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NWF Green Hour

Commentary on what parents should know about and can do to counteract common "nature deficit disorders" in our TV-watching, video game-playing children including encouraging a daily "Green Hour" of outside play and learning. A program of the National Wildlife Federation

Sunday, November 06, 2005


A Chat With the Reptilian Brain

What happens when you start with wet feet?

Florida Gulf Coast University has a remarkable professor named Bill Hammond (pictured here standing in one of his favorite swamps).

Bill is a powerful blend of environmental education guru, accomplished community activist/builder, consultant and the most upbeat of all educators. We met him this weekend at a national forum on building a future for the conservation movement through education and career preparation. It was hosted by the Paul F. Brandwein Institute. What makes Professor Hammond more animated than anything else, is talking about his 30-year campaign to take young people from his school and schools in the surrounding county on a mucky walk through a wetland. Thousands have done it.

It seems like simple common sense to engage a student through outdoor experiences, but Bill is an exacting scholar. He knows that his form of wetland immersion also ties to established brain science. At the very core of our mind is a brain stem that comes straight out of the spine -- very ancient and very basic -- all feeling and no cognition. This part of the brain is so basic, it is defined as the reptilian brain.

Bill's scientific approach to the brain gets students wet, lets them smell, feel and hear their surroundings and may even offer a sense of danger. When the brain stem is thus engaged, so is the full mind. This kind of learning sinks very deep -- 300 million years deep.

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