By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

An eight-week, two-credit course designed to help librarians and other informal educators build skills to guide elementary and middle school students in exploring and learning about the natural environment is the subject of a new curricular offering that will be open for Spring 2015 registration.

IST 600, Literacy, Inquiry, and Nature for Librarians, is being taught by Dr. Marilyn Arnone. The course is designed to help establish a baseline understanding about how exploring nature can facilitate literacy and inquiry. It will do that by shining a light on librarians who are successfully building environmental programming and partnering with community resources to introduce elementary and middle school children to learning about the natural environment. In addition to those case studies, the course also provides research andtheory on environmental education, offering practical and proven strategies for engaging children in nature.

“Librarians usually feel pretty confident in their abilities to provide opportunities for children to grow their information and inquiry skills through active learning opportunities as well as their ability to foster literacy and promote an interest in reading,” Arnone explained. Nevertheless, she said, they may feel less confident about their knowledge and skills related to the natural environment and how to develop age-appropriate learning activities, connect those activities to STEM skills, or correlate them to formal education standards. Librarians need not be full-fledged environmental educators to conduct those kinds of learning activities, the professor said. Through this course, they can establish a baseline of knowledge and a degree of confidence that will help them “feel a lot better about setting up a program and partnering with nature centers and other organizations that can provide that programming.”  

“Many children today are lacking opportunities and even motivation to interact with nature, and there is plenty of research to support the health benefits both physical and emotional,” Professor Arnone observed. “We all know what kids are spending more time with today–but how will today's children protect the environment in the future if we can't get them off their digital devices and out the door now so they can start to appreciate and understand nature? Librarians have a unique opportunity to address this, which is a valuable service to their communities,” she concluded.

The course is intended primarily for librarians, but other informal educators, such as those who provide after school programs or outreach educators for organizations, would also benefit from the course, the professor said.   

Lessons are focused on strategies and methods, informed by theory and practice, for working with early and middle childhood patrons that integrate literacy and inquiry skills in the context of nature and the environment. The emphasis for early childhood learners is creating empathy and a connection to nature. For middle childhood patrons, activity focuses on observing and exploring. In addition, appropriate inquiry skills, literacy connections, and environmental literacy goals are addressed through instructor lectures, librarian interviews, multimedia, readings, discussion, activities, ungraded quizzes, and assignments. Dr. Arnone provides more information about the course in the video, below.