NLC to Hold Two Leadership Academies to Help Cities Connect Children to Nature

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Our RFP to participate in one of two Connecting Children to Nature Leadership Academies in October is now available. Kid w magnifying glassChildren connect to nature in all sorts of ways, from outdoor adventure programs to exploring their local park. (photo: Children & Nature Network)

A new movement is taking shape to help children make stronger connections with nature. Cities and their community partners stand at the forefront of this movement, which has developed in response to a sharp increase in screen time for young children, less time spent playing outside and a rise in childhood obesity over the last two decades.

There is also a growing concern about the potential lack of informed and dedicated environmental stewards in the next generation. Much more remains to be done to connect young people, particularly low-income children and kids of color with nature, and cities have an important role to play in closing this “nature gap.”

The NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and Children & Nature Network (C&NN) launched the Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative in November 2014, with the support of a three-year grant from The JPB Foundation.

The earliest phase, including a review of scientific literature and a nationwide scan of city practices, is coming to a close. Up next, NLC and C&NN will host two Connecting Children to Nature Leadership Academies in October 2015, in Salt Lake City, Utah and St. Paul, Minn. Each academy will provide participants with access to national experts, promising practice examples and opportunities for peer learning and local action planning.

City leaders can adopt more central roles on their own and in collaboration with C&NN and NLC. This includes prioritizing equitable and abundant access to natural spaces and outdoor recreation opportunities through projects such as green schoolyards, or through the revision of zoning and land use policies. City leaders can also engage with community coalitions to maximize opportunities for children to spend more time in nature.

Coordinated efforts between city departments and partners such as school districts and community-based organizations can maximize benefits to both young people and their communities. Benefits include:

  • Improved health outcomes,
  • More creative and unstructured play in nature,
  • Greater self-esteem, focus, cooperation, and executive function,
  • Stronger academic skills, achievement, and engagement,
  • Increased opportunities for social and emotional learning, and
  • Cultivation of a long-term connection with nature, improved ecological literacy and development of a strong ethic of environmental stewardship.

In 2016-2017, cities that have participated in one of the leadership academies may apply for pass-through grants and technical assistance to plan and implement local initiatives to expand equitable access to nature. See the RFP for more information. Applications are due by Wednesday, July 29.

About the Author: 
Priya Cook is the Principal Associate for the Connecting Children to Nature program, the newest program of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.