My View: Bring People and Nature Together
Every Child Has a Right to Environmental Education and Unstructured Play
Vera Vollbrecht, Director, Warner Park Nature Center & Co-Chair, TN Every Child Outdoors Coalition
Late summer in middle Tennessee boasts the bright colors of ironweed and goldenrod blooming and a winged parade of hummingbirds ever moving southward. The beauty and wonder of these natural phenomena never cease to amaze and inspire me year after year and in my work in environmental education I hope to instill this wonder in the thousands of children and adults who visit Warner Parks each year.
Almost daily I hear more startling reports and statistics about today’s kids, like the average screentime use per day is nearly 7.5 hours, childhood obesity has doubled and adolescent obesity has tripled over the past twenty years, and school field trip funding and support has been slashed yet again. I am alarmed and saddened by the preponderance of these negative reports, and in response work every day to combat these trends.
I wholeheartedly believe that in order to connect with nature, to love, appreciate, and cherish its wonder and wildness, children need positive, recurring experiences outdoors beginning at a young age. To facilitate this, a Nature Play area has been added to the campus at Warner Park Nature Center. It is a place where young children can play and experience nature in a safe, unstructured environment, making mud pies, climbing up the dirt pile, using their imaginations to explore the outdoors.
The Tennessee Every Child Outdoors Coalition (ECO TN) was created in 2008 to promote and support opportunities that encourage the children of Tennessee to engage with and experience the outdoors. One of ECO TN’s many accomplishments was the development of a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, which was passed as a Resolution by the state General Assembly and signed by Governor Phil Bredesen last March.
The TN Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights states that every child, before entering high school, has the right to:
• Walk in the Woods
• Play Outside
• Camp Under the Stars
• Explore Nature
• Climb a Tree
• Watch Wildlife
• Go Fishing
• Grow a Garden
• Fly a Kite
• Splash in the Water
• Visit a Farm
In August I attended the America’s Great Outdoors listening session in Nashville. During the listening session I spoke of the importance of connecting kids with the outdoors, for the future of conservation and wildlife and for the physical, mental, and spiritual health and of our children. I was inspired to hear so many passionate individuals present their cases for the protection and conservation of land, water, and air, and I am hopeful that their voices for will be heard.
Visit www.everychildoutdoorstn.org to learn more.