Hours in front of a screen; less time to play outdoors and a society faced with the concern of ‘stranger danger’ has led to a generation of children in Ireland who simply don’t have the freedom to explore the natural world around them.

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Kayaking in Lough Hyne, West Cork 

This is the latest research by Leave No Trace Ireland – the outdoor ethics programme designed to promote and inspire responsible outdoor recreation through education, research and partnerships.

Fifty-one percent of children in Ireland only spend 30 minutes or less playing outdoors after school which is far less time than their parents, the research reveals.

“This worrying trend is leading to what is termed ‘nature deficit disorder’ among a generation of children. Children are missing out on life-forming nature experiences. The research shows that 45% have never climbed a tree; 48% have never gone walking in a forest with friends and 74% have never sat around a camp fire,” remarked LNT Ireland manager Maura Lyons.

Exploring the sea shore 

To specifically address concerns in the marine environment, Leave No Trace Ireland has teamed up with the Marine Institute to roll out a nationwide Explorers Programme that targets children in the 6-12 age range, to encourage exploration at their local beach through fun experiences and activities.

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Explorer Programme stand at Seafest 2017 

Child-led courses are built on the principles of strength-based education and the syllabus is designed to develop problem-solving; critical-thinking; enquiry and investigation; spatial awareness and sensory perception and to increase ocean literacy awareness. 

The 2016 evaluation indicates that students’ ocean literacy awareness increased from 56% to 94%.

The Explorers Programme gives young children the opportunity to learn about the importance of engaging with the sea. Explorer education officers introduce marine biodiversity and environmental awareness into the classroom through projects and workshops, and seashore safaris are designed to encourage exploration and discovery in a supervised environment.

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Explorer Programme exhibit at Seafest 2016

The programme also gives teachers an understanding of ocean literacy and offers teaching topics based on a worldwide context.

“Increasing awareness and understanding of the value, opportunities and societal benefits the ocean provides us, is key to sustainably developing Ireland’s marine resource,” remarked Dr Peter Heffernan, Marine Institute CEO.

“As the State agency responsible for marine research and innovation, we welcome the opportunity to work with educators to promote the development of our thriving marine economy as well as protecting and conserving our rich marine biodiversity.”