Nature-Based Activities Providing Opportunities for Exploration, Wonder & Joy
The Missouri Environmental Education Association (MEEA) is spearheading a collaboration to pilot the inclusion of outdoor, nature-based learning kits with COVID-19 food relief efforts.
Missouri Foundation for Health facilitated the project by connecting MEEA with Operation Food Search and St. Louis County Libraries, who were already teamed up to provide meals for families at several library sites throughout the summer. Libraries were selected for food distribution based on disproportionate impact from COVID-19, primarily low-income communities and African American communities.
The developing project to include outdoor learning kits alongside food distribution will provide opportunities for kids to connect with nature in ways that support mental and physical health and provide opportunities for learning.
Read more from the MEEA press release about the project below.
The project will consist of 6300 learning kits distributed to St. Louis County families over the summer alongside Operation Food Search’s COVID-19 food relief at ten St. Louis County Library sites located in neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. Partners from across Missouri and beyond are curating three different themed kits –2100 of each—to be distributed on three different days in July and August, beginning on July 13. Children and families accessing the food pickup at these libraries on a day when the outdoor activity kits are provided will receive activity ideas and materials in each kit related to one of the themes: Outdoor Play, Food & Pollinators, and Observing & Nature-Journaling.
The initial group of partners brings diverse expertise and resources to this project. Current partners: Missouri Environmental Education Association, Missouri Foundation for Health, St. Louis County Libraries, Operation Food Search, Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri 4-H, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, St. Louis Community Foundation, Gateway Greening, Earthways Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Way 2 Fresh Eats, Urban Harvest STL, Greenscape Gardens, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, O.K. Hatchery, and the North American Association for Environmental Education.
These learning kits provide a screen-free opportunity to engage children’s minds, get them up and moving, and tap into the healing benefits of time spent in nature. During a time of intense suffering and a growing digital divide, these hands-on nature-based learning kits provide one way to bring joy and solace to families and children who are experiencing so much chronic stress. The potential exists for this project to expand to include other Missouri communities, including rural communities and Spanish-speaking communities. Additionally, each kit’s activity guide and suggested materials will be available online, free-of-charge, at meea.org this fall.
Lesli Moylan, director of the Missouri Environmental Education Association, says “I’m blown away by the enthusiastic response of so many partners so quickly. We’re all so happy to have a tangible way to make a positive difference for kids who are going through so much right now. This collaborative project will help bring the joy of nature to many families this summer, and I’m very grateful to Operation Food Search and St. Louis County Libraries for providing our distribution pathway.”
Louise Bradshaw, Fred Saigh Director of Education, Saint Louis Zoo, states “The Zoo is excited to support our under-resourced communities during these difficult times. Spending time in nature is a great way for families to connect with each other and find a little peace. I know these kits will provide many wonderful learning opportunities this summer.”
Shawn Gruber, Education Section Chief for the Missouri Department of Conservation, notes that “Research has shown time in nature enhances one’s mental and physical health, so we are confident this partnership will help many people benefit from discovering nature. We are so glad that the Missouri Environmental Education Association is pulling together all the amazing partners to make this noteworthy project happen in short order!”
“Missouri 4-H is committed to serve all the youth in our state. During these difficult times, Missouri 4-H is proud to be part of a team which not only provides support for families through the food pantries and food banks, but also offers opportunities for the youth to have fun through educational hands on activities provided by 4-H and other partners that will contribute to their positive youth development.” Lupita Fabregas, State Director of MU Extension’s 4-H Center for Youth Development.
Gateway Greening has facilitated garden-based and outdoor learning in St. Louis for decades. Matt Schindler, Gateway Greening’s Executive Director, says of the project:
“Gateway Greening is glad to partner with the Missouri Environmental Education Association on the outdoor learning kits. If we can assist with additional resources for students to grow their own food, it falls right in line with our mission of education and urban agriculture.”
For more information on how to help support this initiative, contact Lesli Moylan, director of the Missouri Environmental Education Association, at email@example.com. Missouri Environmental Education Association has a mission to help educators inspire others to care, understand, and act for the environment. MEEA provides professional development resources and opportunities for educators from classroom teachers to parents, and co-manages the Missouri Green Schools recognition program. For more information, visit http://www.meea.org and sign up for MEEA’s newsletter and e-blast list.
Follow MEEA on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/missourienvironmentaled/. Missouri Foundation for Health is a resource for the region, working with communities and nonprofits to generate and accelerate positive changes in health. As a catalyst for change, the Foundation improves the health of Missourians through partnership, experience, knowledge, and funding.