Our view: Getting kids outside more vital than ever
Last month, the Herald highlighted a program at Sullys Hill National Game Preserve that uses practical outdoor experiences to help grade-school students learn about educational disciplines like language arts, science, social studies and math.
Students arrive by bus each morning and have hands-on lessons within the preserve. The day the Herald visited, students were outside, sketching illustrations into books they are writing throughout the school year. Students adopt trees, identify plants, measure the area of leaves and the circumference of trees and learn about nature photography.
“It’s something that gets our kids excited – getting to be part of nature and it’s applicable,” said Devils Lake Central Middle School Principal Dan Kaffar. “Learning can’t just be in the classroom.”
He’s right, and we assume children who participate in the program are more engaged and thus more likely to retain the information presented. Better yet, it helps get the students outside, into nature. That’s important, since many – including us – worry that children are becoming more disconnected with nature and their environment.
The program at Sullys Hill is one way to reconnect them. Another is through the “No Child Left Inside” program, which is gaining in popularity across the nation and which recently received funding in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is calling for applications for the program. Public entities and nonprofit organizations that serve children are eligible to apply for the first phase of the grant program. There is $182,000 available for programs throughout Minnesota in this opening phase, with requests limited to $5,000.
No Child Left Inside was initiated this year by the Minnesota Legislature, which opted for the program after considering studies that show kids are not getting outside enough and being exposed to nature.
“Kids in past decades were outdoors early and often,” said Jeff Ledermann, the DNR’s education and skills team supervisor. “But that’s not a given anymore, so these grants are here to boost outdoor programs and initiatives all around the state.”
Ledermann said “the time is now” to act on No Child Left Inside.
Good for the Minnesota Legislature for pushing this initiative. No Child Left Inside wasn’t invented in Minnesota – other states have moved in this direction, too – but it got universal support when it was proposed earlier this year. It started with proposals from Democrats, and Republicans jumped on board, too.
It sometimes isn’t easy getting youngsters interested in outdoors activities, whether it’s a simple kayak trip on a quiet lake or bear-hunting excursion in the north woods. In the face of a warming planet, it’s good to get youngsters outdoors so they can better understand the environment and the mounting problems their generation inevitably will face.
No Child Left Inside is a good way to do that. Now, it’s up to organizations to apply for these funds and put them to good use.