The "Every Kid in a Park" initiative seeks to connect kids and families across the country with the outdoors.
Photo: Carl Zitsman (USFWS).
“Every Kid in a Park,” which will provide 4th grade students and their families free admission to all national parks and other federal lands for a full year, officially launched on Sept. 1. It has been followed by outdoor events across the country, including in Washington DC’s Rock Creek Park on Sept. 15. The Rock Creek Park event included a nature hike and other activities for 110 local kids, many from schools in lower-income neighborhoods.
“Protected public lands like Rock Creek Park are the birthright of all Americans, but many kids and families don’t even get a chance to enjoy them,” said Paul Sanford, recreation director at The Wilderness Society. “Through programs like ‘Every Kid in a Park,’ we hope to chip away at that inequity and realize the truly democratic potential of our national parks and other wildlands.”
Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado). Photo: NPS, flickr.
A growing need to bring childhood outdoors again
The “Every Kid in a Park” event in Washington DC was hosted by the Department of the Interior and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, a coalition of conservation, health and outdoor recreation groups. The Nature Center in Rock Creek Park was chosen as the site of the event because of its urban setting and easy accessibility for students in Washington, D.C., suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.
Fourth graders playing in the park may not seem all that novel, but “Every Kid in a Park,” which was first announced by President Obama in early 2015, addresses a very real issue. In recent years, kids have been spending less time outside and more time glued to a television or other screens. This threatens to exacerbate a variety of problems like childhood obesity, stress and general alienation from nature.
Arches National Park (Utah). Credit: woodleywonderworks, flickr.
As this phenomenon worsens, more people are starting to talk about the need to help all Americans, especially at-risk kids and marginalized communities of color, connect with our shared public lands.
The Wilderness Society will continue to work with the White House, Congress, and local communities to break down barriers to access and connect more young Americans with their wild places. Stay tuned for more on the “Every Kid in a Park” program through 2016!
Wilderness Society President, Jamie Williams with 4th grade students in Rock Creek Park
Benefits of getting kids outdoors
- Physical health. Childhood obesity has been on the rise for years, and it’s clear that reversing that trend won’t be easy. But physical exercise, especially in the form of unstructured outdoor play, can be a big part of the strategy. Other issues that may be partly remedied by more time outside include vitamin D deficiencies and nearsightedness. In recent years, pediatricians have even been urged to formally recommend outdoor activities for children—and in some areas, doctors are already prescribing time in public parks.
- Emotional and mental health. Research suggests that a connection to nature can improve happiness. What’s more, unstructured activity in the outdoors may improve kids’ psychological wellbeing, build independence, strengthen imagination and cognitive ability, and boost school performance. Nowadays, kids’ lives seem ever more densely-packed with appointments and obligations, so nature’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety is especially important.
- Connection to nature. Introducing a child to the wonders of nature can help foster a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors and the need to protect wildlands. Conversely, a child whose connection to nature is tentative or restricted will be less likely to stand up for conservation later on. It’s hard to appreciate the value of wilderness if you haven’t experienced it, and at a time when nature terms are literally being omitted from chiExldren’s dictionaries to make way for tech terms, it is vital that we establish these connections early on.
Excited students, wearing their free park passes, learn about watersheds in Rock Creek Park