President Obama’s initiative aims to get all kids, and their families, out to experience and enjoy America's public lands and waters.
We can blame it on increasing urbanization in America, as some 80% of families are now living in urban areas, or we can blame it on gadgets and gizmos, as kids are said to now spend more than 7 hours each day with their screens, or we can blame it on modeled behavior, as kids learn from watching their parent's behavior, but either way, the end result is that young people today are more likely to be indoors and sedentary in front of a screen than outside and active and experiencing nature.
Some of the side effects of all of this screen time for young people (said to be an average of 53 hours a week!) are readily apparent in them now, and some of it may only be seen after years of cumulative use, and can range from just the negative effects on a person's physical health from being sedentary to the extreme of affecting their mental health through addictive behaviors. All screen time isn't inherently bad, as there is certainly the case for the positive effects that it can have, but the potential for overuse, especially by children, is high, especially if there aren't a whole lot of "real-world" or unplugged activities presented to them.
One solution may be as simple as making it easier, and more affordable, to visit and enjoy public lands, and thanks to President Obama's Every Kid in a Park initiative, that's about to happen for all of America's 4th graders and their families.
"Did you know that you own millions of acres of national parks, historic structures, cultural artifacts, ancient forests, snow-capped mountains, and clear blue lakes? Our public lands and waters belong to all Americans and are waiting for you to explore them!" - National Park Foundation
To help provide more opportunities for kids and families to get active and to experience the great outdoors, the Every Kid in a Park initiative will give all 4th grade students and their families free admission to all National Parks and other federal lands and waters for an entire year. Along with free entry to some of America's most beautiful and awe-inspiring places, Every Kid in a Park will also provide educational materials, informational support for trip planning, and even transportation support, in the form of grants, to schools with the most need.
"Thanks to our public-private partnerships, we are able to open up a world of experiential learning in our nation’s largest classrooms – our national parks. Every Kid in a Park will enhance this important work and will give many youth and their families the opportunity to explore our national parks for the first time." - Dan Wenk, president of the National Park Foundation
The initiative, which is part of the leadup to the 100th birthday of the National Park Service next year, will begin with the 2015-2016 school year, and is enabled in part by some of the 2016 US Budget's increased figures for youth engagement programs. According to the White House, the increased investment for these programs through the Department of the Interior totals $45 million USD, and includes some $20 million going specifically to the National Park Service, which is also tasked with bringing one million 4th grade students from low-income areas to the national parks.
Find out more about the Every Kid in a Park program at the National Park Foundation website.