By Gina McCarthy SUMMER 2008
The State of Connecticut is taking action to reawaken young people to something even more alluring than the Internet—the wonders of the outdoor world.
Simply put, kids don’t seem to play outside anymore. Concerns about safety and competition from “indoor” entertainment such as television, video games, computers, and iPods are stifling their interest in going outside. Over the past few decades, we have seen a major lifestyle change for families–and not necessarily a healthy one. As our young people become less active, we see increasing incidences of health problems such as obesity and diabetes and of developmental delays and learning disabilities.
Why should a state agency charged with protecting the environment be concerned about all of this? Show me a generation of adults that did not experience the wonders of nature firsthand when they were young, and I will show you taxpayers and voters who will not care about preserving open space, keeping the air and water clean, maintaining our forests and parks, and keeping our land free from pollution.
How is the state of Connecticut attacking this problem? We gave it a lot of thought and realized we couldn’t just take children who spend no time outdoors, drop them off in the woods, and tell them to have a good time. They wouldn’t know what to do. Today, kids learn by interacting. If we wanted to connect them to nature, we needed to make it fun and inviting.
We also knew that parents of these children don’t spend much time outdoors anymore either. So we decided it was critical to provide structure and encouragement to get families back outside and to offer activities that everyone could enjoy together.
With the support of Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) developed a new program called “No Child Left Inside,” which was launched in March 2006.
“No Child Left Inside” is designed to reconnect families with the outdoors, build the next generation of environmental stewards, and showcase Connecticut’s state parks and forests. “No Child Left Inside” provides families with organized activities that give them the confidence they need to forge ahead on their own and spend more time together outdoors.
“No Child Left Inside” comprises many programs, but the key element, The Great Park Pursuit, is carefully crafted to get families off the couch and into the great outdoors. The Great Park Pursuit is a multi-week game in which families solve clues and compete for outdoor adventure prizes as they travel around the state on an interactive tour of state parks and forests. At each park or forest families participate in activities that may include fishing, hiking, arts and crafts, history-based activities, or letterboxing (a pastime in which hikers combine their navigational skills and rubber-stamp artistry in a treasure hunt-style outdoor quest).
In the past two years, almost 1,000 families took part in the Great Park Pursuit, participating in everything from stocking fish in state ponds and lakes to letterboxing. DEP staff has marveled as we have watched families in these two years rediscover how to have fun together and learn so much about how to enjoy the outdoors.
If you visit www.nochildleftinside.org you can read comments and view photos of families who participated in the Great Park Pursuit. I believe the postings of the families really capture the spirit of it all. One family wrote: “The first day was so exciting! When we arrived at Beardsley Park there were so many families enjoying the beautiful day, the various activities, and, of course, the fishing! Our 8-year-old son thought the fishing was the best part of the day. So much so, that we were convinced to get fishing equipment for the whole family! He’s been asking to go fishing just about every day!”
“No Child Left Inside,” however, is more than just a game. Families and their children may benefit from free swimming lessons and water safety classes through YMCAs and Red Cross affiliates throughout Connecticut, take advantage of free park passes for foster children made possible through support from Bank of America, relax and enjoy free transportation to many activities as a result of a public/private partnership with Aquarion Water Company, obtain free park passes available at each town library, learn from the increased numbers of park interpreters at state park nature centers, and take part in environmental education programs occurring year round in many Connecticut public and private school systems.
“No Child Left Inside” started out as a DEP “initiative,” but it has now grown into a national movement. People across our country are talking about the need to get families back outside and citing the accomplishments of Connecticut’s “No Child Left Inside” program as an example of how to get this done. So don’t be left behind. As the slogan of one outdoor retailer says, “Out is in.”