Category Archives: Youth Education

Staying Outside During “Back to School”

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It’s that time of year again! New clothes, new pencils (or electronic pens and tablets), new backpacks. Some kids are excited, and some might be dreading, the inevitable back to school weeks.

For a lot of families, “Back to School” might also mean more time indoors. As school programs start to reduce, or maybe even cancel, gym and recess, it’s important to make sure your kids are continuing to learn outside the classroom. We at Atlas encourage year-round outdoor adventures, not just for your physical health, but also as exercise for the mind.

According to a study from The Child Mind Institute, “The average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen”. This uptick in indoor-time even has a name: Nature Deficit Disorder.

Why is getting outside so important? Can’t kids learn just as well with their screens? The article lays it out for us:

  • It builds confidence. The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play. There are infinite ways to interact with outdoor environments, from the backyard to the park to the local hiking trail or lake, and letting your child choose how he treats nature means he has the power to control his own actions.
  • It promotes creativity and imagination. This unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
  • It teaches responsibility. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.
  • It provides different stimulation. Nature may seem less stimulating than your son’s violent video game, but in reality, it activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments.
  • It gets kids moving. Most ways of interacting with nature involve more exercise than sitting on the couch. Your kid doesn’t have to be joining the local soccer team or riding a bike through the park—even a walk will get her blood pumping. Not only is exercise good for kids’ bodies, but it seems to make them more focused, which is especially beneficial for kids with ADHD.
  • It makes them think. Nature creates a unique sense of wonder for kids that no other environment can provide. The phenomena that occur naturally in backyards and parks everyday make kids ask questions about the earth and the life that it supports.
  • It reduces stress and fatigue. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, urban environments require what’s called directed attention, which forces us to ignore distractions and exhausts our brains. In natural environments, we practice an effortless type of attention known as soft fascination that creates feelings of pleasure, not fatigue.

We get it, technology is a part of our everyday lives. But we encourage you to make a goal this fall and winter: to get out more or get out in a different way. Maybe this is the time to buy your kids some snowshoes. Maybe it’s getting them so cool new gear that gets them excited about being in the snow. What can we do to entertain our kids away from their screens? The Washington Trails Association has some great games you can print and bring on your hikes. Your kids will have fun, enjoy the outdoors, and YOU get more happy family time. Win win!

 

Atlas and the Winter Wildlands Alliance

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From the Winter Wildlands Alliance:

Dear Atlas Snow-Shoe Company,

SnowSchool is officially winding down for the year and we’ve put together this season-end report to update you on all the recent SnowSchool developments made possible by Atlas’ support this past year.

Program Scope and Impact

As we do at the end of every SnowSchool season, we’ve nearly completed our survey of SnowSchool sites to measure how many participants came through the program this winter. With surveys from most of our major sites in, we estimate that SnowSchool engaged over 33,000 participants across 65 active sites, with 54% of the students qualifying as underserved and 50% of the of kids never having been on snowshoes before! This winter SnowSchool engaged an additional 4,000 adult chaperones, parents, K-12 teachers and volunteer educators. A SnowSchool student had this to say about her experience:

“Dear SnowSchool- Thank you so much for taking us snowshoeing and telling us about wildlife, plus telling us about the water cycle. I told my brother about how fun it was and he can’t wat to go!” –Abbey, 4th Grade Student

Success Stories

Program Expansion: Every winter WWA brings SnowSchool to new communities across the country by working to establish new SnowSchool sites. By partnering with existing organizations WWA can provide the science curriculum, discount snowshoes, educational equipment, on-snow training, over-the-phone/email mentoring and fundraising events necessary to quickly launch a winter program to serve new populations of students. Our national expansion efforts were boosted this year by the first-ever SnowSchool film to appear in WWA’s Backcountry Film Festival. The film, SnowSchool Experiences, featured our Northern Idaho Flagship Site and provided audiences at 107 showings nationwide with a compelling illustration of the program. As a result of this additional exposure and our ongoing efforts, WWA added 8 new SnowSchool sites in the following locations: Idaho City ID, Fairplay CO, Mammoth Lakes CA, Livingston MT, Wenatchee WA, Leavenworth WA, Dillion CO and Plumas County CA. This was the most sites we’ve ever added in a year!

Helping Rural Kids Explore Public Lands: Many successful SnowSchool sites are located in nature centers, Nordic centers, national parks and ski resorts that engage thousands of kids from urban areas every winter. But in many rural and mountainous communities students don’t need to get on a bus and drive hours to a nature center to explore the wilds of winter– they have public land right out the front door of their school. Thus, to bring the SnowSchool experience to students in these rural communities WWA is actively working to develop a new “traveling SnowSchool” program model. The concept was piloted this winter with the US Forest Service at our new SnowSchool site in rural Idaho City. Snowshoes and volunteer leaders arrived at the school and classes of fourth graders headed out the door and onto National Forest land across the street! Look for updates on this project in the coming season as we work to connect all kids with nature and help them understand the importance of our nation’s public lands.

Connecting Students with Snow Science: The SnowSchool program is uniquely situated to help K-12 students explore connections between mountain snow, climate research and water science, topics that are particularly relevant in western states and communities where mountain snow provides approximately 80 percent of the water supply. To capitalize on this opportunity WWA forged a new collaboration in 2017 with the National Resource Conservation Service’s Snow Survey Program. Utilizing NRCS’s network of remote SnoTEL stations (which monitor mountain snow across the west) WWA created a new web-based science activity to follow-up the SnowSchool field trip. This “Snowpack Prediction Contest” enables kids all across the Western US to study decades of snowpack data in their local watershed, and transforms the SnowSchool experience from a one-day event into winter-long science project. Quantitative outcome data collected by WWA shows that underserved students make significant gains is science learning through participation. Fifty-five classrooms of students nationally participated in this project in its first year and WWA aims to expand in future seasons. By combining this innovative snow science curriculum with fun outdoor exploration, SnowSchool is creating for kids both an emotional connection to winter wildlands and greater understanding of the important ecological role of mountain snow.

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The Trail Ahead

With your support we aspire to continue our efforts to increase the number of SnowSchool sites nationally and enhance the overall experience for every student. We envision a thriving national program that will foster rich ecological literacy in our communities and introduce generations of kids to the wonders of snowshoe exploration.

Sincerely,

Kerry McClay, Ed.D.

National SnowSchool Director