Seven Cities Activate Strategies to Connect Kids to Nature

“Imagine a city known for excellent environmental education because its parks are natural classroom. As a city, we are creating greater access to nature for all of our younger residents.” -Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

City leaders address disparities in children’s opportunities to play, grow, and learn in the outdoors through Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN), a partnership between NLC and Children & Nature Network.

In November, seven Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) sites began implementing strategies for connecting children to nature more equitably in their cities. Mayors like Rosalynn Bliss of Grand Rapids, Michigan, seek to restore childhood to the outdoors and commissioned eight months of community dialogue, policy scans, nature-mapping, and network building to inform strategies for action, such as:

  • Developing green schoolyards and enhancing access to nature at public elementary schools and early childcare facilities
  • Connecting to nature through out-of-school time programming
  • Cultivating youth leadership and stewardship
  • Bringing more diverse groups of residents in regular contact with natural features in city park systems

The chart below indicates priority strategies among the pilot cities: Saint Paul, Minnesota; Madison, Wisconsin; Grand Rapids; Providence, Rhode Island; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco.

(NLC)

(NLC)

Over the next three years, each of these cities will execute its priority strategies with peer exchange, learning and technical assistance from the CCCN partners and $50,000 grants to kick start city efforts for at least the next nine months. Prominent strategies rely on involvement of key partners such as parks and recreation agencies, school districts, out-of-school time networks, conservation and youth development organizations, and elected and community leaders, as well as adult and youth residents. A metrics framework drawing upon cities’ initial assessment practices and indicators will inform a broader field of cities and partners seeking to measure both systems-level change and direct impact on children. CCCN partners will offer additional resources for municipal action in the coming months, including in-person opportunities detailed below.

Join Us to Learn More

Representatives of the seven-city cohort will share its implementation and planning experience at the 2017 International Conference and Summit of the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), April 18-21 in Vancouver, British Columbia. C&NN extends an open invitation to a wide variety of additional participants to attend the Conference and Summit including other city leaders, planners, public health advocates, field practitioners and thought leaders committed to advancing policies, partnerships and programming for connecting children to nature.

Additionally, city parks professionals can learn more from Austin and the other CCCN cities at a May 17-19 National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Connecting Kids to Nature Innovation Lab.

The CCCN webinar series begins with “Emerging City Strategies to Connect Children to Nature” on Thursday, February 23, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST. Register here to learn more about the priority strategies adopted by CCCN pilot sites.

Cities Connecting Children to Nature is a partnership between NLC and Children & Nature Network. Connect with CCCN through upcoming conferences, webinars, and our newsletter.

priya_cook_125x150About 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.

NLC and Children & Nature Network Choose Seven Cities for Planning Cohort

The continued efforts of NLC’s Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative and the Children & Nature Network are geared towards providing children the most optimal opportunities to play, grow, and learn in the great outdoors. 

The Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) partners have selected seven cities for the planning phase of our initiative to better connect children to nature. This phase involves activities as varied as conducting gap and asset assessments and participation in an international conference, and brings teams together from mayors’ offices, parks departments, and non-profit community organizations.

CCCN project partners the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education & Families (IYEF), the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), Outdoors Alliance for Kids, and Wilderness Inquiry selected the cities of Saint Paul, Minnesota; Madison, Wisconsin; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Providence, Rhode Island; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco, California; to participate through a competitive process. Cliff Johnson, IYEF Executive Director, highlights the importance of their pioneering work. “Cities already offer a host of opportunities for their citizens to experience nature, whether in neighborhood parks or larger public lands, but not all residents typically share in these benefits. Led by the efforts of these seven cities, CCCN aims to reduce current inequities and foster connections to nature among all children.”

Over the next seven months, the selected cities will receive technical assistance from the CCCN partners for a  planning process to complete community assessments, and analyze equity issues, and will also have extensive opportunities for peer exchange and learning. Through this process, cities will develop implementation plans by August 2016, eligible for further CCCN grant funding and assistance through October 2017.

cccn-seven-cities-blog-post

In addition to helping cities improve nature connections for children – particularly children who have had little access previously – the CCCN initiative employs funding from The JPB Foundation to test twin hypotheses: that cities constitute a valuable geographical unit for deepening the children and nature movement, and that fully engaged municipal leaders can advance efforts farther, faster, and ultimately more sustainably.

The seven-city planning cohort can look forward especially to significant learning opportunities among experts and peers gathered at the C&NN 2016 International Conference and Cities & Nature Summit. The Children & Nature Network extends an open invitation to a wide variety of additional participants to attend the Conference and Summit including other city leaders, planners, public health advocates, field practitioners, and thought leaders committed to advancing policies, partnerships and programming for connecting children to nature.

Sarah Milligan-Toffler, Executive Director of C&NN, who will host the event in St. Paul, notes that “We look forward to convening leaders from around the world to advance access to nature in low-income communities.”

The Cities & Nature Summit portion of the conference will build on CCCN  leadership academies that took place in October 2015, including attendees from the seven planning cohort cities plus nine other communities including Seattle, Washington; Salt Lake City, Utah; North Little Rock, Arkansas; St. Petersburg, Florida; Columbia, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; Knoxville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and New Haven, Connecticut. At the Leadership Academies, these sixteen teams joined with each other and national experts to explore strategies for providing children with equitable and abundant access to nature, with particular focus on children of color and low-income children.

PriyaCookAbout 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.

Mayor Ralph Becker Launches Initiative to Connect Kids with Nature

This is a guest post by Katie McKellar. The post originally appeared in Deseret News.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker kicks off NLC’s Connecting Children to Nature Leadership Academy on Wednesday, October 7, sharing more about SLC Kids Explore and other city initiatives from the eight city teams attending from across the country.

Mayor Ralph Becker announces a new city initiative aimed at getting kids outside more to explore nature in TreeUtah's EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City.

Mayor Ralph Becker announces a new city initiative aimed at getting kids outside more to explore nature in TreeUtah’s EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Eleven-year-old Jaquelin Catrejon plucked a plum from a tree in the nature gardens of Day-Riverside Library on Thursday, grinning as she took a big bite out of the fruit.

When she finished the plum, Jaquelin joined her sixth-grade classmates from Pacific Heritage Academy in a scavenger hunt of the gardens, checking off “fruit tree” from her list. She still needed to find an aspen, a speckled rock, leaves of mint and a bee.

The activity kicked off a new Salt Lake City initiative: SLC Kids Explore. NLC President and Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Ralph Becker launched the program to challenge local youths and their parents to spend at least 30 minutes a day outdoors for a 30-day period.

“We must nurture a populace with a personal relationship to nature and a sense of responsibility for their and our environment,” the mayor said. “By creating this program, we are opening the door to helping Salt Lake City youth connect with nature in a direct and meaningful way.”

Becker said the program is part of a national effort spearheaded by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to promote healthy lifestyles by connecting children with nature and inspiring the next generation of outdoor stewards, who will ultimately be responsible for protecting the nation’s natural environment. Jewell visited Salt Lake City last month to announce the initiative.

Josh Lore looks at ducks during a nature walk in TreeUtah's EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City

Josh Lore looks at ducks during a nature walk in TreeUtah’s EcoGarden behind the Day-Riverside Library in Salt Lake City. Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

As part of SLC Kids Explore, a directory of free nature activities is posted on a new public calendar at www.goseekdiscover.com with suggestions for different ways families can be active while having fun and exploring new areas of Salt Lake City. Those who participate can post photos of their activities on the website and earn activity pass rewards for their families.

City officials partnered with Tracy Aviary to create the list of activities.

“SLC Kids Explore addresses a national issue. Today’s kids spend less time outside than any previous generation,” said Tim Brown, Tracy Aviary executive director. “This is problematic for several reasons. Spending time outdoors has proven to improve our mental and our physical health.”

Today’s youths will be the “environmental stewards that are challenged with unprecedented environmental issues like climate change,” Brown said.

“So we need these kids to grow up with environmental values and understanding the benefits of nature,” he said.

One of Jaquelin’s classmates, Lorena Thompson, 11, said she already plays outside every day, riding her bike or playing with her dog, but she has friends who only want to play video games whenever she goes over to their houses to play.

“They say, ‘I don’t know what to do outside,'” Lorena said.

She said the SLC Kids Explore program will show kids that there are better things to do than playing video games or watching movies.

“If we’re outside, we can be more healthy and help the environment,” Lorena said. “Plus, it’s just a nice to be outside.”

About the Author: Katie McKellar is an intern at Deseret News.