9 a.m.-4 p.m. program at the Open Alternative School about nature-based education put on by Antioch University, the Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, and the Wilderness Youth Project. Registration is $75; email msmeltz@antioch.edu or call (603) 283-2301.

Sobel answered a few of my questions via, ahem, email.

Why integrate nature into learning? Children’s lives are becoming too digitalized and indoor-ified. Elementary-aged children spend eight hours a day interacting with screens and a half-hour per day outside. Nature-based education is more physically active, so it’s healthier for children. And nature-based education is more concrete and compelling for children, so it makes them more engaged, motivated, and therefore successful. 

Are schools accepting of your suggestions?  There’s a burgeoning Green Schools movement that embraces much of this approach. New nature preschools and forest kindergartens are cropping up each week. Many schools embrace a place-based education commitment. So yes, many schools are accepting of this.   

There’s a sense that our kids are already too far down the road of digital living. Can we fix that? Yes. As Tom Robbins said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” 

How does Santa Barbara measure up in teaching kids about the outdoors?
 There was unusual enthusiasm demonstrated by the audience who came to my talk in April. I talked to at least two principals implementing innovative place-based education in their schools, and both Antioch Santa Barbara and UCSB have faculty committed to this kind of education. There’s an unusual number of nonprofits, including the Wilderness Youth Project, the Museum of Natural History, and Wild Roots Forest School, committed to nature-based education. Santa Barbara is fertile ground for creating a healthy, nature-based education community.


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