In today’s ultra-modern society, we find ourselves in a period where electronic devices are more integrated into the lives of our children than any generation that has come before them. At home and at school smartphones and tables have become the norm, just as they have for the majority of adults. At home they use these gadgets for entertainment, while at school they are tools that are used for education. Though these devices have made everyone’s lives easier, they are also limiting our children’s exposure to another important resource that can help them thrive – the great outdoors.
In an attempt change this troubling pattern, President Obama has launched the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative today. The program, which is aimed exclusively at fourth graders (and accompanying adults), is designed to lure kids into America’s national parks at a time when they are highly receptive sponges that find themselves beginning to rationalize the world around them. Research shows that between the ages of 9 and 11, kids are very impressionable, and are starting to make crucial decisions that will have an impact on the rest of their lives. It is at that stage that we can instill a sense of love and wonder about the outdoors.
Starting today, September 1, 2015, and running through August 31, 2016, all fourth graders – as well as their parents and teachers – can enter every national park, monument, and forest at no cost, provided they have obtained a pass ahead of time. To obtain that pass the children must first visit the Every Kid in a Park website where they must complete a short educational activity. When they have done so, they’ll receive a document that they can print to take with them to a park to receive free entry. Parents can use the same website to help plan their park visit, and teachers can also obtain passes for their students there as well.
This initiative is presented as an opportunity for kids to become more integrated in nature and – to some extent – society, “Every Kid in a Park” is by no means going to eliminate the use of smartphones and tablets in the lives of these kids, but that’s not really its intention. It does give children the opportunity to experience something they may have only read about in books or didn’t even know existed all. Places like the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore become more tangible to them, while also helping to create indelible memories that can last a lifetime. By gaining an appreciation for the outdoors, these kids can achieve a balance between the use of their favorite devices and actually living an active life outdoors.
The site has been designed to be easy to navigate and allows the kids to sign up completely on their own. It even has an integrated trip planner aimed at what the kids most want to see and do while visiting the national park of their choice. The program will run for the next year, and is open to fourth grade educators and home-schooled children as well.