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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Combating Nature Deficit Disorder : Nature Schools Collaborate to Create Connections

Mar 04, 2016 05:16PM ● By Melissa Lopata

Today, many children and adults suffer from what nature-focused author Richard Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder”—a reduced awareness and diminished ability to find meaning in the life around us. Nature connection leaders are poised to be societal game changers as the importance of the nature connection for families becomes more crucial now more than ever. At the end of January, a three-day gathering of Northeast wilderness and nature connection school leaders occurred, spearheaded by David Brownstein, co-founder and executive director of Wild Earth (WildEarth.org) in New Paltz, New York.

There is a reawakening in society to the importance of nature as a tool for education, for human connection to self and others, and for psychological health. Brownstein’s goal in organizing the event was to collaborate with other local nature organizations to help strengthen this mutual mission and create a regenerative culture bound by deep nature connection; one where human needs are interwoven with the rhythms and needs of the natural place in which they live.

Other key nature school executive directors in the region were invited to help forge this vision of a conference that would lead to ongoing collaboration among nature organizations. These included: Angella Gibbons, founder and director of EarthWalk Vermont in Plainfield, Vermont (EarthWalkVermont.org); Justin Pegnataro, executive director of Two Coyotes Wilderness School in Newtown, Connecticut (TwoCoyotes.org); and Saskia Vanderhoop, founding director of Sassafras Earth Ed. in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (SassafrasMVy.org).

Together, these leaders produced and hosted the three-day gathering in New York’s Hudson Valley. Forty-three leaders from 19 nature connection schools attended to support growing nature connection visions into successful, economically viable and regenerative businesses. The schools represented were: Wild Earth, White Pine Programs, Two Coyotes Wilderness School, Numina, Wolf Tree Programs, Primitive Pursuits, Earth Living Skills, EarthWalk Vermont, Children of the Earth, Vermont Wilderness School, Earth Arts, Full Moon Girls, Crow’s Path Inc, Wildhood, Vermont Art of Mentoring, Sassafras Earth Ed, Carp Ridge EcoWellness and Merrohawke.

The nature connection leaders that attended this first conference left inspired and with a renewed commitment to be catalysts in their communities. They re-energized themselves by sharing inspiring stories and uplifting songs, brainstorming together, meditating, and wandering the foothills of the Shawangunk Ridge. As a group, they took time to remember and rekindle the original visions for their schools, and reflect on their triumphs and challenges.

A few weeks after the event, the schools continued to honor the transparency and shared values that were cultivated during the gathering. A shared open source database and a social media forum have been created to continue to share knowledge and data, and to strengthen the connection of these schools. Shortly after the event, Brownstein reached out to each school/organization that attended the gathering. He asked that each consider reaching out toward another one and arranging a staff visit. “This can be program staff visiting another school’s program staff or administrative staff visiting with another school’s administrative staff. Or, it can be both,” Brownstein told them. The hope is to help all nature connection organizations identify and re-vision core parts of their curriculum or marketing/business development plans.

Their shared philosophy around nature connection is very aligned with this collaborative model in which questions become journeys of awareness and explorations of interrelationship.

For more information, email [email protected] or visit TwoCoyotes.org. Two Coyotes Wilderness School will host a free Family Fun Day Open House on Saturday, April 16 from 1-4pm. To RSVP for the event, visit TwoCoyotesNewtownFamilyFun.eventbrite.com. Location: Sticks and Stones Farm, 201 Huntingtown Rd, Newtown.

Melissa Lopata is marketing director of Two Coyotes Wilderness School. Connect with her at [email protected]See ad, page 15.