March 31, 2017

Environmental Education Interview with the Children & Nature Network

(This post first appeared on Children & Nature Network’s website on March 23, 2017:

PISCES FOUNDATION: People and Nature Thriving Together

About the Author

Jason is a Senior Program Officer at the Pisces Foundation, focusing on Environmental Education. In this role, Jason leads the Foundation’s grantmaking in environmental education and implements strategies to shape environmental education initiatives nationally. Jason was most recently Interim President, following his five-year tenure as Executive Vice President, at NatureBridge, which provides hands-on environmental education programs for children and teens. Jason lives in Berkeley with his wife and daughter; he enjoys fly-fishing, hiking, and camping by any wild river with native trout species.

Pisces Foundation, a California-based philanthropy led by a vision of people and nature thriving together, is a Presenting Sponsor of the Children & Nature Network 2017 International Conference.  Pisces’ collaborations with C&NN include projects such as increasing green schoolyards and support for the Children & Nature Network Research Library. Both organizations overlap in their goals to expand access to nature for all children and to prepare the next generation to be environmental stewards. C&NN is grateful for the support of Pisces Foundation.

In this interview, we asked Jason Morris, Pisces Foundation’s Environmental Education Senior Program Officer, about the organization’s values and role in the children and nature movement.

Let’s start with getting to know about your personal interest in this work. Where does your interest in nature and kids come from?

When I was a kid, I lived for summer. I fished in the canal, fed and cared for the animals on my farm, experienced the wonders and learned about science in the Rocky Mountains. The work left calluses on my hands and gave me experiences that charted the course of my life. From growing up on a farm, going to school, doing my work, I always hoped to experience nature. The benefits of nature should always be available to us — in all seasons. My life’s work is to ensure that more people experience this.

Can you describe the mission of the Pisces Foundation? How are Pisces’ mission/initiatives relevant to the children and nature movement?

At the Pisces Foundation, we know that the sooner we act to support children and nature, the sooner we’ll see benefits. Therefore, we believe in supporting creative innovators who understand what it takes to get this work done and who are willing to do what is necessary for clean and abundant water and a safe climate, and to help build a new generation with the environmental know-how to create a sustainable world. Our grantmaking helps kids gain the environmental knowledge they need for a life-long connection to nature. For Pisces, that means supporting organizations like the Children & Nature Network, which focuses on finding and sharing new solutions to connecting kids and adults to the natural world.

Explain environmental literacy and why is it central to the work of Pisces Foundation?

At the Pisces Foundation, we use the term “environmental know-how” synonymously with environmental literacy. Environmental know-how is developed in the classroom, in a canoe on a river, on a nature walk, in a local park — and everywhere in between. Regardless where they get the know-how, the goal is the same: kids empowered to act as environmental stewards in a rapidly changing world. This is something gained over many years, through learning, playing, and growing in nature. It’s not a destination but a series of life experiences. Beyond the experiences, these children will embrace behaviors, or action strategies, to make smarter decisions. Those decisions will lead to stronger communities and a greener planet. The benefits are immediate as well as long-lasting.

Where/how do the missions of Pisces Foundation and the Children and Nature Network intersect?

At Pisces, helping people and nature thrive together is at the heart of our work. The Children & Nature Network’s innovative, collective impact strategies across the country connect children to nature at scale in schoolyards, in urban and rural parks, and in many other environmental learning spaces. That’s why we are so proud to support C&NN as an environmental education grantee.

Pisces Foundation is a Presenting Sponsor of the Children & Nature 2017 International Conference. How does Pisces’ support of C&NN deepen the impact of the Foundation?

Our specific grant to the Children & Nature Network will expand opportunities for children in low-income communities so those children can learn and benefit from green schoolyards in cities across the U.S., where leaders have identified the schoolyard as a priority in their citywide plans for increasing nature access. This grant and the larger work of C&NN supports the Pisces’ strategic plan by demonstrating best practices through the peer learning network, which we hope will lead to wider adoption of schoolyards focused on developing environmental know-how in children. We’ll know we’ve accomplished our goals with this grant when we start to see others inspired to build green schoolyards in their own communities. We support mainstreaming green schoolyards because we know they add tremendous value to the school learning environment.

What would you like the attendees of the Children & Nature 2017 International Conference to understand about environmental literacy and the role attendees can play in supporting it?

The attendees of the Children & Nature 2017 International Conference are doing great work, and yet, all of us still have a lot more work to do. The exciting thing is that there are new and innovative solutions within the field of environmental education. Many solutions already exist. Now our work is to send out the call to action. We must prioritize high-quality environmental education programs for both immediate gains and long-term benefits. We need to educate each other about why the time is now for environmental education to go mainstream — so that all children can experience the wonders of nature.

How can funders like Pisces Foundation help propel the children and nature movement forward?

Funders interested in these important issues can join us by spreading the word about the best ways to use environmental education to improve conservation, education, health and wellness, social equity, and youth development programs — and how to equip kids with the environmental know-how that will serve them well in life. Specifically, we invite other funders to share what they’re doing and help identify opportunities for collaboration. We invite them to join Pisces and many others in the Blue Sky Funders Forum. Blue Sky is a national hub that helps members learn and connect, and to grow philanthropy that supports the many benefits of environmental literacy and a stronger connection to nature.