New WA program will help all kids get outside this summer

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Tenino’s Christopher Butcher sprints across shallow mud flats while playing with his family at Tolmie State Park in Lacey in 2016.

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In 2005, Richard Louv’s book “The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” fired educators and parents alike on the need to get children outdoors. It was accompanied by an avalanche of research on the social and emotional health benefits, learning gains, and fitness improvements of outdoor free play.

There hasn’t been as much research on the benefits of outdoor recreation for adults, but we assume they are quite similar. (The only difference may be that adults call it recreation rather than play.)

In our state, the book was followed in 2007 by the legislature’s creation of a state grant program called “No Child Left Inside,” intended to target children who were struggling academically and/or from low-income families. low income. Attempts to pass similar federal legislation languished for many years, but were hopefully reintroduced this year.

Our state’s office of education – the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) – has also promoted outdoor learning experiences for students, and links them to the academic standards that the outdoor learning helps them master. OSPI also promotes the “greening” of schoolyards, that is, the transformation of grassy areas with trees, shrubs, flowers and garden plots. They relearn that children like dirt, worms, bugs, and trees they can climb.

Washington is also the first state in the nation to allow outdoor learning and child care centers where small children spend at least half the day outdoors.

Various non-profit organizations also support outdoor learning for teachers and students; the Pacific Education Institute, for example, has an ambitious and renowned Fieldstem program that integrates language arts, careers, cultures, science, art, and civics into outdoor programs.

This year, there is also a new kid in this area: Check Out Washington. This program provides libraries with kits that include binoculars, nature guides, and free passes to use at state parks, campgrounds, and trails. Kits can be borrowed free of charge from the library. It’s a collaboration between the State Parks Foundation, the libraries, and the Washington State Employees Credit Union, which has contributed $52,000 and has already pledged another $40,000 for next year.

To promote equity, 10 library systems were chosen based on statewide health disparities data; our region’s Timberland Library System is one of them. The hope is that families who need access to the outdoors the most will benefit.

And despite the best efforts of educators, the need for this program is acute: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen – and c That’s not counting the time they’ve been online for school during the pandemic. It is certainly not a recipe for a healthy life.

But the children’s health is not the only reason to take them out of the house this summer. The future of our communities and our planet depends on it. Young people need a sense of belonging, a grounding in the natural world and the understanding that they will become its guardians. They need to know that humans are just one species among many on this spinning globe.

As Richard Louv said, we must “save an endangered indicator species: the child in the wild”. Bringing children into the woods, beaches, lakes and rivers is a vital form of environmental restoration.

We salute all educators who have engaged in this work. And we are especially grateful for the dedication of the State Parks Foundation, the generosity of WSECU, and the willingness of our library systems to provide an innovative, equity-promoting way to help families access parks and trails in status this summer.

As environmentalists often say, we will save what we love and love what we know. It’s the best reason for children and adults to spend time this summer in our ravishingly beautiful natural world.

Ryan H. Bowman