Connecting Children with Nature

For many of us, summer conjures childhood memories of spending time outdoors building forts, exploring local creeks, and catching fireflies. Children today, though, spend more time indoors than they do outdoors. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (2005), our children are spending less than half the time out of doors as their parents did growing up.

This phenomenon was highlighted in Richard Louv’s 2005 book the Last Child in the Woods which sparked the national “Children and Nature” movement. Louv introduced the concept of Nature-Deficit Disorder, which is not an official diagnosis, but a way of viewing the human costs of alienation from nature. Among these costs are: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. As park and recreation professionals how do we create and facilitate experiences which help children reconnect to nature? Fortunately we have many opportunities with our programs and numerous resources to assist in this endeavor.

Summer camps are a great venue to give children opportunities for a variety of outdoor experiences including unstructured nature play. One of Johnson County Park & Recreation District’s Outdoor Discovery camps most popular activities for campers during drop-off and pick-up transition times is our natural play areas. These natural areas in the woods give children an opportunity for creative play and to build huts/forts. These areas feature wood-chipped trails, sand play areas, and small clearings to build forts out of sticks. With names like “Turtle Island” and “Bear Creek Woods,” they create a sense of adventure for kids to explore, dream, create, and connect with each other and to nature.

A great way to encourage families and children to spend time in your parks is to have them participate in the Kansas Wildscape’s “Wildlifer Challenge.” This program combines nature and technology to engage children with outdoor activities. Participants must complete 15 of the 20 challenges to qualify as an official Kansas Wildlifer. Visit for more information or contact the Wildscape Foundation directly to get “Wildlifer Challenge” brochures for use in your programs.

Nature Centers are another great resource for summer camp field trips, staff training, and program ideas. With over ten nature centers located throughout the state, they are a natural gateway to reconnect children with nature by providing a wide range of programs, exhibits, and hiking trails.

If you are looking for staff training, the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education (KACEE) offers a variety of conservation and environmental education workshops. Workshops are custom-designed using nationally-acclaimed environmental education resources to provide professional development. Workshop participants explore and take home an activity guide featuring ready-made lessons and activities for grades pre-K through 12 and beyond. The environmental education materials encompass five core programs for K-12: Project Learning Tree, WILD & WILD Aquatic, WET, and the Leopold Education Project. Core programs for early childhood (ages 3-6) include Project Learning Tree Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood and Growing Up WILD.

Hopefully some of these ideas will inspire you to try some new programs or enhance existing programs to get children more engaged with nature and create their own summertime outdoor memories!

Connecting Children with Nature Resources:

  • Kansas Wildscape:
    • Sponsors of  “Wildlifer Challenge”
    • Kansas OK Kids events.
    • Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education:
      • Educational workshops and conferences
      • Department of Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism:
        • Wildlife education materials

Bill McGowan
Outdoor Education Manager
Johnson County Park & Recreation District

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This entry was posted on Monday, February 25th, 2013 at 3:53 pm and is filed under Health and Wellness, KRPA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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