Teaching Kids Life Lessons Through Nature: Dr. Mamie Parker at Marstel-Day's Wildlife Conservation Awareness Campaign
Inspirational speaker Dr. Mamie Parker applauded urban wildlife refuges and other ways of connecting children with nature, and told attendees of Marstel-Day's Wildlife Conservation Awareness Campaign talk that we need to introduce kids to nature at as young an age as possible: "We have to rise above – to stop being stuck, stalled and scared," Parker said. "Kids are afraid of the outdoors. If we wait until high school, it's too late. Once they get addicted to screen time, it's harder."
Watch the video of Mamie Parker's presentation.
With the theme of "rising above," Parker said, "We have to talk about fear, when we talk to kids, we have to let them know they are powerful and they can make a difference." A biologist and former longtime U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) official, she emphasized that helping kids explore and engage with nature also helps them learn to overcome fears that could hold them back in life, giving them positive memories that will last a lifetime. She stressed that this is especially important for kids in urban environments, where the funding for these programs is scarce, and that the USFWS Urban Wildlife Refuge program is an important tool for helping reach some of these kids, but much more support is needed.
If parents, families and neighborhoods expose children to the outdoors from the earliest ages, the next generation will grow up loving nature more than electronics -- but also children will overcome fears, other social ills may ease, and communities will thrive on many levels, Parker said.
"In the end, our communities will have more advocates, our population will be healthier, and our kids will be driven to explore, learn and lead a happier and more fulfilled life," Parker said.
One important tool for reaching children in cities is the USFWS Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership program, which tries to engage communities and new audiences in nurturing an appreciation of wildlife. These partnerships are located in demographically and geographically-varied cities.
"We are all part of a larger family, when it comes to the environment," Parker said. "We have to be open to successes and failures. It takes a long-term commitment. We can't just come in and stay a while and leave."
Parker outlined steps that individuals can take in their own communities, including the following:
· Talk to teachers and parents about the need for kids to have more experiences with nature. Focus especially on those already interested in the subject, such as science and physical education teachers, or parents who have chaperoned field trips.
· Talk to operators of community parks and recreation facilities, local religious leaders, and other community figures who may be able to help find resources for field trips.
· Start a fund at your local school to pay the transportation and related expenses for field trips to the zoo or parks or nature preserves, because financial resources are often the stumbling block.
Marstel-Day CEO and President Rebecca R. Rubin said that Parker's commitment to and insights into helping kids relate to nature resonated with her personally: "Her points about teaching kids life lessons through experiencing nature are so crucial for parents and teachers to hear. I am a testament to that. Living near the woods and exploring them taught me so much. In the end, it led me to create Marstel-Day and commit my life to the business of conservation."
At the conclusion of Parker's presentation, Rubin announced that Marstel-Day has donated to two nonprofit organizations: the National Wildlife Refuge Association, which protects America's wildlife heritage and whose board members include Parker and Rubin; and the Children and Nature Network, which is leading a "movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools, broad-based collaboration and support of grassroots leadership."
Parker, who worked at the Fish and Wildlife Service for nearly 30 years, became the first African American to be named regional director of 13 northeastern states. She currently serves on Marstel-Day's Council of Advisors and on the board of the Chesapeake Conservancy, as well as the National Wildlife Refuge Association board.
Marstel-Day's Wildlife Conservation Awareness Campaign features monthly talks by leading conservationists presenting in-depth analyses of wildlife conservation issues and their effect on the ecosystem. At each session, the speaker will present options for what the public and industry can do to help, and Rubin will present Marstel-Day's commitment for that issue.
The next event in the campaign event will be a March 19 talk by Discover Nature Apps cofounder Evan Hirsche on the evolution of outdoor interpretation. Hirsche will discuss how the smartphone revolution offers natural and historic treasures their best opportunity ever to engage an increasingly urban and disconnected American public. His talk will begin at noon at Marstel-Day's Fredericksburg headquarters.