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Globe Magazine readers respond to a story on nature-based education.

PLANTING THE SEEDS

Melanie Plenda’s article “Into the Woods” (October 6) was a welcome spotlight on the public’s growing interest in outdoor learning. But she should have noted that outdoor learning, including garden-based learning, has been embraced by elementary and middle school teachers as well as preschool. Nor is the practice confined to rural and suburban areas. Outdoor education and garden-based learning is happening in Boston and Cambridge public elementary and middle schools. City kids deserve the benefits of outdoor learning, too.

Jane Hirschi

Director, CitySprouts (a school garden program in Boston and Cambridge public schools)

What about poor urban children who face very real logistical and economic barriers to spending time in natural settings? Too many children have no green space near their homes, and they are more frequently confined indoors by parents concerned about neighborhood violence. Unlike the population Plenda addressed, which is able to afford and patronize a nature-based preschool, children from low-income urban areas and their parents often do not have the luxury of disposable income, ease of transportation, or the free time necessary to travel from their homes to local public green spaces.

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How do we get the children who need nature most out in it? Programs like ours offer these youth the opportunity to hike in the woods and explore pond life — or just rest on the grass to watch the clouds roll by. Farrington Nature Linc helps about 1,000 children a year.

Wendy S. Matusovich

Executive Director

Farrington Nature Linc

Lincoln

Teachers in the Boston Public School system are getting urban students outside in their local environment, whether it is in a park, at the harbor, or in their schoolyard. Outdoor learning addresses subjects across disciplines from field science observation to mathematical measurement to creative writing — and many test-based standards can be taught outside. But in some schools, meeting rigorous academic demands means working within the walls of a classroom, and a half-hour recess is the extent of students’ time outside. More support from City Hall could help get all BPS kids learning in the environment that depends on them. The next mayor should invest in ensuring schools have the resources to support professional development, schoolyard maintenance, and community partnerships so that consideration of our natural environment, integral to our economy and the vitality of our city, does not get left behind.

Jessica Parsons

Jamaica Plain

Through an innovative public-private partnership among the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools, and Boston’s foundation community, Boston has built 32 outdoor classrooms, bringing nature to urban students, right in their schoolyard. The Boston Schoolyard Initiative partnership has also trained 850 Boston teachers to take science and writing into the schoolyard. Teachers report that the BPS science and writing curriculum taught outdoors increases student interest in science, provides “real world” examples for science concepts, helps students become better writers, and shows particular promise for improving outcomes for English language learners and children with disabilities. Nature is a powerful teacher, and the Boston Schoolyard Initiative helps instructors harness it.

Myrna Johnson

Executive Director

Boston Schoolyard Initiative

COMMENTS? Write to magazine@globe.com or The Boston Globe Magazine/Comments, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819. Letters are subject to editing.

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