Away from the electronics, out of the classroom and into the wild

Wisconsin’s Aldo Leopold Nature Center cultivates a relationship with the outdoors from a young age

When a child can identify a video-game character more quickly than an animal in the wild, it’s time to get outside.

And that’s just what Monona, Wisconsin-based Aldo Leopold Nature Center (ALNC) is doing with its Growing Knee-High Naturalists program.

Working in alignment with state education standards, students get to spend their science or social studies classes out at the nature center. The facility’s programs cater to children aged from two to 14, and ALNC is focused on creating equitable access to its programs for all children.

There are myriad benefits of spending time outdoors, and increased exposure to vitamin D can even be linked to fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD, says Marketing and Communications Manager Cara Erickson.

“Students are able to recognize by interacting with nature that there is a broader world outside of themselves,” says Erickson. “We have seen improvements in immune systems, lower rates of obesity and better performance in standardized test scores.”

And alongside the academic, physical and mental improvements, interacting with nature also brings emotional benefits—curbing anxiety and stress, boosting confidence and self-awareness—as youth begin the transformation into adulthood.

“Being outside just molds a child into becoming a better person,” says Erickson.

While ALNC currently caters to children in traditional school systems, homeschool environments and preschoolers, the organization doesn’t want to stop there.

Looking ahead at the next five to 10 years, ALNC plans to increase accessibility by strengthening its partnerships with community organizations, and developing avenues for children from all backgrounds to experience the countless benefits of connecting with the natural world.

Safety and environmental protection are paramount to Enbridge, and we invest in programs that promote environmental stewardship, education, conservation and remediation.

In Wisconsin’s Dane County, Enbridge’s donation of $5,000 made it possible for 1,332 students to visit Aldo Leopold Nature Center in 2017—and we’ve helped support the center’s vision for improving youth environmental education since 2014.

ALNC’s summer program involves campers witnessing the transition of monarch butterflies from larvae to chrysalis, and finally releasing the butterflies in their fully evolved form. For Erickson, that firsthand perspective of a child’s reactions and revelations just reinforces the value of ALNC’s work.

“Their reactions are priceless,” she says. “The absolute joy and wonder of nature is written across their faces.”