“It is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world.”
In 2005, Richard Louv released his influential book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. The book brought the importance of children spending time in nature to the forefront of people’s minds. It talks about how essential outdoor activity is for healthy development, and how time in nature can contribute to one’s physical and emotional state from childhood on.
There are a lot of reasons people don’t bring children into nature: fear, lack of access, cultural barriers, and a general discomfort with the unknown. Maybe their parents never took them to the forest or a local stream as a child, so introducing those places to their children is not in their comfort zone. Those of us working in environmental education are trying to chip away at these barriers slowly so that everyone gets to visit nature at some point in their childhood; because we, like Louv, see the immense value in those experiences.
Recently, we were given the opportunity to take a huge leap forward in these efforts through President Obama’s new Every Kid in a Park initiative. The President announced that starting this fall, every fourth grade student and their families will get a free National Pass for the year. This is an $80-value pass to visit our 59 national parks and federal lands for an entire year. I think we can all stop for a minute and say, “Wow!”
In the environmental education world, this is all we are talking about. This pass will allow millions of families to visit the amazing natural beauties of this country, from their local federal lands to their home state’s National Parks, and beyond to those all across the country.
This initiative is a huge step in ensuring the next generation grows up with nature. It doesn’t solve all the barriers families face in getting outside, but it sure helps.
On a personal note, my nephew will be in fourth grade next year and I can’t wait to tag along as he visits Yosemite, Lassen, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Redwood and all of the other amazing parks we have here in California. I am ready to see his mind blown by the awe of these wild places!