It is hard to believe that Leave No Child Inside – Greater Cincinnati celebrated its fifth anniversary this year! We formed in 2006 with the mission of “educating the community that time spent in nature is essential to the physical, mental and emotional health of all children”. During that first year, we developed a plan to distribute research-based information to individuals and organizations that influence the ability of children to connect with nature, encouraging them to integrate that information into their own work. In reflecting upon our achievements over the past five years, we are proud that our 100% volunteer organization has had a real impact upon so many area non-profits, schools, child care centers and even state government departments. Some of this is the result of our direct influence, and some of it due to the message spreading virally throughout the community. Regardless, lots of good work is being done throughout Greater Cincinnati to give children access to nature in their daily lives.
Thank you to all of our collaborative members who so generously donate their staff time to work on LNCIgc projects and who work to make sure that children have opportunities to experience the joy of nature in their neighborhoods, their schools and at our region’s magnificent parks, nature centers, camps and recreation centers.
These are some of the highlights of the past year:
CONNECTING WITH THE OHIO CHAPTER OF THE AAP
As a follow-up to Richard Louv’s acclaimed keynote address to the American Academy of Pediatrics in the Fall of 2010, the Ohio LNCI Collaboratives contacted the Ohio Chapter of the AAP to participate in their statewide conference. In addition to a presentation on the health benefits of unstructured, outdoor play by Dr. Wendy Anderson of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, we hosted a booth in the exhibit hall to distribute research and other materials to the physicians in attendance.
DISCUSSIONS UNDERWAY WITH THE AAP AND LOCAL PHYSICIANS
In June of 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics launched its new obesity section, whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of children and families by reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity and promoting healthy active living. Cincinnati’s Dr. Christopher Bolling, who was one of the panelists when LNCIgc brought Richard Louv to Cincinnati in 2007, is a chair of the new section. Discussions are underway to explore partnership opportunities with the Children & Nature Network and the possibility of pilot programs in our area.
CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT OF STATEWIDE OUTREACH
Leaders of the Ohio LNCI Collaboratives continued to meet via monthly WebEx conferences. We are working to maintain relationships with state departments where staff changes following the 2010 elections resulted in the loss of some of the connections that were made last year when we produced the Report on Ohio’s Initiative to Reconnect Children with Nature. Meetings will continue in an effort to assure that an understanding of this non-partisan message remains in the culture of those departments.
CINCINNATI PUBLIC SCHOOLS’ SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL PROGRAM
Following last year’s work with Pioneering Healthier Communities and the resulting We Thrive! initiative, the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program is underway in many Cincinnati Public Schools. SRTS engages the school, parents and the community in an effort to make it safe for children to walk or bike to school. LNCIgc helped to identify parks and other greenspaces that can be integrated into the walking routes. We also agreed to assist in negotiating any joint use agreements that may be needed to access those spaces and to facilitate volunteer trail construction projects when needed.
APRIL 2011 WAS LET’S G.O! (Get Outside!) MONTH
April as Let’s G.O.! month is the brainchild of the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Network, which is youth working to empower a worldwide youth movement to strengthen the bond between children and nature. Let’s G.O.! was designed to get children and families across the country outside to Play, Serve and Celebrate! by encouraging them to participate in the programs and events offered throughout their own communities. Nationwide, over 100,000 people registered their participation in this first year of Let’s G.O.! Locally, we encouraged organizations in Greater Cincinnati to list their events and activities on the Let’s G.O.! website. We look forward to expanding our support of this youth-led initiative in future years.
CINCINNATI PUBLIC SCHOOLS’ FIFTH QUARTER
For the third year, LNCIgc supported the Fifth Quarter program by coordinating free school outreach programs for participating schools. We were also able to offer seventeen free field trip options with free transportation provided. Fifth Quarter students celebrated the conclusion of the program by attending the Kid’s Outdoor Adventure Expo at Paddlefest.
AREA ORGANIZATIONS WORK TO CREATE “NEARBY NATURE”
When we began our work in 2006, it appeared that one of the most difficult challenges would be to assure that ALL area children would have the ability to access nature in their daily lives. Little did we know how quickly our own collaborative members and other community groups would rise to the challenge, with a proliferation of school gardens and natural playspaces being built all over Greater Cincinnati. We are in the process of creating an inventory of these spaces, and as of this writing, have identified more than 40 which have been built in the past five years.
CINCINNATI NATURE CENTER’S NATURAL PLAYSCAPE OPENS
One of the ironic issues pointed out in the Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder is that often the very spaces that come to mind as places where urban children can connect with nature do not allow the kind of unstructured play activities that are so beneficial to childhood development: no digging, no going off the trail, no building forts or tree houses! In recognition of this, the Cincinnati Nature Center has taken a lead in inspiring public spaces that encourage children to play with nature, not just play in it. It has carved out over one acre of land to create a Nature Playscape where children can safely explore on their own, splashing in a creek, building dams, letting their own creative juices flow! This space is a must- see for anyone interested in seeing how public spaces can be designed to allow the type of play experienced by generations of children throughout human history. In partnership with the University of Cincinnati’s Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center, research is underway to study the impact of these spaces. We hope to see many more parks and nature centers recognizing the need for the natural playscapes in today’s increasingly urban world.
CIVIC GARDEN CENTER’S GREEN LEARNING STATION OPENS
Responding to the convergence of three movements – 1) the Leave No Child Inside Movement; 2) the local foods movement; and 3) the environmental movement – the Civic Garden Center dedicated its new Green Learning Station in August. In addition to demonstrating a wide range of sustainable designs, the project inspires “outside the box” thinking about how to create nature in urban settings – vegetable gardens on rooftops, growing in containers and vertical growing techniques. The project proves that everyone, regardless of budget or where they live, can grow their own healthy food and enjoy the beauty of nature.
GREEN UMBRELLA LAUNCHES
Soon after Leave No Child Inside – Greater Cincinnati was founded, it became apparent that there were many opportunities for the organizations that form our collaborative to work together beyond reconnecting children with nature. Successful examples of this type of collaboration between nature organizations exist in other cities, like Chicago Wilderness. Green Umbrella launched this fall with the following teams: Land/Greenspace Preservation; Outdoor Recreation and Nature Awareness; Energy Conservation; Renewable Energy; Local Food; Transportation; Waste Reduction; Green Jobs and Watershed Management and Water Quality. Especially exciting to LNCIgc is a plan to develop a community calendar which will be the “one stop shop” that families and teachers need to learn about upcoming events, classes and programs throughout Greater Cincinnati. Such a community calendar has been the most frequent request that have heard from the community over the past five years. Visit the Green Umbrella website to learn more!