Tag Archives: kids

President Obama to Get Every Kid in a Park

guest blog by Sierra Club Nearby Nature Director and OAK Chair, Jackie Ostfeldoriginally featured in the Huffington Post

A walk in the woods will change a child’s life. That is, if she ever makes it to the trailhead. This week, President Obama unveiled the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative to connect children and their families with the great outdoors, ensuring millions of kids, regardless of where they live, will have an opportunity to take that first step in nature. The initiative will provide free entrance to our nation’s treasured public lands for every fourth grader in America — oh, and they can take their families, too.

This initiative matters, because not every kid has a forest in her backyard. In fact, most don’t. More than 80 percent of America now lives in urban areas, and this number grows every year. Opportunities to enjoy and explore nearby nature are limited for many children. Fewer than half of all kids in the United States can safely walk to a park from their home, and school testing priorities and funding cuts are reducing opportunities for physical education, recess, and field trips. Fears about playing outdoors affect how children spend their free time. And today’s youth are able to keep themselves contented indoors with television, video games, and computers; they’re clocking about fifty-three hours of screen time each week. The barriersto spending time in nature are high, and they’re even higher for low-income communities.

President Obama understands that not all kids have the same opportunities to connect with nature. Whether or not a child will climb a tree, run through a forest, roll down a hill, or splash in a creek depends a lot on where she grows up and the values and interests of her parents, teachers, and the other adult figures in her life. Last October, President Obama knocked down one roadblock to getting outside by increasing close-to-home access to the outdoors, or nearby nature, for nearly 15 million people living in Los Angeles County. When the president established the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument, he said “too many children in L.A. County, especially children of color, don’t have access to parks where they can run free and breathe fresh air, experience nature, and learn about their own environment.” With the San Gabriel Mountains designation, President Obama protected 346,177 acres, providing improved outdoor recreation opportunities for millions of kids and families.

President Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” is the latest in a series of barrier-busting moves he’s made to increase access to nature for all. The initiative will provide fourth graders across the nation an opportunity to visit America’s great outdoors free of charge. To support “Every Kid in a Park,” the National Park Foundation will expand its Ticket to Ride program to award transportation grants to schools in need. The initiative builds on U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s youth initiative to get children and youth playing, learning, serving, and working outdoors. And it will kick off at the beginning of the 2015 school year, just in time to start celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. As we gear up for the centennial in 2016, “Every Kid in a Park” challenges us to think about the next 100 years. What will the future of our outdoor legacy look like if we don’t make sure all kids have a chance to experience it?

The Sierra Club shares the president’s vision. Whether it’s a National Park or a neighborhood park, we’ll do our part to ensure that the next generation has opportunities to experience nature. The Sierra Club’s Nearby Nature initiative supports community-driven conservation efforts, like parks, gardens, and trails, to help ensure that close-to-home access to the outdoors becomes a reality for kids and families across the socioeconomic spectrum. Our Inspiring Connections Outdoors program has been training and supporting volunteer mentors who empower kids to get outdoors for over 40 years and now reaches 15,000 youth each year with nature-based outings in our local and national parks and everything in between. And the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, a diverse coalition of over 75 businesses and nonprofits cofounded by the Sierra Club,supports and will continue to advocate for efforts like the president’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative that provide quality opportunities for our children to get outdoors.

photo: Kids from Sierra Club’s Washington, D.C. Inspiring Connections Outdoors on the Billy Goat Trail, Great Falls National Park

Time to Create an ECHO Across America: Every Child Healthy Outdoors

guest blog by Sierra Club Nearby Nature Director and OAK Chair Jackie Ostfeld

originally published in the Huffington Post

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released the 2014 State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, and it’s bleak. The state by state analysis is a stark reminder that most kids in America are not getting enough physical activity.

According to the report, only 27.1 percent of youth in the United States are meeting the national physical aerobic activity guidelines, which call for 60 minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. In some states, like Texas, less than one-fifth of young people are meeting these guidelines.

Unfortunately, these numbers are less surprising when coupled with the fact that most Americans simply do not live within walking distance of a park. According to the state by state report, only 39.2 percent of the U.S. population lives within a half mile of a park. If you want to see how your city fares on park access, look no further than the Trust for Public Land’s Park Score, which ranks cities on park acreage, access, investments and other metrics. The proximity and safety of parks are increasingly being recognized as a contributing factor to the overall health of a community, yet many of our children don’t have basic neighborhood access.

It’s not all bad news. The CDC’s report also found that when you combine parks, community centers and sidewalks, 54.5 percent of youth have neighborhood access to safe places for physical activity. While I, find that number to be woefully inadequate, it is a slight improvement over the CDC’s 2010 findings that only 50 percent of youth had neighborhood-level access to physical activity opportunities.

The report also took a look at the school and child care environments and found that several states are beginning to provide policy guidance to enhance physical education and activity. For example, 30 states have provided policy guidance on recess, and 34 have provided guidance on walking and biking to school. Twenty-seven states have adopted some form of complete streets policy, designed to make walking and biking safer and easier.

While progress may be being made in some areas, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all kids and youth are meeting the daily physical activity guidelines, and perhaps even more work to be done to ensure that getting outdoors is a part of that daily routine.

That is why my colleagues and I at the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) created the Every Child Healthy Outdoors (ECHO) Across America Toolkit. OAK is a national strategic partnership of over 70 businesses and organizations from diverse sectors with a common goal to connect children, youth and families with the outdoors. The ECHO Across America Toolkit was designed by a broad set of OAK members and includes major contributions from the YMCA of the USA, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Children & Nature Network, Conservation Legacy, the Public Lands Service Coalition, and the Alliance for Childhood, among others.


ECHO Across America provides state and local groups the tools needed to develop strong and diverse alliances and a plan to get kids and youth outdoors. The Toolkit includes resources for organizing a meeting of non-profit, community, business, and government leaders in a state or city to conduct an assessment of existing policies and initiatives. ECHO also helps alliances set policy goals for getting kids and families outdoors and provides advocacy resources for engaging governors and mayors to advance those goals. The Toolkit takes a multi-sector approach that includes strategies in education, health, transportation, the built environment, conservation and environmental stewardship.

At the national level, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin have introduced legislation that complements the ECHO Across America strategy. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act is one of several pieces of legislation aimed at improving kids’ access to nature and the outdoors. The bill would provide incentives for states to develop multi-sector plans, similar to those recommended in OAK’s ECHO Across America Toolkit, to ensure that kids and families have opportunities and encouragement to get outdoors. The bill has broad support from OAK members.

There is still a long way to go to ensure that every child has opportunities to get healthy outdoors and we could use your help. If you represent a business or a non-profit organization that believes all children and youth should have opportunities to get outdoors, consider joining the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. Download OAK’s ECHO Across America Toolkit and see how you can advance Every Child Healthy Outdoors strategies, today.

Looking for some simpler ways to get involved? Start by letting your member of Congress know that you support the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act. Next, take a kid outdoors! Then, make known your efforts and ideas to engage more young people in the outdoors by blogging, writing a letter to the editor of your local paper, or sharing them in the comments below and on OAK’s Facebook page. Collectively, we can create an ECHO Across America!

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.

RELEASE: Interior Secretary Jewell Ramps Up Efforts to Connect Youth with the Outdoors


Jackie Ostfeld, 202-821-8877, Jackie.Ostfeld@sierraclub.org

Paul Sanford, 202-429-2615, paul_sanford@tws.org

Interior Secretary Jewell Ramps Up Efforts to Connect Youth with the Outdoors

WASHINGTON, DC –Today, at the National Press Club, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell laid out her conservation agenda for the next four years. As part of that agenda, Secretary Jewell stressed the importance of engaging the next generation in understanding, stewarding and connecting with our public lands.

Statement of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids – OAK:

The Outdoors Alliance for Kids shares Secretary Jewell’s vision to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors. We applaud Secretary Jewell for reaffirming and scaling up the commitment of the Department of the Interior to engage young people with our public lands.

The Secretary’s ambitious plan will help connect kids and youth with the outdoors through environmental education, community health and wellness and environmental stewardship opportunities. Specifically, Secretary Jewell announced plans to do the following:

  • Provide educational opportunities to at least ten million K-12 students each year, thereby enhancing environmental education opportunities for young people across the country. Outdoor environmental education opportunities improve academic and practical skills and create a well-rounded education that all kids need to thrive.
  • Establish partnerships in 50 cities with a goal of creating outdoor play and recreation opportunities for ten million young people in the next five years. Physical inactivity is a major contributor to the childhood obesity crisis and these partnerships will increase opportunities for kids and families to get active in urban areas.
  • Ramp up the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. Service Corps activities help youth assume responsibility for the stewardship and preservation of America’s great outdoors and the healthy development of the next generation.

The Outdoors Alliance for Kids looks forward to working with Secretary Jewell in the weeks, months and years ahead to fulfill this ambitious vision and ensure that more and more children, youth and families have opportunities to get outdoors in nature.


 Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in expanding opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the well-being 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 sixty national organizations including the American Heart Association, Children & Nature Network, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association of State Park Directors, National Recreation and Park Association, National Wildlife Federation, The North Face, the Outdoor Foundation, REI, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and the YMCA of the USA to address the growing divide between children and the natural world. Find out more on our website: www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org