By Rachel Roberts
Last week, White House officials announced Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, aimed at getting every fourth-grader to visit at least one national park. The initiative will provide all fourth grade students and their families free admission to National Parks and other federal lands and water for a year. This comes amidst another announcement by the Obama to designate three new national monuments, in Colorado, Illinois and Hawaii.
Currently, more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas. According to a study done in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, young Americans devote about 53 hours a week to electronic media use—about 7.5 hours per day.
Opportunities for children to spend time outdoors exploring nature and national parks are becoming increasingly limited—especially for children of low-income families. While funding cuts reduce opportunities for physical education, and field trips, the Huffington Post estimates that fewer than half of all kids in the United States can safely walk to a park from their home.
This initiative is part of a larger Initiative to increase access to nature for everyone. The goal is to get everybody, especially children, playing, learning, serving and working outdoors. Research has suggested that introducing children to nature when they are about 9 years old helps to establish a connection to nature and the environment that remains through adulthood.
The National Park Foundation, a congressionally chartered foundation for the National Park Service, will be awarding grants to children to visit parks, and will plan to focus on schools with the most need.
President Obama has asked for $45 million for youth engagement programs and will allocate $20 million for National Park Service youth activities such as bringing fourth grade children to national parks. The program will also distribute information and resources in hopes of making it easier for teachers and families to identify nearby public lands and national parks.
The National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday in August, and the Every Kid in a Park initiative will undoubtedly bring into question the role of youth in preserving national parks. After all, it is the children who will continue to advocate for environmental efforts and preservation in the future.