With summer temperatures hanging on relentlessly, it seems surreal that we are already 3 weeks
into the new school year. But the flurry of youthful activity around town confirms that it has. And as it
has been with the start of each school year for a number of years now, Durango Nature Studies
(DNS) has also begun our work in the schools through our environmental education programs and
our after-school Nature Club. The work DNS does with the schools to connect students to their
natural world is perhaps our organization’s most important mission.
Living in Durango, we have ample opportunity to connect with our natural environment, and many of
us do just that on a regular basis through any number of outdoor pursuits. But not everyone can
capitalize on the opportunities that surround us.
As a partner with the 9R School District, the DNS team of educators provides all public elementary
and some middle school students with lessons on science topics and local habitats through hands-
on activities in the classroom and through a field trip out to our Nature Center. Topics covered align
with Colorado and national science education standards for each grade.
Those of us at DNS regularly tout the benefits of connecting children with the natural world. The
physical, academic, and emotional benefits abound. A student’s focus is better, test scores and
grades improve, and there are lower incidences of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). .When we
connect with nature, we utilize all of our senses, and studies have shown that more time spent
outdoors actually reduces the incidences of nearsightedness in children. Connecting with nature
heightens our empathy and enhances our problem solving abilities. It reduces stress and increases
self-discipline, and it inevitably leads children to be more physically active.
Not only is that connection important for individual health, but it is also critical for the health of our
communities and society at large. When we are connected to our natural world, we are inclined to
support protecting our most precious resources, ensuring a safe and sustainable food supply, and
making decisions that benefit future generations.
I recognize that the programs that DNS offers to classrooms are a small piece of a child’s overall
education, but we cherish the opportunity to provide children with the ability to connect with nature,
particularly for children who may not readily have the ability to do so. I have heard enough stories
from my short time at DNS that even those brief intervals have made a difference in the lives of
many our youth. As we connect with students this year, we will undoubtedly have many students
who have had numerous opportunities to get out into the natural world, but we will also get a chance
to show some children aspects of nature that will quite possibly change how they see the world for
the rest of their lives. And that always makes for a great day.