In his book "Last Child in the Woods", author Richard Louv brought to attention the negative consequences of a society that is becoming disconnected with the natural world and the negative effects on peoples' health that such a lifestyle could facilitate. Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder" to describe the phenomenon and with this in mind, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, through funding by the Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont, set-out to create the Martinsville-Henry County Community Nature Initiative to help counter this and other consequences of a society becoming disconnected with the outdoors.
"There is strong evidence supporting the idea that the disconnection between people and nature is having an adverse effect on our overall health, especially that of children," said Tamara Poles, who oversees the initiative as the museum's nature and outdoor education manager. "However, the environment is also suffering, as younger generations are becoming less aware of the critical role it plays in our lives and our need to protect it."
Through low-cost public programming, the initiative has exceeded initial expectations and has reached out to residents of Martinsville-Henry County through a wide variety of events, activities, festivals, school programming, and extended learning opportunities for adults and professionals.
"With support from the Harvest Foundation, the initiative formed in 2008 and since then we have conducted 247 outdoor and nature oriented programs and have reached nearly 13,000 participants, mostly consisting of residents from Martinsville and Henry County and the surrounding area," said Poles.
Events held by the initiative have included public festivals such as the Piedmont Kite Festival and Outdoor Fun Festival, along with community events such as the Earth Week Celebration, Take a Child Outside Week and Screen on the Green. The initiative has also hosted multiple extended learning opportunities for regional educators and stewards, as well as countless educational programming for local school, church and civic groups.
"The initiative's success was heavily dependent on community support, specifically our community partners and their willingness and eagerness to help facilitate our goals," said Poles. "They've played a vital role in allowing us to offer unique opportunities for all the area's residents."
Friends of Philpott, Henry County Parks and Recreation, Henry County Public Schools, Martinsville Parks and Recreation, Martinsville City School's Science Engineering Mathematics Aerospace Academy (SEMMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Philpott Dam, and the Martinsville YMCA were all organizations that Poles said were key partners that have supported the initiative from the beginning. While a heavy focus is placed on children and youth education, the initiative also focuses on adults and educators through extended learning opportunities. One of the initiative's most successful offerings was the Virginia Institute of Natural Youth Leadership (VINYL) that took place in June 2011. The week-long workshop was one of the most intensive workshops of its kind offered in Virginia and provided educators the leadership skills, techniques and inspiration needed for effectively guiding others in meaningful nature experiences. A highlight of the workshop was Joseph Cornell, author of the highly acclaimed book series Sharing Nature with Children book series, who served as a guest presenter."
"VINYL was a huge success for the initiative, both because of the depth of the programming, as well as Mr. Cornell's notoriety within environmental educator circles," said Poles. "Not only did we reach a wide local audience, but we had educators as far away as Vermont come to the museum to take part."
In the coming year, the initiative is set to offer the Piedmont Kite Festival on March 17 and the Earth Day Festival on April 28. For more information about the initiative, including how to register and work with the museum to create unique learning opportunities, visit www.vmnh.net
About the Virginia Museum of Natural History The Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville seeks to increase understanding of and appreciation for the natural history of the Commonwealth through education, research, collections, publications and exhibits. The museum - an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution - is accredited by the American Association of Museums, a distinction earned by fewer than 10 percent of museums in the United States. The museum is a member of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, Virginia Association of Museums, Heritage Preservation, and is an agency of the Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed on Sundays, as well as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Admission through January 2 is $5 for adults; $4 for senior citizens and college students; $3 for children and youth 3-18; members and children under 3 receive free admission. For more information about membership or volunteer opportunities, please call 276-634-4141 or visit www.vmnh.net.