Texas Makes Getting Kids Outside A Priority

State Develops Plan for Healthier, Happier, Smarter Kids with Outdoor Time

12-06-2010 // Mary Burnette
Agenda for the Texas Chhildren in Nature conference

Over 350 professionals from across the state of Texas met on December 3 and 4 at the University of Texas in Austin, to launch a strategic plan to connect kids with nature in the state. Hosted by the Texas partnership for Children in Nature, the conference attracted educators, conservationsists, health practitioners, and policy makers who gathered to learn about the Texas Children in Nature Strategic Plan and develop ways for the plan to be implemented in their communities. The plan was developed in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and other organizations as a response to today’s trend away from outdoor play and learning and toward anindoor lifestyle associated with rising rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.

”The Texas Children in Nature Strategic Plan gives us a roadmap for restoring nature to the daily lives of every Texas child through schoolyard habitats, natural play areas at childcare centers and parks, and other strategies.  With this much engagement from all corners of the state, we are ready to make it a reality,” said Allen Cooper of National Wildlife Federation, conference co-chairman.

More than 20 Texas leaders appeared at the conference to express support for  the plan, including the chairman of the Texas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the medical director and vice president of  Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, state representatives, municipal parks directors and many more.

Speaking at the conference, Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards, a pediatrician at the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, said, “If we don’t address this issue today, we’re facing the next generation with shorter life spans than their parents for the first time in history.”

During the Friday plenary sessions, the goals of the strategic plan where presented, along with model initiatives consistent with the plan that could be replicated.  Some of the models  featured included the healing gardens at Dell Children’s Medical Center, the Austin Independent School District’s outdoor classroom initiative, and the Texas Nature Challenge initiative. The plenary sessions was followed by workshops in which participants identified a next action step for achieving each goal of the strategic plan.

During the state’s 81st legislative session, organizations including the National Wildlife Federation advocated for the well-being of children through the creation of a formal state plan that would enable kids to spend more time out-of-doors and to better understand Texas’ natural resources.

The legislature heard the message and asked a coalition of groups to develop such a plan. By design the plan is concise, optimizes partnerships and focuses on implementation across multiple public and private sectors.

By the close of the conference 123 attendees from every region in the state had committed to serve on actions teams to bring the plan to fruition. With so much momentum building for this initiative, the Austin American-Stateman’s lead editorial on December 6 was on the diabetes epidemic in the state  and noted the conference and the important work being done to get kids outside for better health.

”Research shows that time outside in nature makes kids happier, healthier, and smarter.  This plan and this conference will help us bring those benefits to every Texas child,” said Allen Cooper. 

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