Parks and Recreation Partnership Bringing 10 Million Kids to Nature and the Outdoors
In partnership with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF),
NRPA has launched a truly ambitious goal: To connect 10 million kids to nature
and the outdoors in the next three years. And this goal is not just to count
what we are already doing to connect kids to nature and the outdoors—it is
about increasing the time kids spend outdoors by 90 minutes per week, and
getting kids who aren’t already spending time outdoors to make this part of
their regular routine.
This initiative came about through a convergence of factors.
A year ago, the NRPA-commissioned Conservation Task Force noted that one of the
greatest conservation challenges at the community level was to reconnect kids
with nature and outdoors. One of their top recommendations was for parks and
recreation to commit to fostering the next generation of environmental stewards.
The report of the Conservation Task Force caught the eye of
the National Wildlife Federation, which was also considering a major initiative
to focus on this very issue. Formed more than 75 years ago with the purpose of
mobilizing citizens to protect threatened wetlands in the southeastern U.S.,
NWF has grown to be the largest grassroots conservation organization in America
with more than 4 million supporters and 47 affiliates.
NWF and NRPA senior staff began to discuss how our two
organizations might collaborate on this emerging initiative. Just as many park
and recreation advocates have become concerned about the trends that are
leading kids away from parks and outdoor activities, NWF also recognized the
profound consequences to the cause of conservation and public lands if a
generation of kids suddenly loses touch with nature and the outdoors. But on
the positive side, we know the tremendous benefits that kids gain from spending
time outdoors—better physical and mental health, a more positive outlook on the
future, even immunological benefits to prevent disease.
And let there be no confusion about the trends. The numbers are staggering. A noted research
study by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that kids are spending more than
7.5 hours per day behind screens of one kind or another, and a similar study
notes that kids today spend just four to seven minutes per day in outdoor free
Grim as it may sound, there is hope. A nationwide movement,
initially inspired by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving
Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, is responding to this threat to
our youths’ future. The purpose of this movement is to restore the essential
bonds of children to nature, and to give kids the opportunity to spend more
time learning, playing, and exploring in our natural outdoor world.
NWF and NRPA have taken up the challenge to enable kids to
have more time outdoors. While NWF has a large scope of interest in this
initiative, including efforts to engage parents, schools, and policymakers,
they have determined that public parks and recreation are the best means of
connecting kids to nature and the outdoors, and that NRPA was the best choice
as their primary national partner.
So what can you do as a park professional or citizen advocate
to support this effort? First, you can sign up your agency as being in support
of the “10 Million Kids Outdoors” initiative simply by going to www.nrpa.org/10MillionKidsOutdoors
and completing the registration form. Over the coming months, NRPA and NWF will
be making tools, resources, and information available to participating park and
recreation agencies. Our goal is to gain the commitment of 1,000 park and
recreation agencies in support of this effort. Each supporting agency will be
asked to record information on how many new kids they are connecting to nature
and the outdoors, and how much additional time they estimate kids are spending
doing so over the next three years.
Second, you can share information on what you are doing to
bring more kids to nature and the outdoors and to engage them for more time
every week. We are looking for tried-and-true ways that are successful as well
as innovative ways that push the envelope.
From the traditional nature hike to the highly creative app or GPS-based
activity, we want to share information on your success stories and best
practices; we want to develop national models for success.
Third, we need you to enlist the public in this effort—we
want to let parents, kids, and nonprofit organizations know, and we are asking
that you bring citizens, advocates, and new partners to join in.
Connecting 10 million kids to nature and the outdoors—that
will be no small achievement, but it is a challenge we can and must take on.
Won’t you join in?
To sign your agency or department on in support of the 10
Million Kids initiative, go to www.nrpa.org/10MillionKidsOutdoors.
Richard J. Dolesh is NRPA’s Vice President of Conservation
and Parks (email@example.com).