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For today’s digitally savvy youth, nature is often far from their minds. Spending more time with video games, smartphones, computers and TV has contributed to the widespread onset of nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by author and environmental activist Richard Louv, which links behavioural problems in young people to lack of outdoor exposure.

Private schools across Canada have made it an integral part of their mission to teach environmental education. Many now realize that in order to get students to care about environmental protection and sustainability, they must first help them build a hands-on relationship with nature. For this reason, outdoor and experiential education programs are gaining popularity. From going on dogsledding adventures and taking overnight camping trips to growing community gardens and learning about science while exploring ponds, private schools are exposing kids to outdoor activities they’re not used to in their daily screen-saturated lives.

“Through these types of programs we are trying to inspire a sense of awe within kids,” says Grant Linney, outdoor educator and former president of the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario. “We are trying to make them realize that there are things much greater than themselves, and this world isn’t just about them. There are things out there that need to be respected and protected. And we know this cannot be done using a textbook.”

Beyond cultivating an environmental connection, Linney says outdoor education is vital for a student’s overall wellbeing. In fact, in the recent book Your Brain on Nature, Harvard physician Eva Selhub and naturopath Alan Logan give scientific evidence that natural environments provide measurable physical and mental health benefits.

Ultimately, environmental education is about investing in the future of our youth and our planet.

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