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From Backyards to Backwoods: Getting kids into nature is easy with a camera

Steve Maanum1 / 2
Photo tip: A great way to get kids interested in nature is to turn them loose with a digital camera. They'll be nature lovers for life. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)2 / 2

In his book, "Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder," Richard Louv begins by quoting a fourth grader from San Diego: "I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are."

The author goes on to discuss how the current generation is not connected to nature with the same intensity as previous generations. He explains that part of the reason is due to technology. Televisions, computers, video games, and other electronic gadgetry are keeping kids from discovering their natural world.

One baby-boomer said, "When I was a kid, my parents had to almost drag me back in the house. Now I have to almost drag my kids out of the house." Therefore, this week's column is dedicated to the parents, grandparents, teachers, scout leaders, 4-H leaders, mentors, and all the others who help kids make connections with nature.

I have nothing against technology. I watch television (sometimes more than I should) and I spend time on my computer (sometimes more than I should), but I never let either one get in the way of my 'nature time.'

We can all help young people experience their natural world in a variety of ways. Activities can include biking, hiking, hunting, fishing, or just getting outside to throw a football or baseball.

Maybe because we live in a natural area and many of our families have hunting and fishing traditions, we are already doing a good job of connecting our kids to nature. Some of you, however, might still see technology as being a force that is keeping kids inside too much of the time.

My solution is, "If you can't beat them, join them." We can use their interest and expertise in technology to get them outside through digital photography.

Last year Olympus, America sent us twenty-four digital cameras to be used with students. We also received funding from a University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Partnership grant that enabled us to work with two pilot schools - Park Rapids and White Earth.

Our goal was to place the cameras into the hands of 200 students during our first year. We actually worked with over 650 students and adults. This year our grant has been renewed. We will continue to work with our two pilot schools while expanding to additional schools. My partner in the project is Joe Courneya - a U of M Extension Educator with American Indian Youth. Our backgrounds make for an interesting combination of skills.

Some of the columns this year will deal with our "Through the Lens of a Camera" project. In the meantime, check out what Richard Louv says in his book about the positive affects that nature has on test scores, on students with ADHD and autism, and on our physical and mental health.

Let me know your thoughts and concerns. In the meantime, go on a photo hike and help a child learn about the environment through the lens of a camera.

To contact me, e-mail