Category Archives: Blogs

5 Tips for Camping With Kids

OAK Member guest blog by Jessica Culverhouse, National Recreation and Park Association

My family and I love to camp. My husband and I both grew up in camping families, and when our son was born, we knew we wanted to take him camping early and often to help foster a love for the outdoors and spend fun, quality time together. Our first camping trip as a family was to nearby Lake Fairfax Park when James was two months old.

first camping tripsOn the left, the writer’s first camping trip was an opportunity for her parents to take embarrassing photos. On the right, Jessica camping with her son and their dog.

With camping season underway in much of the country, I encourage you to pack up the kids and the tent and head to your local park. Whether you’re a camping newbie or an experienced backcountry adventurer, camping with kids can be a great way to connect with nature and each other.

If you need some inspiration, this week happens to be Great Outdoors America Week, and Saturday, June 28 is the Great American Backyard Campout, an annual event coordinated by the National Wildlife Federation to encourage families to spend time together outdoors. Or plan your trip in July, and take advantage of the Park and Recreation Month activities your local park has to offer.  If you do, don’t forget to take a picture of your outdoor activity and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #JulyOUTisIN for your chance at some great prizes.

To help you get started, here are 5 tips for camping with kids:

Keep it Simple
If this is your first camping trip, or if you are an experienced camper but your kids are not, it’s important not to be too ambitious. Your goal should be to interest your family in the next trip, so keep it simple. Select a campground where you can park nearby, with access to water and a restroom, rather than somewhere too remote.

Keep it Local
A local park is a great place for your family’s first camping trip. Chances are it’s close to home – in case things don’t work out as planned – and that you know where to go for emergency rations, should your plans for a gourmet campfire meal backfire. You probably already know your way around the park, too, like where to find a restroom, a playground, or a great swimming hole. You may even want to check in with your local park as you are planning your camping trip. Many offer equipment rentals, geocaching (a fun electronic scavenger hunt you can do with the family) or even cabins, if you don’t want to go the tent route just yet.

Bring What You Need
Take some time to plan your meals and a few activities, and make a list of what you’ll need to bring for the amount of time you plan to be out there. REI offers a comprehensive family camping checklist, but you likely won’t need everything on this list. My family has a few plastic tubs where we store our camping essentials – like cookware and a first aid kit – so we can grab and go.

If you’re not going to be hiking with your gear, it’s ok to pack a few extras, too – like the kids’ favorite snack and a favorite bedtime story or stuffed animal that will help with bedtime in the tent. But don’t overdo it – camping is really about simplifying and getting away from it all.

camp chairCamping is a great chance for the whole family to kick back and relax.

Assign Roles
There are, of course, chores to be done around the campsite, so enlist the whole family’s help by assigning roles. Very young children can collect kindling for the campfire, or fill pots with water for cooking. Older kids can wash dishes, help set up the tent, or plan and lead a family hike or scavenger hunt.

Go with the Flow
Chances are, things will not work out exactly as planned. There may be a surprise rain shower, an unpleasant bee sting, or a sleepless child. With a little planning you can minimize the impacts of these challenges, but it’s hard to predict every possibility. It’s important to relax and go with the flow – your kids will get dirty, your gear may get wet, but in the meantime, you’ll create family memories and stories you’ll share for years to come.

Have any tips, questions, or stories to share about camping with kids? We’d love to hear about your camping successes – and blunders! Share them on Twitter @NRPA_News. 

Jessica Culverhouse is the Senior Manager of Fundraising at the National Recreation and Park Association. She is a former teacher and environmental educator, mom and volunteer Master Naturalist.

Kick Nature-Deficit Disorder to the Curb: Celebrating Great Outdoors Month

OAK member guest blog by Jackie Ostfeld, Nearby Nature Director, Our Wild America Campaign, Sierra Club

Originally published in Sierra Club’s “Lay of the Land








Just for kicks, I googled fear of outside this morning. My search turned up 187 million results. For comparison’s sake, I then googled fear of death and fear of the unknown, fears I thought were fairly common. To my surprise, there were only 84.7 and 73.5 million hits, respectively, and when combined, still fewer results than my first search. While the findings of my quick internet inquiry will probably never hit the annals of any reputable science journal, there is a growing body of evidence that America is becoming increasingly sedentary and spending a lot of time indoors (you can find the facts on the Children & Nature Network’s site).

June is Great Outdoors Month, and there is no better time to kick Nature-Deficit Disorder to the curb. So, let me share ten ways to get outside and celebrate the outdoors this month.

1. Get Out-ing. Did you know that the Sierra Club, America’s largest grassroots conservation organization, offers outings throughout the country (and the world)? Sierra Club’s 7,500+ trained volunteers are leading outdoor activities this June (and all year round) for beginners and the most experienced hikers. Find your local Sierra Club chapter or group and join an outing that matches your interests. Being a newly trained and certified Sierra Club outings leader myself, I can personally vouch for the program.

2. On a rainy day, read President Barack Obama’s Great Outdoors Month Proclamation for some inspiration. Here’s an excerpt: “This month, as we enjoy the natural splendor of our Nation, let us stay true to a uniquely American idea — that each of us has an equal stake in the land around us, and an equal responsibility to protect it. Together, let us ensure our children and grandchildren will be able to look upon our lands with the same sense of wonder as all the generations that came before.”

3. Hit the trail with the American Hiking Society. June 7th is National Trails Day®, a time to explore and enjoy America’s trail system. Enjoy a stroll along a city trail or take on a section of the Appalachian Trail. There is no trail too big or small that isn’t worth exploring.

4. Celebrate African Americans in National Parks Day to honor the rich history and contributions African Americans have made to our National Park System. This year,Bay Area residents are joining Outdoor Afro and the National Park Service to pay homage to the famed Buffalo Soldiers by retracing their historic journey from the Presidio of San Francisco to Yosemite National Park. In 1903, units of the 9th United States Cavalry made the 280-mile trek over thirteen days from the Presidio to Yosemite. Buffalo Soldiers spent the summer in the park protecting it against poaching and grazing and blazing trails still used today.

5. June 14th is National Get Outdoors Day. Grab your family or a friend – try to find someone who doesn’t spend a whole lot of time outdoors – and show him or her why the outdoors is so special to you. Start simple at a nearby park close-to-home or go visit a state or national park, forest or refuge and celebrate America’s public lands.

6. Better yet, take your dad, and make it a weekend. June 15th is Father’s Day and there is no better way to celebrate then a weekend outdoors. Skip the wrapping paper and give your dad a gift that he really wants – quality time with you!

7. Pack a lunch and grab your family and friends for a picnic on June 18th for International Picnic Day. Getting outdoors doesn’t have to mean climbing Mount Everest. Spending time outdoors can be as simple as grabbing a blanket and some grub and getting to your local neighborhood park for a picnic.

8. During Great Outdoors America Week, June 23-26th, join Sierra ClubThe Wilderness Society, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and many other groups in Washington, DC, to let your leaders know how much you care about America’s Great Outdoors. Great Outdoors America Week raises awareness around outdoors issues by bringing together hundreds of diverse organizations and activists to meet with lawmakers and administrators to advocate for our outdoor way-of-life. Can’t make it to Washington? Consider meeting with your local decision-makers, or sending a letter to your representatives, to let them know how much you value our public lands.

9. Close out the month by participating in the Great American Backyard Campout(hosted by the National Wildlife Federation) where thousands of people across the nation will spend the night of June 28th outdoors, in a tent or sleeping under the stars. And remember, America’s public lands belong to all of us, so even if you don’t have a backyard right outside your door (and many of us don’t), you can camp in a park near you!

10. Oh, and plan ahead – because opportunities to get outdoors don’t stop at the end of June. Parks and Recreation Month AKA July is right around the corner.

Juan Martinez Talks Green Play to Green Pay Initiative

OAK member guest blog by Juan Martinez, The North Face Ambassador

Originally posted in Never Stop Exploring

The North Face Ambassador Juan Martinez’s life has been shaped by many experiences but defined by a single opportunity. In 9th grade the South Central LA native received an ultimatum: Either go to detention or go to Eco Club. Juan chose Eco Club, and the rest is history. Today Juan’s an outdoor advocate, a role model, and a mentor. And it’s all because of that one chance. Here Juan tells us about the influence his father has had on him, and he also shares a bit about a new initiative he’s working on: Green Play to Green Pay.

I grew up watching my father work his hands until they became calloused, laboring to the point where he could wring out the sweat from his shirt. Sometimes he’d come home bleeding from his day trying to make a living. Although my father took pride in every aspect of what he did, his paycheck never seemed to reflect his level of sacrifice or the long hours he spent away from his family.


This impacted me as a child, and it made me dread the thought of working. Not because I was afraid of hard work, but because I wanted more than just a paycheck at the end of my day. As I witnessed my father’s sacrifice, the thought of turning my newfound love for being outdoors into my profession felt naïve — almost irresponsible, even. I had no idea where to begin or what steps I needed to take.

Luckily I had mentors who guided me through the process, and now I find myself an Ambassador for The North Face; a member of the Board of Directors for the Sierra Club Foundation; a National Geographic Emerging Explorer; and the Director of the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leadersprogram, doing some of my most important as I empower other young people to view their connection to the outdoors and the skills gained through such endeavors as a career opportunity and potential profession. It’s what I consider my life’s work

A few weeks ago, members of the Natural Leaders program, along with key partners, gathered to take part in our inaugural Green Play to Green Pay Summit at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. We define Green Play to Green Pay as the process of translating the passion and skills gained in nature to a livelihood that values these experiences both intrinsically and economically.

The goal of the Green Play to Green Pay initiative is to empower diverse, young leaders to merge their passion with their purpose, providing them with much more than a paycheck at the end of their day. This initiative also aims to help to close the diversity gap in the outdoor field while challenging the status quo to become more culturally relevant. Additionally it will work to pass valuable skills and knowledge on to the next generation.


Thinking back to my childhood, I remember that on some weekends my father would pile the five of us into our small but reliable 1985 Chevy, and we would pull up to a completed work site and he would tell us a story for every single wire or bolt that he had touched. My father truly epitomized the phrase “labor of love” in everything he did, and as a young child I hoped to one day live a life that reflected such passion for my own work — a passion my father continues to demonstrate today.

My father and I have switched roles these days, and now I take him on hikes out to the Arroyo Seco trail in Pasadena, California, a trail I worked on during one of my first jobs with Outward Bound Adventures. On the trail we often eat a lunch of quesadillas or chiles rellenos that my mom has packed for us; and as we hike the path, I tell my father stories of the rocks and of the trees that I had a hand in preserving. I am thankful for the sense of pride in my work that my father has passed on to me. And I am thankful to be able to spend each day doing what I love — being outdoors with others who share the same passion.


For more information on the Natural Leaders program and the Green Play to Green Pay Initiative, and to learn ways you can turn your passion into your purpose visit

Photos courtesy: Juan Martinez. Featured image credit: Camp 4 Collective

5 Ways to Celebrate Kids to Parks Day

U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ranking Member Rob Portman (R-Ohio), U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) joined together to introduce a resolution to urge America’s youth to live active lifestyles and to enjoy and protect our nation’s special places to mark the fourth annual Kids to Parks Day. In support of Kids to Parks Day, here is an excellent blog by OAK member NRPA outlining different ways to get involved!

OAK member guest blog by Jessica Culverhouse, National Recreation and Park Association 

originally published in Open Space

If you’re a regular Open Space reader, you may have seen my first blog for NRPA, 5 Ideas for Exploring Nature with Kids this Winter. Mercifully, that long, white winter is behind us, and it’s time to shed the extra layers of clothing and head back to the park to enjoy spring: the season of renewal and rebirth. There is so much to do in the park during the springtime – from baseball games to busy afternoons at the playground. Spring is also great time to get into the park to enjoy the wonders of the natural world as plants and wildlife reemerge from their winter rest.

If you need another reason to head to the park, Kids to Parks Day is May 17. Coordinated by the National Park Trust, Kids to Parks Day is an annual nationwide celebration to bring kids to their parks for active outdoor play. My family and I are planning a picnic and games in one of our favorite local parks on May 17. How will you join in? Here are 5 ways to celebrate Kids to Parks Day – or any spring day in the park!

More and more parks are realizing the value of offering community garden plots—public areas where individuals or groups of family and friends can grow vegetables or flowers. There are many benefits to offering community gardens, including supporting children’s connections to the natural world, healthy eating, and intergenerational connections. NRPA has produced a helpful Community Gardening Handbook, with information specifically for park and recreation agencies to help plan and implement community gardens. Visit for information and tips, and read about Grand Traverse Children’s Garden in Traverse City, Mich.’s Hull Park for a great example of a park that has embraced gardening with kids.

Run—don’t walk—to your local park for Kids to Parks Day May 17!
Run—don’t walk—to your local park for Kids to Parks Day May 17!

Water play
What child doesn’t love to splash in a puddle? Spring showers make for plenty of opportunities for puddle-splashing. But before you jump, take a closer look for creatures that take advantage of temporary ponds – called vernal pools – to lay their eggs. You may find tadpoles or tiny juvenile salamanders swimming in the water. The Vernal Pool Association has information on vernal pools and the animals that call them home. Exploring a vernal pool is a fun way to introduce young kids to animal lifecycles and ecology.

Nature scavenger hunt
A nature scavenger hunt is a great way to get to know your park and the wildlife that lives there. Our friends at the National Wildlife Federation put together a few tips on how to organize a scavenger hunt, including print-outs for younger and older children. Use your smartphone camera to document your finds.

Spring is a great time for nature photography, and with digital and smartphone cameras in nearly every parent’s pocket, even the youngest park visitors can enjoy snapping pictures of fuzzy caterpillars and colorful spring wildflowers. Check out these simple tips for nature photography with kids for a few strategies to help kids learn to express themselves and appreciate nature through photography.

Camping is a great way for families and friends to spend time together outdoors, and camping with kids doesn’t have to be intimidating. Your local park is a great place to start: it’s close to home, you already know the lay of the land, and chances are you know where to find emergency provisions if your plans for a gourmet campfire dinner go awry. Check out REI’s tips for camping with kids for the basics, and stay tuned for my June Open Space post with more tips on camping with young children.

Jessica Culverhouse is Senior Manager of Fundraising at the National Recreation and Park Association. She is a former teacher and environmental educator, mom and volunteer Master Naturalist. 

The Refraction Effect – NOLS Shines Light on Leaders of Color

OAK member guest blog by National Outdoor Leadership School

NOLs Alum hiking with kids by Brad Christensen
NOLs Alum hiking with kids by Brad Christensen

A typical National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) course involves a team of instructors taking a group of students 14 and older into the backcountry and teaching them outdoor skills, leadership, and environmental ethics. We’ve been doing this for nearly 50 years, and can write reams about the ways in which young people have been transformed simply by spending an extended period of time with each other in nature learning how to get along and accomplish tangible goals.

But the stories we find to be the most rewarding are those where NOLS can shine a light on role models from communities underrepresented in the outdoors, who in turn refract that light on other outdoor role models like them. We hereby dub this “the refraction effect” (thanks to the hero of our story, Josh, for coining this term). And the greatest part of the refraction effect is that throughout the process, all of these role models continue  to shepherd young people into their ranks by taking them outside—sometimes in their own backyards—to experience the wonders of nature.

One such story is Josh Garubanda. Josh works for Wilderness Inquiry, also an OAK member. When Josh was four, his parents—both teachers—moved from a rural village in Kenya to the Twin Cities to make a better life for their family. Though Josh had always played outside, his love of outdoor recreation was sparked in high school, when he was asked to use his charisma and connections to lead an outdoor club for the primarily minority student body. With the help of a high school teacher who worked for Wilderness Inquiry, Josh acquired some essential outdoor skills and then passed them on to others in his club, including members of the Hmong, Latino, and black communities. It should come as no surprise that after school, he started guiding for Wilderness Inquiry.

Photo of Josh Garabunda by Julie Schweitzer
Photo of Josh Garubanda by Julie Schweitzer

Josh’s path intersected with NOLS only last year. Josh had always known about NOLS but it didn’t seem accessible to him until he learned about Expedition Denali.


Expedition Denali has been a monumental undertaking for NOLS. In the summer of 2013 the school brought together a group of inspiring role models who made history as the first team of African Americans to blaze a trail up America’s highest peak—Denali. To mark the 100th anniversary of the peak’s first ascent, Expedition Denali set out to change the “face” of the mountain, and mountaineering in general.

Though the summit was a goal, the ultimate objective was not just to make mountaineering history, but to build a legacy by paving a way for young people of color to get outside, get active, get healthy, become passionate about America’s wild places, and chase their own Denali-sized dreams. The team has engaged over 5,000 young people to connect with nature, and the inspiration continues with events this spring.

Enter Chad Dayton, Josh’s colleague at Wilderness Inquiry and a NOLS instructor. Chad told Josh about Expedition Denali, and in Josh’s words “I raised my eyebrows. An organization of this caliber getting behind an initiative to increase the visibility of African Americans was big. I wanted a closer look.” Catalyzed by this project, Josh took a NOLS Rocky Mountain Outdoor Educator Course last summer to further his skills.

Expedition Denali by Hudson Henry Photography
Expedition Denali by Hudson Henry Photography

The story will come full circle this summer, when both Josh and the Expedition Denali team will be at the OAK Youth Event during Great Outdoors America Week on June 25. Josh is part of the Wilderness Inquiry crew that is taking hundreds of kids from the D.C. metro area on canoe trips on the Anacostia River. During that same event, NOLS Expedition Denali will be running an on-land station to teach kids how to set up storm proof tents along with other activity stations hosted by OAK members.

So back to the theory of refraction. Josh could be content as an outdoor enthusiast doing what he loves to do without regard to race—after all nature doesn’t care what color you are. But like the Expedition Denali mountaineers, Josh chose to be a visible role model. His reasons are best articulated in his own words:  “Underrepresented communities don’t see ourselves as being part of the outdoor narrative, and feel we are disconnected from that story. I want to showcase a personality whom other African Americans can connect with, and which challenges the perceptions of what it means to be black in America, and what it means to be black in the outdoors.  I want to remind people that the outdoors is black culture. Black people hike. Black people fish. And I’m only one actor within a movement of largely unsung heroes trying to use my influence to help shed some light on what we’re doing.”

Inspired by these words, NOLS will use this blog as an opportunity to refract the light that OAK is shedding on us. Look up these names: Phil Henderson, Audrey and Frank Peterman, Juan Martinez, Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, Rue Mapp, Jimmy Chin, Kai Lightner, Shelton Johnson. Those role models, like Josh and the Expedition Denali mountaineers, are few in a movement that is rewriting the narrative of people of color in nature. When you have the opportunity to influence someone, remember to take that opportunity to highlight other influencers. Together, we can inspire exponentially more young people to get outside.

Please visit for more information about the project.

Your Couch Is Far More Dangerous Than You Think

OAK member guest blog by Ben Klasky, President & CEO of IslandWood

originally published in The Huffington Post

Why are we so afraid to let our kids play outside, when we know that such activity is vital for their physical and mental health? Our fears are so extreme that in a few cases, parents have been arrested for allowing their children to play outside unattended. My mother would have been sent to jail on an almost daily basis.


Until recently, it was common for kids to come home from school, grab a snack, and head outside to play in the neighborhood. This was true for me growing up in suburban Minneapolis, and also for my parents who grew up in L.A. and Detroit. Even in the nation’s city of cities — New York — children once played in the streets after school. There were games like stickball, hopscotch, and a wild version of tag called Ringoleavio. Author Bill Bryson jests about parenting styles from his childhood: “I knew kids who were pushed out the door at 8 in the morning, and not allowed back until 5 unless they were on fire or actively bleeding.”

I believe this dramatic change in parenting stems from fears of what I’ve dubbed the Three A’s — Animals, Abduction, and Accidents. But our fears greatly exaggerate the risk of playing outside, and have the unattended side effect of increasing the chances of our kids developing serious health threats. Consider the facts:

Animal Attacks: As their natural territories shrink, top predators are living closer to our urban centers (not far from my home, cougars have been found in Seattle city parks). But in all of North America, we can expect fewer than three people to die each year due to bears, cougars, coyotes, and wolves — combined. Some researchers believe that our fear of these animals is innate, dating back to prehistoric times, when humans fell prey to bear-sized hyenas and saber-tooth cats. Today, however, the chances are miniscule of meeting our demise at the paws or teeth of a large carnivore.

Abduction: The U.S. experiences about 115 “stereotypical kidnappings” annually — involving someone the child doesn’t know, and in which the child is held at least overnight, transported a distance, and killed or ransomed. This is truly scary stuff. At the same time, such kidnappings are incredibly rare… only a little more common than getting struck by lightning.

Accidents: Each year, the U.S. can expect to see the following number of “outdoor” deaths:

Adding up all these statistics, we can predict slightly over 10,000 outdoor deaths this year. This is a small portion of the 2.5 million people who die annually in the U.S. — over half of them from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes alone. If your chances of dying outside measured four blocks long, your chances of dying from these three illnesses would be longer than running a marathon! And active outdoor time has been repeatedly documented to reduce our chances of getting all three of these deadly diseases. We are exchanging a small amount of risk for more certain health threats caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

Our neighborhoods have additional threats to children’s safety, including gang violence, poor air quality, and lack of access to green spaces. These are complex issues that can’t be solved by simply encouraging parents to send their kids outside. We have tough work to do such as monitoring parks, passing legislation to clean the air, and demanding quality urban planning. However, if we don’t begin to address some of our most basic fears of getting kids outside (the 3 A’s), we are unlikely to successfully tackle these more difficult obstacles.

Much of our fears stem from 24/7 access to sensationalist headlines. We are barraged by stories of polar bear attacks, kidnappings, and playground deaths. When you combine the abundance of scary news flashes with the psychological phenomena known as the “recency effect” (we remember best what we saw most recently), it is no wonder that we are afraid to let our kids run around outside.

As a father, I want to protect my kids but my answer can’t be keeping them indoors away from harm. Instead, I am focusing my energy on helping them be safer outside. I want my children to be crystal clear on what to do when encountering strangers, wildlife, and dangerous plants. I’m teaching them how to avoid street traffic, and how to properly wear helmets and life vests. By encouraging them to play safely outside, I’m protecting them from a host of much bigger risks — and they’re having a lot more fun too.

View in The Huffington Post

Encourage Youth to Enter the Get to Know Contest

guest blog by Jeff Ramsden of Get To Know

The Get to Know Program, a proud member of OAK, has been inspiring connections between children and nature in the outdoors for well over a decad

Through the North American-wide Get to Know Contest, we help encourage Canadian and American youth to get outdoors, connect with nature and celebrate this connection! The Get to Know Contest invites youth (19 years and younger) to share their outdoor experiences and help to celebrate nature and our wild neighbours through the creation of nature-inspired works of art. Youth’s submitted artwork is showcased in the popular Get to Know Online Gallery helping to celebrate every child that participates and sharing their work with peers both in their communities and around the world!e. A not for profit based in Canada and the U.S., our mandate is to promote education in order to raise a generation of Canadians and Americans who are inherently aware of their impact on the environment and how their positive interaction with local wildlife can help preserve our natural wonders for generations to come.

2013 Get to Know Contest logo

The Get to Know Contest accepts entries in 5 unique categories: Art, Writing, Photography, Video and Music! Youth can enter as many categories and with as many entries as they wish, giving youth more opportunities than ever to participate. Youth entries don’t necessarily have to feature wildlife or fauna; they just need to be inspired by nature or the outdoors! This therefore could be anything from a painting of a waterfall, a photograph of youth hiking, a video or piece of statement art about the issue of plastics in the ocean, or even a song about pollination! The contest’s message is purposely broad as to not limit youth’s creativity and unique voices. After all, everyone has a different and personal relationship with nature and we hope youth share theirs through the Get to Know Contest and this continent-wide movement!

The Get to Know Contest is on now and runs right until November 1, 2013. Please help spread the word and encourage youth to participate. There are some fantastic prizes to win including art supplies, books, musical instruments including an acoustic guitar, outdoor gear, a canoe trip or an amazing Vancouver weekend getaway! For more information and to enter, be sure to visit Questions or concerns, please feel free to email

Environmental Education Bridges the Partisan Divide in Congress

guest blog by Jackie Ostfeld of the Sierra Cluboriginally published in the Huffington Post

Huffpost Stem Teachers

In a welcome break from partisan gridlock, congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle have come together to advance environmental education and outdoor learning opportunities for students across America. Earlier this week, Congressmen John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) reintroduced the No Child Left Inside Act of 2013. If passed, the bill would encourage states to implement environmental literacy plans for K-12 students.

As a former environmental educator myself, I know first-hand the value of learning in and about the environment. I have seen the look of surprise on kids’ faces when they come to understand that water does not starts its journey at the kitchen sink, or when they do something as simple as pull a carrot out of the ground for the first time. I have witnessed classroom teachers marvel at the transformation of some of their most challenging students, who after an outdoor class on forest ecology, suddenly show an aptitude for learning.

Schools and educators are increasingly seeing the value of environmental education which has been shown to improve motivation to learn, self-esteem, critical thinking and academic performance across subject areasResearch has even found that just a few days of outdoor environmental instruction may improve science test scores by as much as 27 percent. Getting outdoors also encourages physical fitness, reduces stress and lessens the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders which, in turn, improve the ability of our students to learn.

“Environmental education must be a national priority,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Hands-on, outdoor interaction with the environment enhances student achievement — not only in science, but also in reading, math, and social studies. By investing in education that will grow the next generation of innovators, scientists and environmental stewards, we will prepare our workforce of the future to meet the many economic, environmental, and energy-related challenges our country is facing.”

Safeguarding our communities and protecting our air, water and lands from environmental threats will require a sustained effort and a well-educated generation (or two) to respond to challenges with innovative and smart solutions. Today’s youth will have to help tackle future environmental threats as adults, yet our students are not being provided with the basic environmental education foundation needed to address these challenges.

“This bill reflects a larger, overall responsibility to promote environmental stewardship in future generations,” said Fitzpatrick. “Incorporating environmental learning is a down payment on our progress — one that will spur both future scientists and healthier, more conscious citizens.”

Unfortunately, schools are pressed for resources to implement environmental education programming. The No Child Left Inside Act would begin to address this challenge by encouraging states to develop and implement environmental education plans for their K-12 students.

Sierra Club is committed to ensuring that kids and youth have opportunities to explore and enjoy the natural world. Through a vast network of volunteers, Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings program is working hard to give tens of thousands of young people, who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, meaningful outdoor experiences each year. Sierra Club is proud to support the No Child Left Inside Act to ensure that students across America have similar opportunities to learn in and about the environment.

The No Child Left Inside Act is also supported by the No Child Left Inside coalition and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.

Great Outdoors America Week in Pictures

Guest blog by Jackie Ostfeld. Originally appeared on Sierra Club’s Outdoors blog.

The story of Great Outdoors America Week 2013 is best told through photographs. Sierra Club Outdoors hosted 15 volunteers for a week filled with lobby visits, briefings, receptions and events. We participated in 20 meetings with elected officials where we advocated for increasing opportunities for kids and youth to get outdoors. We hosted a congressional briefing panel on the military community and the outdoors. We were joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for the “Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk on the National Mall” put together by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. We recovered from a long week with a Sierra Club Outing to Great Falls National Park. And those are just the highlights. Here’s our first round of photos from GO Week.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Edwards, Sierra Club

Sierra Club Outdoors hosted a congressional briefing panel, “Military Community and the Outdoors,” with Major General James A. Kessler, Marine Corps Installation Command; Stacy Bare, Army Veteran and Sierra Club Outdoors Director; Marine Corps Colonel Broughton; Sheri Robey-Lapan, Blue Star Families; Mike Christian, Marine Corps Veteran and Director of Outdoor Research Government Program; and Joshua Brandon, Army Veteran and Military Organizer for Sierra Club Outdoors.


Photo Credit: Kyle Ash

During GO Week, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (of which Sierra Club is a co-founder) hosted the “Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk on the National Mall” to draw attention to the importance of increasing access and opportunities for kids and youth to get outdoors. This event would not have been possible without the ongoing commitment of 50+ members of OAK. Special thanks to Michael Carroll and Paul Sanford and of The Wilderness Society, Susan Yoder of the American Camp Association and Sarah Danno and Katie Joyce rockstar Sierra Club Outdoors summer interns for all of the hours you put in to making this event (and GO Week) a success.

Additional thank yous to REI, GirlTrek, American Canoe Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, National Recreation and Park Association, Outdoor Nation, American Hiking Society, YMCA of the USA, Earth Conservation Corps, AmericaWalks, International Mountain Bicycling Association, American Camp Association, Clif Bar, Outward Bound, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sc kayak station
Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Sierra Club’s Baltimore and Harrisburg Inner City Outings groups hosted a kayak demo station at the “Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival” on the National Mall. Thanks Molly Gallant, Nicole Veltre, Pat and Tony Reilly for lending your expertise (and your boats).


Photo Credit: Jennifer Edwards, Sierra Club

Festival go-ers explain why they get outdoors. Best Interns Daniel and Izzy (top left) were on site shooting video – stay tuned.


Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell arrives at the Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and heads straight for the kids. Here she is meeting a group of youth from the YMCA.

Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Secretary Jewell joins our friends at Outdoor Nation. ON Youth Ambassadors represent!


Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

Secretary Jewell joins the Outdoors Alliance for Kids for a press conference on the importance of connecting kids, youth and families with the natural world. Thanks Sierra Club Angel Martinez for holding up our sign!


Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

From left to right, Chair Nancy Sutley, White House Council on Environmental Quality; Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director; Secretary Sally Jewell, US Department of the Interior; Arturo Cervantes, Outdoor Nation Youth Ambassador; Jackie Ostfeld, Chair, Outdoors Alliance for Kids and Policy Manager, Sierra Club Outdoors; and Jamie Williams, President, The Wilderness Society. Thanks to all of our press conference speakers for their ongoing commitment to connecting kids and youth with our natural heritage.

GOAW group shot2

Photo Credit: Javier Sierra, Sierra Club

We have arrived at the Capitol. Sierra Club joins Interior Secretary Jewell and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids for a walk on the National Mall following the “Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival.” Big thanks to Vanessa Garisson and Morgan Dixon of GirlTrek for leading the walk. It was a hot day and the enthusiam of our GirlTrek friends kept us going.

Senator Nelson, Mark Walters

Photo Credit: Eugenie Bostrom, Southwest Conservation Corps

During the GO Week Congressional Awards Celebration, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida receives an award for his work to protect America’s great outdoors and to connect veterans with our public lands. Sierra Club Outdoors uber-volunteer Mark Walters (in the middle) is there to present the award.

GOAW great falls

Photo Credit: Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club

Sierra Club Outdoors GO Week Delegates unwind with an outing to Great Falls National Park after a long week advocating for connecting America with the outdoors. Thanks to Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings Leader Mike Darzi for leading the hike. From left to right, meet our delegation (or most of it): Eric Uram, Denis Rydjeski, Jackie Ostfeld, Lydia Leos, Maggie Davenport, Monica Augustine, Sarah Danno, Kelly Mieszkalski, Tony Reilly, Katie Joyce, Pat Reilly, Mike Darzi, Mark Walters and Betsy Edlredge.

Getting Outdoors During GO Week

Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week) starts today. The Outdoors Alliance for Kids is proud to participate in GO Week 2013 where we will join our partners to ensure kids, youth and families across the nation have opportunities to get outdoors.

GO Week is the preeminent event celebrating our collective connection to the great outdoors while advocating for its future. As one of the largest annual conservation and outdoor focused events in Washington DC, GO Week raises awareness around outdoors issues, and brings together hundreds of diverse organizations and activists to meet with lawmakers and administrators to advocate for our outdoor way-of-life. During GO Week, OAK will  advocate for policies that enhance opportunities for children, youth and families to enjoy the outdoors.


We’ll also be hosting a “Kids, Youth and the Great Outdoors Festival and Walk on the National Mall” with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, White House Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, The Wilderness Society President Jaime Williams, Outdoors Alliance for Kids Chair Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club Outings Leader and Outdoor Nation Youth Ambassador Arturo Cervantes, and dozens of OAK members and partners.


Follow OAK on Twitter for updates all week long.

Learn more about GO Week: