Category Archives: Blogs

RELEASE: Outdoors Alliance for Kids and Scholastic Announce All Kids Outdoors Essay Contest Winners

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
April Thomas
206.321.3850, april.thomas@sierraclub.org

Outdoors Alliance for Kids and Scholastic Announce All Kids Outdoors Essay Contest Winners
Nearly 2,000 Kids Nationwide Submitted Entries

Washington, D.C., (May 23, 2019) — The Outdoors Alliance for Kids and Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company, are proud to announce the winners of the All Kids Outdoors Contest. Nearly 2,000 fourth through sixth grade students from across the nation submitted essays and accompanying illustrations to explain why the outdoors matter.

Grand prize winner Violet M., a 4th grader from Kalispell, MT, wrote in her essay: “When I’m outside, I feel like the whole world is in balance. Studies show that being outside and a part of nature will decrease stress and make us more reassured.”

Katie, B., a 6th grader from Ellisville, MO, wrote in her Honorable Mention winning essay, “Parks are great to help improve our environment, but they also improve our relationships. Just think of the first time you went to the park and were leery of going down the big slide. Often, you watched others, and those around you would give you the courage to try it. Those experiences tie us together with others rather than being isolated in our homes.”

Fifth grader, Indi M. of McLean, VA, the second Honorable Mention winner, shared “We need the outdoors, and it needs us. [It provides] physical and mental health benefits, [and I like] how it maintains the atmosphere, and how incredibly high-spirited it can make you feel.”

Sweepstakes winner Emmanuel O., a 5th grader from Falls Church, VA wrote, “When a person is outside, they get to experience many things like trees, plants, animals, fungi, and other things that are in nature. These help them to think about new things or ideas that could help their work, home, and relationship with other people. This is why many towns, cities, and communities are building parks and educating people on outdoor activities, so that they can enjoy healthy living.”

Contest winners will receive prizes including books from Scholastic and the Grand Prize winner will receive of a trip to Olympic National Park. Teachers of the winning students also receive prizes to select educational resources for their classrooms from The Scholastic® Store. Read the winners’ full essays and see their illustrations here.

###

About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than 100 businesses and organizations, representing more than 60 million individuals to address the growing divide between children, youth and the natural world. For more information: www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org

Youth Voices: The Outdoors And People

Sweepstakes Winner
Emmanuel O., 5th Grade, Falls Church, VA
All Kids Outdoors Scholastic-OAK Youth Essay Contest
Youth Voices Blog Series

The Outdoors And People

The great outdoor spaces, aren’t they beautiful? An outdoor space is any place outside a living space where people can interact, play, and relax. This includes the backyards of homes, playgrounds for kids, sidewalks, biking trails, community parks, nature reserves, national parks, waterfronts or beaches, and farmlands. Some of my favorite outdoor spaces are lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, woodlands, parks, bike and walk trails, and beaches. I think that outdoor spaces are important because it improves a person’s life and wellbeing.

Ont thing that is true about nature is that, being outdoors can calma person down, and relieve stress. Paul Dudley White, of the Tyee Outdoor Experience LLP, said, “Time spent outdoors boosts concentration (even those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD), improves creative thinking, decreases negative thinking and stress, and can even wake you up as well as a cup of coffee. And all for free! That is about the best medical plan I know.” This quotation shows that being outdoors can help a person relieve stress. Being in nature, peoples minds are opened to a beautiful world, and finally help them to relax. It can also help people with ADHD walk-off and release extra energy they stored up inside. Being outside can wake someone up, since that person is exposed to fresh air and daylight while walking, jogging, running, or biking. It is true that their body systems start to get active and therefore, wake up. Creative thinking is boosted, as well. When a person is outside, they get to experience many things like trees, plants, animals, fungi, and other things that are in nature. These help them to think about new things or ideas that could help their work, home, and relationship with other people. This is why many towns, cities, and communities are building parks and educating people on outdoor activities, so that they can enjoy healthy living.

Original Artwork by Emmanuel O.

Another reason that the outdoors are important is because people recognize the beauty of nature. Many people enjoy hiking in the woods to appreciate the beauty of nature, and use it for exercising. Some people like the colors of tree leaves and flowering plants. Others, have a distinct respect for nature and the outdoors. For example, springtime in Washington, D.C. is a remarkable period because of the cherry blossoms in the historic mall. People from all over the nation, tourists from other countries, come to the nation’s capital to see the cherry blossoms in their beautiful colors. Tour Guides tell people how the Japanese emperor donated those trees to the United States of America as a sign of friendship and peace after the second world war. The cherry blossoms in D.C. has now become a good outdoor tourist attraction and a symbol of international relationship between two important countries. According to John Muir, “in every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.” This important man, also called “father of the National Parks’, was a naturalist who advocated for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America. Some of the national parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the Shenandoah Valley, have become places for tourists, hikers, and campers. In particular, the Shenandoah Sky Ride, in the fall of every year, gives people the wonderful opportunity to see the changing colors of leaves on trees and plants. Many people have been inspired to write books and poems after seeing the beauty of fall in the Shenandoah Valley. As can be seen now, outdoor spaces are special, because it helps people to admire and enjoy nature.

My personal experience with outdoors, started with my parents taking me to play outside in our backyard and front yard for recreation. My parents also took me to playgrounds where I played with other kids, and learned to run, climb, and slide. Our family has also toured several national parks such as Mount Washington in New Hampshire and the Virginia Shenandoah Valley. I remember an amazing and unforgettable experience of being at the peak of Mount Washington, which is literally so high and immersed in the clouds, that I felt the wetness of the clouds floating by. I have also been to lots of parks for fishing in lakes and ponds, but none compares to my family’s trip to Virginia Beach. I went saltwater fishing with my dad using bloodworms. It was as if this bait was magically attractive to the Croaker fish that, each time I cast my line in the water, took the bait. I ended up catching eleven fishes that day. I was overjoyed and satisfied, because it was the most number of fishes I had ever caught in a single fishing trip. That remains my personal saltwater fishing record, for now. So, these personal experiences remind me of the joy, benefits and satisfaction that comes from the outdoors.

Even though the outdoors are beautiful and all, there are some things about it I don’t like. For example, I don’t like the biting insects, or being outside in the raid, and sweltering heat. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like going outside because it is uncomfortable to walk long distances with my dad. I also don’t like it when there are storms, or when  have to do garden work for long periods of time. I know people who are afraid of going to the woods, because they think that wild animals will attack them. Also, some people are afraid of being stung by a bee or wasp. But, wild animals and stinging insects will only attack or harm someone when they are provoked or angered. Besides that, an unprovoked attack happens very rarely, and under specific conditions, such as when a creature is stressed. This means that people should still be able to enjoy the outdoors anytime, if they take the necessary precautions.

I believe that people appreciate the beauty of nature and the outdoors when they experience them. So, the common saying that ‘the taste of pudding is in the eating’ is true. In conclusion, some of the benefits that the outdoors offer people include relieving stress, improving creative thinking, and increasing a person’s alertness. The outdoors is appreciated by people around the world, as I have experienced the beauty of the outdoors in my own personal life. So, why not go outside today and have some fun? You will appreciate it! Trust me.

Youth Voices: The Importance of Outdoors

Honorable Mention
by  Indi M., 5th Grade, McLean, VA
All Kids Outdoors Scholastic-OAK Youth Essay Contest
Youth Voices Blog Series

The Importance of Outdoors

Children’s outdoor play is rapidly diminishing, we are focusing more on sedentary lifestyles. No one can deny our simple interest with electronics now in the modern era. The outdoors are the original foundation of this human race. It is quite likely we are instinctively drawn to it. But it’s hard to ignore walking by a park, hearing no laughter. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that people are building universal cities, and wiping out natural landscapes and nature preserves as they please. There is no one to blame, we are the ones who are eroding children’s outdoor playing time, and reconstructing natural landscapes to something that will increase our world pollution is not helping whatsoever. There are so many reasons why the outdoors are so important, but the three main reasons are: physical and mental health benefits, how it maintains the atmosphere, and how incredibly high-spirited it can make you and feel.

Original Artwork by Indi M.

First of all, outdoor play time for children will fundamentally improve mental and physical health. Research reveals that pushing our own limits can educate us in understanding ourselves. Children pushing their limites does not mean laying inside, watching TV. Outdoor play will not only deepen our understanding of ourselves, but also compel us to deepen our understanding of each other. Like a free change to physically socialize. Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing reported an essay on “How Does Nature Impact Our Wellbeing?” It states, “Research reveals that environments can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies.” This quotation explains the emotional and mental stress that will lift once you are met with outdoors. In “Let Kids be Kids,” Caileigh Flannigan says, “The absence of such play environments is not only influencing the quantity and quality of children’s play, but also affecting children’s health and well-being.” This illustrates the fact that health can improve from outdoor environments. Many people who work with young children know how fast bacteria and diseases can spread through this environment. We all know that when we are sick, we are not in a fit, healthy state. The outdoors, again, come to us at this stage; fresh air can reduce the spread of infection immensely. Johnson, Christie, and Wardle also state in “The Importance of Outdoor Play for Children,” “Outdoor play enables the infectious agents to spread out and be dissipated; it also enables children to get fresh air and exercise and be less constrained than they are in the classroom.” This supports that reducing time outdoors can help disease spread, and that a lot of fresh air can reduce that spread. My last reason why outdoors can provide health benefits, is from vitamin D. You need vitamin D to absorb calcium, you get vitamin D when your skin is exposed to direct sunlight. To get direct sunlight, you must go outside. Given all the possible health benefits, outdoor play should be considered very important.

Secondly, without nature and outdoors, the atmosphere would fall apart. An EPA’s report on “Outdoor Air Quality” states, “Outdoor air — the air outside building, from ground level to several miles above the Earth’s surface — is a valuable resource for current and future generations because it provides essential gases to sustain life and it shields the Earth from harmful radiation.” This quotation explains how the atmosphere outdoors protects us from extreme radiation, and dangerous gases. Outdoors do not only provide health benefits for our bodies, but it protects us from things that just scream out danger. There is one slight problem with this, the outdoors shield us from unwanted sources, so why do we neglect fresh air. When we pollute, or just release smoke into the air, we are creating greenhouse gases. Those gases rise to the atmosphere and thicken it. The consequences to this is that the rays of light from the sun hit our earth, and almost all of them stay, while some should bounce off. Our atmosphere is protecting us from extreme heat and destructive gases, so why thicken it from pollutants? I walk around this town quite a bit, and I am never pleasured with complete fresh air. I smell car exhaust, I smell too many things that I shouldn’t smell. The outdoors, the atmosphere, fresh air, whatever you want to call it, protects us, why not protect it?

Finally, my last reason is about how good the outdoors makes you feel. In “6 Benefits of Getting Fresh Air,” by Rebecca Taylor a Kent-Teach Advisor, stated, “The more fresh air you get, the more oxygen you will breathe which will increase the amount of serotonin (the happy hormone) you inhale, consequently making you happier.” THis quote explains the research that has been done to prove how the outdoors can change your mood, to a much nicer one. Rebecca Taylor also stated, “You may have noticed after spending time outside, you come back indoors feeling brighter and perhaps ready to get back to work. More oxygen results in greater brain functioning, improving your concentration skills and providing you with more energy.” This quote explains how the outdoors doesn’t just make you feel nice and dandy, it can sharpen your senses with fresh air. Last year I went to New Zealand, known for its amazing landscapes and natural beauties, I was looking forward to it. We went on a hike as an activity through the woods one quiet morning. I wanted to be alone from my family, so I boosted up in front of them. Every beautiful natural sculpture fascinated me. Everything that looked absolutely unreal, I stopped to ponder. When the group finally caught up, I felt like I had been an adventure! Free, high-spirited, bright, I was all of those at the moment. Being outdoors that day, is a magical feeling and experience, that I will never forget.

Why does just one gasoline powered car matter to the pollution of Earth? Why not just relax indoors with fresh air conditioning? Playing video games makes so many people happy! I can answer both questions, and logically respond to that statement. One car matters to the Earth’s atmosphere because seventy-five percent of Earth’s pollution is from gasoline powered cars. And every single one of those cars, helps that to be true. Fresh air conditioning is not the same as fresh air. Sitting next to a noisy, dirty machine swivelling air at your face, is not the same as going out to watch and enjoy the sunset. And it doesn’t take a completely intact, sharp mind to see how. It is true that many people enjoy video games. I wouldn’t think that when you play a video game, you scientifically become happy. I would think though, that screens are addictive, and people feel encouraged to continue playing because of the competitiveness and urge to try and win something from playing. It is technologically proven, that oxygen results in better brain functioning. Just deep breath of air can feel good.

Children aren’t getting enough outdoor time, and we are not protecting our planet with the care that we should, considering how it helps us survive. It is insane to me how we treat Earth when it is so clear what it does for us. There is no question, the outdoors is what makes life possible, it’s what we came from, why end from it too? Not dirty cities, not relaxing indoors with TV on. Because on the side of that modern electricity, there is burning coal and fuel. We need the outdoors, and it needs us. Physical and mental health benefits, how it maintains the atmosphere, and how incredibly high-spirited it can make you feel. That is plenty of reasoning to say the outdoors are important.

Youth Voices: The Great Outdoors

Honorable Mention
Katie B., 6th Grade, Ellisville, MO
All Kids Outdoors Scholastic-OAK Youth Essay Contest
Youth Voices Blog Series

The Great Outdoors

Swinging, sliding, and climbing at parks are only for fun, right? Not true! Parks and outdoor spaces are not only for fun, but are actually necessary for the world. Parks and outdoor spaces improve our health, environment, and relationships.

Parks and outdoor spaces improve our health. Specifically, by going to the park, a person’s stress is decreased and happiness increased. Researchers from Finland set out to prove that parks decrease stress. When we are stressed, we release a hormone in our bodies called cortisol. The higher your stress, the more cortisol is found in your body. The researchers from Finland found that the people’s cortisol levels were lower in the park environments than in the city. They concluded that parks relax us more than being in the middle of the city (Tyrvainen and Kagawa 8). Not only by going to the park does stress decline, but feelings of happiness increase. When you exercise at the park, endorphins and serotonin are released. Endorphins are chemicals that are released in your brain with exercise. They make you feel more positive and have a better outlook on life. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain that is balanced by exercise to make you feel less anxious and depressed (Breuning 32 and 37). Overall, you feel happier when endorphins and serotonin are energized by exercising in the park. Parks and outdoor spaces also improve our health by strengthening our physical health. By being active in a park, you will lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and strengthen your muscles (Laino 2).

Original Artwork by Katie B.

We are so fortunate to have parks improve our health, but we are equally lucky to have parks improve our environment. The trees in parks and outdoor spaces improve our environment by removing pollutants from the air. Air pollution needs to be eliminated because it increases the risk of cancer and can cause breathing problems. Fortunately, trees trap dust, ash, pollen, and smoke from the air which help to prevent our lungs from being damaged by these pollutants (“Environmental and Nature’s Benefits” 1). A second way that parks improve our environment is by decreasing crime. Recent studies have found that maintaining green spaces, like parks, lower crime in cities. One theory to explain this finding is that well-kept lawns and community spaces encourage people to spend more time outside. While in those spaces people tend to keep a close watch in the areas which helps prevent crime. Another theory is that parks increase social activity bringing in more people and thus pushing out crime. Finally, parks may bring more positive interactions and a greater sense of community which increases ownership of the space and decreases criminal behavior (Spector 1).

Parks are great to help improve our environment, but they also improve our relationships. First, parks give a place to go to meet new people. With all the people interacting, it is a wonderful place to join in with a group to engage in the activity that they are doing at the park. In order to meet new people at the park, you don’t have to go through an awkward silence by trying to come up with small talk. Instead, you just join in the activity and the social connection is made through the common activity. Second, parks increase a sense of community. Children are playing together and praising each other. Just think about the first time you went to the park and you were leery of going down the big slide. Often, you watched others and those around you would give you the courage to try it. Those experiences tie us together with others rather than being isolated in our homes. We feel cared for and needed by others.

Although there are several reasons why we need parks, not everyone believes that we need to build new parks. Some people recommend that we should not build any new parks because the parks that we have are not currently being maintained well. For example, it is reported that Grand Canyon National Park needs $100 million to repair the water system (Watson and Wilson 1). People opposed to building new parks become outraged when money is spent on building new parks. In contrast, those who are supporters of building new parks know that all communities deserve to have parks in order to build relationships, fight crime, and improve health. No city in our world should be excluded from having the benefits of parks just so that national parks are better maintained (“Eight Reasons” 1).

In conclusion, parks and open spaces have numerous benefits beyond only their entertainment value. Specifically, parks improve our health, environment, and relationships. Parks are necessary to improve our physical and mental health, keep our environment clean and safe, and strengthen our friendships. Due to these benefits, available land should be used to build new parks. We need clean and safe places to play, exercise, and meet new friends. Please remember the next time to vote “yes” in your city to create funds to build new parks. All of our cities need the great outdoors!

Youth Voices: How Nature Improves the Brain

Grand Prize Winning Essay
by Violet M., 4th Grade, Kalispell, MT
All Kids Outdoors Scholastic-OAK Youth Essay Contest
Youth Voices Blog Series

How Nature Improves the Brain

American marine biologist Rachel Carson remarked in Silent Spring, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Numerous citizens of the U.S. don’t realize how fortunate they are to reside right by nature and experience the countryside consistently. Whether experiencing nature virtually or in the real world, the effects nature has on your brain are immediate. Nature enhances one’s attention span, creativity and happiness while decreasing anxiety and stress levels.

Something I enjoy about nature is how peaceful it is. Activities such as fishing, camping and swimming are just some of the ways you can experience the outdoors. When I’m outside, I feel like the whole world is in balance. Studies show that being outside and a part of nature will decrease stress and make us more reassured. According to Jill Suttie, “The reasons for this effect are unclear; but scientists believe that we evolved to be more relaxed in natural spaces.” This means we were formerly adapted to dwell outside like every other creature on Earth.

Original Artwork by Violet M.

Researcher Jill Suttie also mentions, “In a now-classic laboratory experiment by Roger Ulrich of Texas A&M University and colleagues, participants who first viewed a stress-inducing movie, and were then exposed to color/sound videotapes depicting natural scenes, showed much quicker, more complete recovery from stress than those who’d been exposed to videos of urban settings.” This quote indicates that exposure to nature will have a faster, more effective recovery from stress. However, people observing urban settings didn’t have a remarkable recovery from the stress-related movie. In conclusion, these studies have proven that people in nature have reduced stress levels and are less irritable than humans that live in an urban setting.

Further scientific research has proven that surrounding yourself in nature increases human happiness. The website Happy Brain Science states that, “Merely viewing nature scenes is enough to remind us of how expansive and soothing a direct experience with nature is.” This quote is significant because it tells us that urban settings don’t advance our psychological fitness as much as being outside does. Being in nature has an immediate positive effect on the mind. I feel that being in nature and listening to Mozart is the perfect combination because enjoying music while in nature is beautiful, peaceful and breathtaking.

Author Kevin Loria states, “One study found that walks in the forest were associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods, and another found that outdoor walks could be ‘useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments’ for major depressive disorder.” As Loria acknowledges, just taking a hike within a landscape can decrease amounts of anxiety. So nature has a tremendous effect on the mind and the mood.

Not let’s look at how nature affects the human attention span and the creative side of our brain. Nature can increase attention span and creativity level after devoting a short time outside. Kevin Loria states, “The attention-improving effect of nature is so strong it might even help kids with ADHD: they’ve been found to concentrate better after just 20 minutes in a park.” Based on this evidence, we see that children who suffer from ADHD can improve their attention span by experiencing nature. Loria further states, “Another study found that people immersed in nature for four days boosted their performance on a creative problem-solving test by 50%.” This evidence suggests that nature improves creativity.

In conclusion, nature has calming, healing and inspiring effects on the human brain. Nature has the potential to increase the attention span, creativity and happiness. It can also decrease levels of anxiety and stress. Parks and other outdoor spaces provide a place for people to enjoy nature. Nature inspires us to be visionary utilizing everything around us. Artists draw eye-catching landscapes, movie companies produce nature documentaries and people set aside land to let our natural world flourish. In the end, it’s impossible to deny the fact that parks and other outdoor spaces are places everyone should experience and appreciate.

Works Cited

Suttie, Jill. “How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative.” Greater Good Magazine. Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. 02 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2019.

Author Unknown. “13 Science-Based Reasons that Suggest Viewing Nature Scenes can Improve Your Health.” Happy Brain Science. Web. 29 Mar. 2019.

Loria, Kevin. “Being Outside can Improve Memory, Fight Depression, and Lower Blood Pressure – Here are 12 Science-Backed Reasons to Spend More Time Outdoors.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc. 22 April 2018. Web. 29 Mar. 2019.

Carson, Rachel, 1907-1964. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

RENEWING A LOVE FOR THE OUTDOORS THIS SPRING: Screen-Free Week 2019

guest blog by Rinny Yourman, JD, Screen-Free Week Outreach Coordinator, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, OAK Member

When children have free time to themselves, how do we want them to spend it?

We hope they’ll spend it looking down –not at screens– but digging in the dirt, gardening, collecting shells or stones, admiring flowers, watering plants. Maybe they’ll spend it looking up –admiring birds, trees, clouds, sunsets, and stars. Perhaps they’ll get moving, choosing to hike, bike, canoe, explore. Or maybe they will simply lie still, quietly attuned to the nature sounds and breezes that envelope them.

Screen-Free Week, the annual, international celebration that takes place this year April 29-May 5, encourages children, families, schools, and communities to set aside entertainment screens for a week and instead fill their free time with all kinds of screen-free fun. There is no prescription for how to celebrate, other than to go entertainment screen-free. So children can read, garden, exercise, craft, knit, explore, meditate, volunteer, hike, anything.

Elementary and high school students from Chicago Waldorf School clean up
Welles Park during Screen-Free Week 2017.

In 2018, Screen-Free Week celebrations around the world included a vast variety of nature experiences and time spent outdoors. We heard from families, schools, and communities that they enjoyed, among other things: gardening, hikes, bike rides, visits (to nature centers, parks, farms, arboretums, public gardens, farmers markets, planetariums), playground meet-ups, nature and bird walks, beach activities, seed exchanges, garden day, nature programs, canoeing, nature journaling, bike-to-school day, outdoor festivals, tree treks, nature-themed crafts, kite flying, and so much more.

Screen-Free Week is an especially magical week for nudging the kids in our lives to spend time outdoors. Milder weather stirs a natural desire in us to immerse ourselves in nature. Why not capitalize on this inclination by celebrating Screen-Free Week 2019 with nature-themed activities? We invite zoos, aquariums, nature centers, public gardens, and national, state, and local parks to encourage children to visit and explore during Screen-Free Week.

We’d be thrilled to see every family, school, and community initiate a gardening project in honor of Screen-Free Week. Gardening provides children with a lifelong skill, beautifies and feeds, instructs about local ecology, is suitable indoors or out, and teaches patience and persistence.

Our dream is that in the near future, young adults will claim that it was during Screen-Free Week when their parents, caregivers, teachers, grandparents, or family friends first introduced them to their love of gardening.

This year, Screen-Free Week falls during the same week as the 100th-anniversary celebration of Children’s Book Week. Why not celebrate both events with a nature-themed twist? As we all know, children’s books can be meaningful portals to discovery. So before Screen-Free Week begins, be on the lookout for children’s books that inspire home or school garden projects. Then, during Screen-Free Week, bring children’s books with you on outdoor excursions, to help children identify constellations, cloud formations, birds, trees, flowers, and insects. And consider finding nature-themed arts and crafts books for creative inspiration.

There are fascinating nature-related fiction books worth reading during Screen-Free Week. How many of us have been moved by such novels as Island of the Blue DolphinsMy Side of the Mountain or Hatchet? How many of our kids have committed to wildlife conservation efforts from such titles such as The Loraxand Hoot? In honor of both events, why not encourage a child to read any book she desires, but do it outdoors, whether in a hammock, on the balcony, or at the scenic terminus of a hiking trail? How about reading aloud to a child, while you are both sitting outside?

Ideally, we want kids to complete Screen-Free Week with a renewed sense of connection to the earth and the outdoors. Perhaps, if given the chance, they’ll emerge from Screen-Free Week with a newfound love of nature or outdoor activity. Hopefully, the week will invite them, along with their families, to engage in more mindful use of tech going forward. And maybe they’ll invite a friend or family member to enjoy some outdoor time, together.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which hosts Screen-Free Week, invites nature lovers everywhere to download free Screen-Free Week resources and register their Screen-Free Week celebrations at here.

Re-posted with permission from the Children & Nature Network

When the Kids Speak Up

by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Founder & Chair, Director of Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All campaign

Photo Credit: National Park Trust

The Every Kid Outdoors Act is now the law of the land – no pun intended. An historic public lands package has swept through both chambers of Congress in atypical bipartisan fashion and landed on the president’s desk. The conservation bill includes protections for millions of acres of wild lands and hundreds of miles of rivers. It permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund which not only helps to acquire new public lands, but also to expand nearby nature access to local parks and recreation opportunities. The landmark legislation authorizes the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, creating career pathways in conservation for youth and young veterans. And it establishes a new national monument to civil rights leader and World War II veteran Medgar Evers.

This massive public lands package was years in the making. But the Every Kid Outdoors Act is a relative newcomer, born out of one of the greatest challenges facing our national parks. Audrey and Frank Peterman put it clearly in a recent piece for Audubon: our national parks have a diversity problem.

The Every Kid in a Park program was established in 2015 by President Barack Obama as part of his commitment to ensure that all kids would have an opportunity to visit and enjoy our shared public lands. The program was an invitation to fourth graders and their families, designed to welcome a new generation into national parks.

The program was wildly popular when it was announced. In just the first two years, more than two million fourth graders downloaded their Every Kid in a Park vouchers online. And it was popular across the partisan divide, with both red- and blue-leaning states like IndianaMarylandNew York, WyomingIdaho, and New Mexico adopting the program in their park systems. Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval even signed a state lawto open up state parks to fifth graders.

I was honored to join the administration and my colleagues in the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) to help launch the Every Kid in a Park program in Washington, D.C.New York City, and Hawaii. In Detroit, Garrett Dempsey joined partners to host events reaching over 4,000 kids with nature-based opportunities. In Los Angeles, Roberto Morales built partnerships with schools and nonprofits to expand opportunities for fourth graders to visit the San Gabriel Mountains. Youth-serving organizations, like the National Park Trust, Wilderness Inquiry, and many others, leveraged the program to expand outdoor opportunities for the kids they served. Companies like REI and The North Face chipped in, too. Over five million dollars was leveraged from the private sector to support transportation costs for children attending Title 1 schools.

Photo Credit: National Park Trust

I knew the 2016 election would have consequences. Never did I imagine that this nonpartisan program serving children would be targeted for elimination. But that is exactly what happened. The Outdoors Alliance for Kids began to hear that the new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was considering letting the program expire quietly. Members of OAK organized to lend their support. Through a postcard campaign and youth blog series, we collected personal stories from fourth graders about the impact of the program on their own lives.

Photo Credit: Isabel Argoti, Every Kid in a Park Fellow (Youth share their stories about the Every Kid in a Park program)

But we couldn’t take any chances, so in 2017, OAK worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce the Every Kid Outdoors Act, legislation that would protect Every Kid in a Park from being eliminated by the Trump administration. We hosted a congressional briefing, lifting up the voices of two young girls who had participated in the program. We hosted a Twitter party with the bill sponsors, including Representative Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts,
and partnered with Blue Sky Funders Forum to engage the funding community by co-hosting a webinar, which also featured the congresswoman. We organized sign-on letters, congressional testimony, lobby days, and grassroots action alerts.

Photo Credit: National Park Trust (Two young girls share their experience during a briefing on Capitol Hill)

Despite all the bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, Secretary Zinke made another play to let the Every Kid in a Park program expire. This time he publicly signaled his intent to end the program during testimony in front of a congressional committee, telling senators, “When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload, there’s not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door.”

OAK collected sign-on letters and grassroots action alerts from nearly 100 organizations and more than 50,000 people, urging Zinke to continue the program. But it was the voices of children that ultimately swayed him to do the right thing. In the spring of 2018, eight kids from military families delivered handwritten postcards from over 1,000 fourth-graders to Secretary Zinke during a meeting organized by the National Park Trust and Blue Star Families. Days later, Zinke announced he would extend the program for one more year.

Photo Credit: Tami Heiliman, U.S. Department of the Interior (Children deliver 1,000+ postcards to Interior Secretary Zinke on the value of the Every Kid in a Park program)

Thanks to the passage of the Every Kid Outdoors Act, the youth we serve can spend their time exploring and enjoying the outdoors, rather than gearing up to fight to save the program for the third year in a row. Now we just need to make sure that every fourth grader in the U.S. has a chance to use their national park pass, and develop the lifelong connection to nature that all of us deserve to experience. You can download your pass here.

DETROIT KIDS NEED THE OUTDOORS

guest post by Mark Naida – originally appeared in The Detroit News. This story features Detroit Outdoors, a collaborative effort supported by Detroit Parks and Rec, The Kresge Foundation, and OAK members Sierra Club, YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, and REI.

Living in an urban environment, Detroiters often don’t get the same opportunities to enjoy the outdoors as other Michiganians.

Photo- Jac Kyle - Courtesy
(Photo: Jac Kyle / Courtesy)

So they miss out on learning the value of conservation and on understanding the possibilities of careers in fields which preserve and maintain natural spaces. Public land is part of our natural heritage, and should be accessible by every American, even those who live in the big city.

Welcome to Scout Hollow, Detroit’s only campground.

Red-Tailed Hawks soar overhead and Monarch butterflies float on the wind. The Rouge River meanders through 17.4 acres of pristine green space incongruously outlined by I-96 and the Southfield Freeway. Untamed woods cover 12 acres and the the other 5 are maintained for camp sites.

Established in 1939 for Boy Scouts, the last troop broke camp 10 years ago and nature overtook the site.

When Garrett Dempsey, program manager of Detroit Outdoors, first saw the campground, the only thing distinguishing it from wilderness was a set of steps covered by a fallen tree and flagpole that rose from the tall grass.

“Nature had a lease,” says Dempsey. “No one had mown in 10 years.”

Dempsey and Jac Kyle, outdoor education coordinator for the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department, put their energies toward the rehabilitation of the campground.

Private donations — a $200,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, $20,000 from the Sierra Club, and $10,000 from REI, an outdoor outfitter — paid for the renovation.

Scout Hollow offers everything a group could want for a campout, including a gear library that lends tents, cook kits, and rain protection..

“In an urban area, you can easily forget about nature,” Dempsey says. “It is important to foster a connection with it. With this place, we have been able to take down barriers to camping.”

The closest other campground to Detroit is the Highland recreation area in White Lake.

Camping can bring peace to an otherwise bustling urban environment.

“If you think of the use of technology in kids lives today,” Kyle says, “it is hard to go 24 hours without a phone. This is a space where you can interact and not just be on the phone or watching television. We hang out by a fire and cook dinner together.”

Scout Hollow offers the very experiences in nature that the Outdoor Adventure Center, a museum to nature on the Detroit Riverwalk, tries to recreate.

We felt there was a need for more presence to creatively engage the urban community with the outdoors,” says Ron Olson, chief of Parks and Recreation for the Michigan DNR, which runs the outdoor center. “We hatched the idea of an experiential center where people could come and learn about the rest of the state and the outdoors.”

But then what? Once kids are excited about nature, they need an outlet to cultivate that passion. And that’s what Scout Hollow aims to do.

Now attention is turning to Belle Isle, Detroit’s largest outdoor park.

Olson says that after hosting a few camping events on Belle isle, the DNR has begun to consider building a permanent campground on the island. But the project is well down a priority list that is first addressing neglected areas of the island.

“We still have a lot to do to bring the park back up to snuff,” Olson says.

The DNR should keep its focus on providing hands-on outdoor opportunities for Detroiters, particularly children.

It can be done without breaking the budget. Scout Hollow was rehabilitated on a tight budget and with limited resources.

And it’s allowed Detroiters to camp under the stars without leaving the city.

mnaida@detroitnews.com

It’s Fresh Air Fitness Month!

Guest blog post by Marla Hollander, American Heart Association

What could be better than taking a Walk in Nature with your kids?

Thinking back on my childhood, my experience with nature as a kid was confined to the suburban neighborhood I grew up in including the neighborhood park, Grover’s Mill pond (yes, the infamous “War of the Worlds” 1938 Martian landing site) and the Jersey shore.  Not so shabby for nature connections. Climbing trees in the spring, skating on the pond in winter and swimming in the ocean all summer were all things I loved and just did. Fast forward a couple decades and I discovered that my hometown was also home to the D & R Canal state park, Sourland Mountain preserve and the Mountain Lakes Preserve, all providing incredible opportunities to get outdoors and move, yet I was unaware of their existence as a kid.  While we had the ability to access these incredible resources, my family didn’t know how or why to access them.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that children engage in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, yet a report brief from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds that only about half of kids meet that recommendation.  Additionally, a 2011 study in the Journal of Pediatrics reported that television viewing by young children has been associated with cognitive and speech delays, aggressive behavior, decreased academic performance, and obesity. The time that young children spend watching TV or using a computer or tablet has replaced the time spent on other activities like reading and active or imaginative play – and particularly outdoor play.

We need to change this script!  We need to help our kids get active.

AHA-blog-7.12.18
My kids canoeing in Lake Needwood, Maryland. Photo credit: Marla Hollander

Providing safe places to play and be physically active throughout every child’s day is critical to heart health and keeping kids healthy. Getting outdoors with one’s family is a great way to spend time together and model healthy behaviors and one of my favorite activities!

My real passion for being an active outdoors person was not tapped until my early adulthood when friends and travel introduced me to what I call the wild – places like Crater Lake in the Oregon and Cape Tribulation in Australia. Now, an avid hiker, I’ve lived in four states with my kids and with each relocation, we look for how we can get out moving and connecting with nature as a family.  In Sarasota, we loved kayaking the protected mangroves; in San Diego it was surfing and hiking Torrey Pines State Park; in Washington, DC we spend a lot of time exploring the local Rock Creek Trail system that meanders throughout the city. Many communities have natural resources within reach – but we need to look for them, expose our kids early and often, and make them safe and accessible. In doing so we can help ensure they are getting the physical activity they need, and I can’t think of a better way to get active and connected as a family.

Throughout the month of July, the American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, has been challenging everyone to get outdoors and get moving. The Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) supports and embraces this challenge and I am grateful to be a guest blogger for OAK connecting nature, health and kids.

Fresh Air Fitness Month is part of the association’s Healthy For Good™ movement, which inspires people everywhere to make lasting changes in their health and their lives, one small step at a time.

Marla Hollander resides in Kensington MD, is a mom of two middle school kids, and a staff member of Voices of Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to ensure all kids have access to healthy food, beverages and safe places to be physically active.  She also serves on OAK’s steering committee.

A TIME TO UNPLUG: Get Ready for Screen-Free Week!

Guest blog by Rinny Yourman, JD – originally appeared on childrenandnaturenetwork.org.  OAK is a proud endorser of Screen-Free Week.

Imagine a week when children give their undivided attention to the natural world around them. With the exception of school and homework, they spend that week outdoors – hiking, biking, reading, exploring, gardening, collecting, stargazing, dreaming.

With not a smartphone in sight, they are intently focused on their surroundings – shifting clouds, myriad bird songs, velvety moss, scented peonies, foraged edible plants.

This magical week is real and rapidly approaching. It’s called Screen-Free Week and it takes place this year from April 30-May 6. During this annual, international event, children and families are encouraged to unplug from entertainment screens and instead enjoy a host of fun screen-free activities, including reading, playing, exercising, crafting – and, of course, gardening, exploring nature, and enjoying outdoor recreation.

There are many reasons to carve out a screen-free week during the school year.  2016 study by the nonprofit Common Sense Media found that teens consume an average of nearly nine hours of entertainment media daily, while tweens average nearly six hours – and those averages exclude screen time for school and homework.  A similar study of children aged eight and younger found an average of two and a quarter hours of entertainment screen use daily.

What impact does this excessive time with screens have on children?  The evidence is mounting that it’s taking a toll on their physical, emotional, and social health. The American Academy of Pediatrics citesincreased risks of obesity, sleep disturbances, depression, internet gaming disorder, reduced school performance, earlier initiation into a host of risky behaviors, and the potential for exposure to sex offenders and cyberbullying. Other research has found that teens’ smartphone and social media use are correlated with increased rates of unhappiness and depression. And that when increased screen time displaces human interaction, children’s ability to read social cues is impaired.

These alarm bells would be less compelling if it were easy for children to disconnect. However, former tech industry insiders are now warning of the ways that tech companies have made unplugging nearly impossible.  And children aren’t the only ones struggling to disconnect. In a Common Sense Media studyof parents of teens and tweens, screen media use by parents for non-work purposes averaged almost eight hours per day.

Screen-Free Week is a small yet effective antidote to much of this stress, giving growing minds and bodies a much-needed respite from the seductive pull of digital screens and the constant barrage of harmful marketing messages.  When families take the week off together, they find that the screen break promotes such deep family connection that the experience informs more thoughtful screen choices for the remainder of the year.

While the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood hosts Screen-Free Week, CCFC is only a clearinghouse of information and ideas.

Screen-Free Week is a dynamic grassroots movement where the real heroes are the thousands of parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians, activists, and community leaders who prepare a week’s worth of screen-free events, from bicycle rodeos to book readings to picnics to crafts activities and much more.

They are the ones who infuse Screen-Free Week with heart and spirit. Knowing children as well as they do, they commit to this undertaking year after year because they recognize that Screen-Free Week is more engaging and festive when it is celebrated with others.

Thanks to all of this organizing effort, there is yet another unique benefit of Screen-Free Week: it gives children the time and opportunity to explore activities that are new to them. During Screen-Free Week, children discover a love of such activities as cooking, knitting, reading Harry Potter books, and volunteering. Our goal for 2018 is to firmly cement gardening, nature exploration, and outdoor recreation to this growing list of new interests.

We invite naturalists and park rangers, master gardeners and beekeepers, parks and nature centers to help spread the news that spending time in nature is the perfect screen-free activity. While there may not be sufficient time to organize formal Screen-Free Week activities this year, we know that nature centers and local, state, and national parks routinely schedule screen-free nature and outdoor activities, so don’t hesitate to reach out to fans and followers to suggest they join your already scheduled activities during Screen-Free Week. Or just encourage members of your social networks to head outdoors, visit a local park or nature center, enjoy a family hike or bike ride, or try their hand at gardening during Screen-Free Week. With your support, we can help families, schools, and communities discover that the outdoors and Screen-Free Week truly are a natural fit.

Photo Credits: Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood & Children & Nature Network

CCFC invites nature lovers everywhere to plan ahead for next year’s Screen-Free Week, scheduled for April 29-May 5, 2019.