Ocean Matters

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Laura Parker Roerden’s work explores and promotes the development of social, emotional, and ethical development in young people towards creating socially-responsible adults, i.e. those who participate in democracy, positively contribute to their communities, and are stewards for the natural world.

Research shows that nurturing healthy relationships with peers, adults in their life and with the natural world can provide young people with the deep connection and sense of belonging necessary for later responsible action in the world.

“It’s quite simple,” Roerden explains. “Young people need to first feel safe and a sense of deep connection and belonging to the communities that we wish them to take responsible action within.”

“We can promote that sense of a healthy community in our classrooms, communities and families by nurturing pro-social skills such as responsible decision making, win-win conflict resolution, effective expression and regulation of feelings, cooperation and teamwork, and grit through challenge.” But that might not be enough.

“For many children,” Roerden adds, “who might not have always had a safe experience of being in community, time in nature can give the deep sense of belonging and connection necessary to healthy ethical development. This is why I love giving children those opportunities to explore who they are out of doors.”

“Often, there is something quite special that happens. And clearly,  if we want children to be environmental stewards, we need them to have a relationship with nature–a felt sense of being part of nature, rather than apart from it.”

In 2011, she along with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary and National Geographic underwater photographer Brian Skerry founded a service learning nonprofit called Ocean Matters centered on the application of social, emotional and ethical learning to environmental education.

The project now has three demonstration sites: Hawaii, Florida, and Honduras which combine four pillars of 1) leadership training, 2) the nexus of science and indigenous wisdom, 3) service, and 4) challenge (scuba). The vision is to expand Ocean Matters youth-leadership training and curricula world-wide, giving youth meaningful opportunities to lead in addressing the environmental crisis facing them. As Joni Mitchell famously said and research supports: action is the antidote to despair.


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