While the children-and-nature movement is developing a national presence, regional and state campaigns will likely be the most dynamic engines.

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Cincinnati Digs Nature for Kids

Betsy Townsend, a leader in the Leave No Child Inside of Greater Cincinnati campaign, reports the campaign’s goal: to educate the public about the mental, physical and emotional health benefits of playing in nature, for all children. “Several nature facilities are exploring ways to create areas where it’s okay -- and safe -- for kids to dig and climb,” says Townsend. Led by the Cincinnati Nature Center, the initiative is an collaboration of Cincinnati Parks, Hamilton County Parks, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Civic Garden Center, Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati Recreation Commission, Greater Cincinnati Environmental Educators, Green Umbrella and  Hamilton County Environmental Services. “We’re also working with such health-related organizations as the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Healthy Children/Healthy Futures project, the Junior League and other groups working on children’s health issues,” she adds. The campaign’s first formal event is a lecture by Richard Louv in February, followed by a panel to address questions of safety, health, the role of technology and practical parenting. “Our minimum goal is an audience of 1,200,” says Townsend. “We plan to follow-up the event with a program to get children in the habit of playing outside -- even in February!”
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Standing-Room-Only Spells Success
In the San Francisco Bay Area, on the peninsula near Los Altos, six local sponsors of an evening with Richard Louv anticipated an audience of 400 to 500 max. Instead, as the parking lots overflowed and a line of cars jammed the freeway off-ramp, they had to push back the start time to give everyone a chance to settle in to the auditorium. How did they spread the word to draw a standing-room-only crowd of 800+ to the launch of their local Leave No Child Inside initiative? What can we borrow from their success as we reach out and engage our community on this issue?
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Milwaukee’s Audubon Preschool Sets the Standard
Elizabeth Cheek, the executive director of the Audubon Center, says part of the momentum behind nature preschools came from the book, Last Child in the Woods.“ At this unique preschool, a 3-year-old can identify a cedar tree and a maple. . . . And a 4-year-old can tell the difference between squirrel and rabbit tracks,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported April 7, 2006. The preschool has “attracted attention across the country as increasing numbers of nature centers consider adding preschool programs as a way to create outdoor enthusiasts at a young age and address the growing demand for early childhood education.” Also in April, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press reported that a K-4 environmental magnet school will officially open in the 2007-08 school year, “but next year's kindergartners will pilot the program and its partnership with . . . a 320-acre ecological education center and habitat restoration preserve located across the street.”
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Response to Connecticut Campaign Launch “Overwhelming” Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell recently announced the launch of a statewide No Child Left Inside campaign, which is designed to reintroduce children to the outdoors by raising public awareness of underused Connecticut state parks and forests. Response to an eight-week kick-off contest for kids and families, the Great Park Pursuit, “has been overwhelming,” according to Gina McCarthy, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
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Washington, New Mexico Boost Outdoor Education Efforts. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation on March 15, 2006, that will fund a study to measure how outdoor education affects academic achievement, career development and personal responsibility. Martin LeBlanc, the Sierra Club’s National Youth Education director, who helped support the legislation, is also working with Washington’s IslandWood School to make sure that every Seattle 5th-grader receives an outdoor-education experience. In 2005, the Albuquerque Tribune, citing Last Child in the Woods, threw its editorial support behind a legislative bill supported by the Sierra Club that proposes funds for a pilot program called New Mexico Outdoor Classroom.
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