No Child Left Inside

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School’s out and it’s time for our children to get out and play in the dirt. In this age of addictive media and supersized athletic regimens, the verdict is in from several sources – kids need time to do nothing, preferably outside.

Environmentalists are joining with educators to recognize and promote the value of children having time to play outdoors. The Natural Learning Initiative promotes “the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of children and families.” The No Child Left Inside law was passed by Congress in 2007, providing funding “to provide outdoor education for grades K-12.”

In North Carolina, the No Child Left Inside initiative is implemented mainly by the Office of Environmental Education, whose existence is being threatened by the current budget plans. A public/private coalition continues to support the main tenets of the bill, which was amended in 2008. Schools are developing ways for kids to interact with nature; we need to make sure summer vacations are at least as fulfilling in this regard.

Boys examining a creek in Raleigh. Photo by John Dancy-Jones.

Boys examining a creek in Raleigh. Photo by John Dancy-Jones.

Raleigh is full of parks and greenways, but some are more kid friendly than others.  Pullen Park is a perennial favorite with a wide range of play options, but be sure to make time for a walk around the lake or maybe even a peek at the railroad line that edges the richly wooded slopes. 

Blue Jay Point is a fantastic place to explore nature, and the center with its model garden is educational as well.  My personal recommendation for a non-structured nature outing is NCSU’s Raulston Arboretum, a real win-win for parents and their children of any age.  There are koi ponds, bridges, and lots of intriguing corners to disappear around, and the grown-ups will revel in the spectacular displays of native and well naturalized plant species.

If your kids are very young, then the All Children Playground at Laurel Hills Community Center can combine with a walk or stroller push down a short greenway and right out over a small pond lush with plants and wildlife.  If they are older, well then head over to the Museum Park surrounding the art museum.  Its unique blend of art and nature was recently featured in the NY Times, and includes Cloud Chamber, a stone structure that acts as a sit-in pinhole camera.

Perhaps you are lucky enough to be able to just kick your kids outside into a nice yard for a while every day.  If your backyard isn’t the haven for wildlife and naturing you might wish, more structured options are available.  The city of Raleigh just published a guide to nature activities for children this summer. Several of the programs take place at Durant Nature Park, another great city venue.

If you would like to make your own backyard more inviting to wildlife (and thus more interesting to your kids), then consider working with them to make your backyard a Certified Backyard Habitat.  The current issue of Carolina Parent has a nice feature on the activity.  Simply commit to provide water, food and shelter areas for local species, then enjoy the wildlife when it appears.

Nature will appear, given half a chance.  Raleigh boasts a rich diversity of geological and botanical wonders, often literally under our feet.  Animals sometimes co-exist uneasily, especially with our automobiles, but there is still a rich and instructive spectrum of native wildlife in easy access of all citizens.  The wonders of nature yet persist in our urban landscape.  Make sure the kids in your life get a chance to discover them.