Special Report on Reconnecting Children & Nature: Three Michigan Communities

February 2011

Supported in part by:

Special Report: Three Michigan Communities

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Table of Contents
Background Holland, Michigan Kalamazoo, Michigan Detroit, Michigan Acknowledgements About the Children & Nature Network 4 5 7 9 11 12

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Special Report on Reconnecting Children & Nature: Three Michigan Communities

“Martin Luther King, Jr. often said that any movement — any culture — will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people will want to go to. The first brush strokes are already visible.”
Richard Louv, Founding Chairman, Children & Nature Network; Author, Last Child in the Woods

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Special Report on Reconnecting Children & Nature: Three Michigan Communities
Background
In 2008 and 2009, the Children and Nature Network (C&NN) received generous support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to initiate and implement three pilot programs in the state of Michigan: one in Holland, one in Kalamazoo, and a third in Detroit. The major purpose of the funding was to build tangible results in each of these three communities; infuse the technical expertise and support of the national level Children & Nature Network (C&NN) into the three Michigan communities, with a multiplier effect and outreach statewide; and, through C&NN, document the processes and results for dissemination nationwide so that children and families in other communities can benefit from the investment of the Kellogg Foundation, the Michigan partner communities with their lead organizations, and the Children & Nature Network. In each case, community members were given significant discretion in choosing the focus and direction of their work within this unifying framework: • • A partner organization was selected to facilitate work in the community; This partner organization convened community members to use C&NN’s Community Action Guide: Building the Children and Nature Movement from the Ground Up to establish programs to help reconnect children with nature; • The three communities made a particular effort to address low-income communities of color that we believe are especially vulnerable to nature deficit. In the months since this grant was received, C&NN and its partnering communities have made tremendous strides in advancing the children and nature movement. Each of their stories is unique, providing a sense of the range of approaches that can be used to reconnect children and nature, and the myriad benefits these programs provide.

Special Report: Three Michigan Communities

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Holland, Michigan
When nine-year-old Jared Friend walks into Holland Pediatrics for his annual checkup, the nurse registers his height and weight and asks the usual questions about his diet and how he’s doing at school. But she also asks about how he spends his free time. “Do you like to watch TV? Play video games?” When he answers in the affirmative, she gently asks him and his mother to estimate the amount of “screen time” Jared has each day. Then she continues, “Do you get outside to play much?” Jared shrugs. “We have recess at school. I play soccer on Saturdays,” he says. Recognizing the strong associations between children’s time in nature and their overall health, the children and nature campaign of Holland, Michigan, made the health care community one of three primary targets of its work. The campaign, dubbed Connecting Children and Nature, was fortunate enough to have the participation of Dr. Paul Dykema, a semi-retired pediatrician with a strong personal sense of the concomitant decline of young people’s time and nature and their physical and emotional health. With Dr. Dykema’s guidance, the campaign has created a model program at his own pediatric practice, soon to be replicated at all the major pediatric practices and clinics in the city. Many clinics now provide handouts and running videos about the importance of nature play. And they take screen time and time in nature into account when evaluating their patients’ overall health at each year’s checkup, especially if that patient also suffers from obesity. When Jared Friend walks out of the clinic that afternoon, for example, he holds in his hand a “prescription” for changes to his lifestyle: No more than an hour a day of screen time. At least 20 minutes of reading. And at least one hour outdoors in free, unstructured play.

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The Connecting Children and Nature campaign has from its inception been facilitated by Holland’s Outdoor Discovery Center, under the leadership of director Travis Williams. In addition to targeting the medical community, the campaign decided to teach the general public about the importance of time in nature, and to help shape early childhood programs throughout Holland to incorporate regular engagement with the natural world. To inform the general public, the Outdoor Discovery Center has created outreach materials about the importance of nature play. These include posters and informational handouts, in English and Spanish, which are available at medical offices, health department facilities, schools, and public areas. In 2010, the center devised a flip calendar with 52 nature activities families can do in the Holland area. This too is being distributed through medical, health, educational, and nonprofit settings. Finally, Outdoor Discovery Center staff offer weekly outdoor adventure programs—free of charge—at local parks and preserves. To date, these programs have reached approximately 700 children and 300 families. Even more impressive, the Outdoor Discovery Center organized groundbreaking preschool programs with the potential to serve as models for other preschool programs around the country. From the start, the preschool initiative in Holland has been carefully crafted to maximize impact and ensure that results can be evaluated at regular intervals in the program. Last year, staff members visited seven preschool programs in Holland to gather baseline data, including the amount of green space available to children and the extent of existing nature programs. Additionally five classrooms are serving as a control group for the evaluation. In the selected schools, Outdoor Discovery Center staff members have developed 45-minute nature curricula, which they deliver on site once a week. In addition, they offer professional development training so the teachers themselves can incorporate nature activities into the rest of their week, and have distributed materials to give parents ideas of the many ways to enjoy the outdoors with their children. To evaluate their programs, the Outdoor Discovery Center has enlisted the help of faculty and students from nearby Hope College with backgrounds ranging from development psychology to nursing to kinesiology. Students will be evaluated twice annually for the next two years, and their results compared to students from the control group. To date, the Holland children and nature collaborative has reached thousands of young people with its various outreach programs and those numbers continue to increase each day. Thanks to partnerships with Holland Pediatrics, Holland Hospital Center for Good Health, Holland Health Clinic, Ottawa County Health Department, 12 local preschools, the Holland Area Ready For School Initiative, Holland Public Schools, Allegan Area Educational Services Agency, and the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, the educational programming and awareness campaign is making great strides.

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Kalamazoo, Michigan
When staff members at the Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC) sat down to organize their children and nature campaign, they came up with a list of 40 potential members of the community to include: planners, park officials, doctors, faith community representatives, educators, and more. Their goal was a working group of about twenty-five, but in their first twenty-five calls, not a single person declined their invitation. According to Jennifer Wright, director of education at the nature center, it was the first moment she realized how widely shared is the concern about children’s nature deficit. In its first four months, Kalamazoo’s coalition, dubbed the Kalamazoo No Child Left Inside steering committee, met four times. Using C&NN’s Community Action Guide as their primer, they decided to gather baseline data on socio-economic indicators and existing green spaces, both of which would contribute to a Geographic Information Systems Green Community Map of Kalamazoo County showing where kids are underserved by natural areas. The group also outlined three primary goals for the year ahead: to create a communications plan to reach the media, health care professionals, educators, and recreation professionals about the importance of connecting kids to nature; to increase connections between the community and natural places in Kalamazoo; and to positively affect kids’ health by having them spend more time in nature. Creating the Green Community Map of Kalamazoo County was a time-consuming effort, as data was gathered and carefully groundtruthed to determine where children live and how much access to green spaces they have. As soon the map was complete, it became a touchstone for conversations and planning efforts. The map made clear that kids in low-income neighborhoods had decidedly less access to natural areas than those in higher income areas. As one response, the Kalamazoo Nature Center incorporated principles developed by the Steering Committee into their ongoing project to develop an “Urban Nature Park” in downtown Kalamazoo, adjacent to a low income neighborhood. They also met with officials from the County Land Bank Authority to discuss the possibility of converting tax-abandoned properties throughout the city and county into thriving and accessible natural green spaces. Dozens of properties are available for consideration. KNC will continue to work with the County Land Bank to implement this plan as funding is available. Of course, access to green spaces isn’t the only issue when it comes to a nature deficit. Jennifer Wright observes that in driving through Kalamazoo County, she typically sees many more children in low-income neighborhoods actually outdoors playing, albeit on sidewalks and streets. To motivate parents and caregivers of all backgrounds to give their kids time outdoors, the Kalamazoo No Child Left Inside steering committee organized a variety of media efforts. They worked with local pediatricians to create a prescription pad encouraging daily time in nature, an informative poster, and fact sheets about the health benefits of time in nature. These materials are now available in every major pediatric office and health clinic in Kalamazoo County. In addition, a local public television station taped Bill Rose, director of the Kalamazoo Nature Center, talking with a local pediatrician about the health benefits of time in nature. The 30-minute segment was aired on public television on numerous occasions and later posted to YouTube. Most recently, a prescription checklist of fun family-friendly nature activities was created to encourage parents to go outside with their kids. Additional media exposure for children and nature programs in Kalamazoo has resulted from a strong level of interest in the issue from the publisher of the Kalamazoo Gazette.

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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, members of the steering group succeeded in dramatically increasing on-the-ground programs to help kids spend more time outdoors. At the Kalamazoo Nature Center, one thriving program is called “Annie’s Big Nature Lesson.” Students and teachers from throughout the county visit the center for a week-long outdoor nature education program. Educators who once feared losing control of their students if they took them outdoors routinely describe the opposite effect: the most difficult students often become most attentive when their learning moves into nature. The children have expressed so much enthusiasm for these experiences that their teachers are beginning to incorporate outdoor lessons into their regular school days.

The Kalamazoo Nature Center also initiated a program called “Outside in Our Schoolyard,” which brings together third-grade students and teachers from schools around the county that have distinctly different racial and socio-economic representation. This program has grown from 68 students from three schools in its first year to more than 150 students from four schools in its second, and has enjoyed a partnership with Western Michigan University to offer service projects for the third graders. What is perhaps most remarkable about this initiative is not only the measurable growth in kids’ knowledge about nature (native species, invasive species, and so on) and interest in time outdoors (in a pre-evaluation, 25% said they prefer spending time indoors; at the end, only one or two students did), but the profound social growth of the kids. All but six of the kids in year one said that they had made a new friend through the program, transcending racial and economic differences. The same sense of social connection occurred among the teachers and parent volunteers. At this point, the program is so popular that the Kalamazoo Nature Center is creating a model to share with other centers and programs.

Elsewhere in the county, the Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation Department committed to taking its summer campers to more than 23 city parks, motivated in part by the steering group’s Green Map. The Kalamazoo County Mental Health Services worked with the Kalamazoo Nature Center to give kids with emotional impairments nature experiences at local parks, including a camping trip. The Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency has incorporated outdoor nature into a host of activities for preschool-age children and their families, reaching 150 families in its first year. Kalamazoo Audubon began offering interpretive nature walks and activities along a new section of a county hike-bike trail that now runs through one of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the county. Later the County donated bicycles to help low-income youth explore the trail. Public safety officers stepped in to offer clinics in bike safety. The Kalamazoo Public Library was soon offering trailside story hours. This kind of collective, aggregating outreach captures so well the essence of what has been achieved in Kalamazoo through the No Child Left Inside initiative. As Bill Rose of the Kalamazoo Nature Center explains, three factors were essential: gathering people together for the steering group who represented different constituencies, having a convener (in this case, the Kalamazoo Nature Center) able to be the clearinghouse for communications and information, and working through the Community Action Guide to develop a shared vision and plan. Interestingly enough, many of the most impressive achievements to date have not been bullet items on the plan, but creative ideas inspired by the planning process, the attention to the issue, and the sense of community the steering group created. Each member seemed to go back to his or her organization with a renewed sense of purpose. With a slight shift in programming or emphasis, or a call out to a new partner, the various organizations were able to achieve significant success on tight budgets. In many cases, groups that rarely communicated (for example, the Boys and Girls Club and the Hispanic American Council) began to work actively together. Building on these new partnerships and finding support for the more ambitious ideas in the plan will be the primary focus of the Kalamazoo steering group as it moves forward.

Special Report: Three Michigan Communities

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Detroit, Michigan
This year, schools in Detroit, Michigan, had a chance to nominate themselves for an unlikely award: Ugliest Schoolyard. This might sound like a joke, but the reality behind the contest is anything but funny. From the University District to the Osborne Neighborhood, Detroit public schools struggle to maintain grounds that are safe and clean, much less green and ecologically vibrant. Nominations for “ugliest schoolyard” will allow staff from the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) to identify some of the most desolate schoolyards. And the winners will receive the best kind of extreme makeover: funds and staff to turn the beleaguered grounds into gardens, grass, and inviting green spaces. For the last year, the Children and Nature Network has partnered with EMEAC to enhance outdoor opportunities for the Detroit area’s youth population. For EMEAC, which organized as an environmental justice organization, the partnership has opened up new thinking and new programming that emphasizes the positive nature experience kids can have even in the most strained urban environments. The cornerstone of EMEAC’s new work this year is outreach at several local schools. At each of these schools, staff members worked with teachers and students to come up with a mission statement and curriculum related to connecting to nature. At Barbara Jordan Elementary School and the Cooley Schools, the mission is getting kids outside to learn about their surroundings. A multidiscliplinary program has them interviewing elders in the neighborhood, designing outdoor classrooms, mapping green spaces, and more. At the Nsoroma Institute, an African-centered school, students opted to focus on food security—empowering school members to learn about their food, grow their own food, and so on. At the Detroit Institute of Technology, students chose to transform abandoned spaces and even the trash within them into welcoming, beautiful environments and materials. Support for these efforts have come through several channels. A new program called Community Environmental Fellows funds two people from the community each year to work on EMEAC’s educational projects. As a clear indicator of the program’s success, both fellows from year one were hired into EMEAC’s permanent staff in year two, and two new fellows were added. In addition, outreach into the neighborhoods has put the students into direct contact with elders in their community who now have a real stake in the projects and programming. EMEAC was able to secure funding to further support these relationships through a new Senior Engagement Project with several local senior communities. The seniors have renamed themselves the schools’ Gardening Angels as they provide advice and assistance on local gardening programs. Additional support for the re-greening of these schools has come from the University of Michigan’s Landscape Architecture program. Graduate students involved the Detroit students in rigorous Participatory Landscape Design programs in which they interviewed neighbors about the past appearance of their area, identified something inspirational in what they learned, and applied that to a specific design plan. At Barbara Jordan Elementary, the process was revelatory. Students learned that their school had been created as an agricultural school. The schoolground—completely covered in concrete—had once provided verdant plots so that every classroom could develop skills in growing flowers, tending vegetables, raising chickens, and more. Deeply inspired by this history, the students partnered with a local high school and spent a summer digging up the concrete. In the next school year, each class adopted a section of the revitalized school grounds. One class planted native grasses. Another created a butterfly garden. Others are tending small vegetable gardens.

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At the Nsoroma Institute, the school day begins with a daily meditation. After taking part in the Participatory Landscape Design program, students decided that they wanted their daily meditation to incorporate time outdoors. Together they constructed a natural labyrinth in their schoolyard. Now students can walk a slow path through living things as they do their daily reflection. One final program area inspired by the partnership with C&NN has been to revitalize Belle Isle Day, held every second Saturday, at this local park. Sanaa Niajoy, one of EMEAC’s first community fellows, proposed a partnership with the Detroit Nature Zoo to make this a more engaging, attractive, and educational event. She has brought in experts in composting, naturalists to teach about insects, storytellers, and more. She provides healthy treats to the young people who attend. One winter day, kids took part in “The Snowshoe Shuffle,” trying out snowshoes for the first time in their lives. They later engaged in winter animal tracking. In just one year, a program that historically attracted about ten kids each month was drawing as many as 150 children and their families. For Sanaa Niajoy, the rewards from these new endeavors sometimes come in small packages. Several months into her work at Barbara Jordan Elementary School, she looked up to see a group of kids climbing a schoolyard tree. The fact that they were climbing a tree was success in and of itself. What made it even more impressive was that the kids couldn’t get up in the tree without helping each other. “They were cooperating, working as a team,” Sanaa recalls. “In our school, that’s a social skill we don’t always see.” Something was changing about the kids’ relationship to nature and, in the process, to one another. Diana Copeland, Executive Director of EMEAC, agrees that something powerful is happening through these programs that she hadn’t quite anticipated. By reaffirming the importance of connecting to local nature, these programs are building up a positive sense of place for the local students. And that, she realizes, is vital to supporting their self-esteem. Even Sanaa Niajoy, who grew up attending Barbara Jordan and spent time in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, admits that she always believed that to be successful she had to leave Detroit. Now she and the students alike are forming a positive identification with the place where they live and a more positive image of who they are as individuals and members of the community.

Special Report: Three Michigan Communities

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Acknowledgements

Outdoor Discovery Center Team, Holland,MI Travis Williams, Executive Director Brad Klow, Development Director Jamie Krupka, Program Director Brian Vander Meer, Business Development Manager Dan Vinson, Facilities Manager Dougg Wright, Interpretive Naturalist Dylana Eisaman, Interpretive Media Specialist Ruth Cronk, Educator Bonnie Ryzenga, Educator Vicki Miller ,Educator Kalamazoo Nature Center Team, Kalamazoo, MI Michelle Karpinski, VP Development Lisa Panich, Marketing & Communications/NCLI Coordinator Sarah Reding, VP Conservation Stewardship Bill Rose, President & CEO Sarah Reding, VP Conservation Stewardship Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Team, Detroit, MI Diana Copeland, Executive Director Lottie Spady, Associate Director - Remedia Ahmina Maxey, Associate Director - Environmental Policy Lizzy Baskerville, Greener Schools Coordinator Sonya Green aka Sanaa, Community Fellow - Greener Schools Priscilla Dziekbek, Community Fellow - Greener Schools

The Children & Nature Network is grateful to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for the support it provided for this exemplary, inspiring and replicable project. The accomplishments would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of the convening organizations in each community, their staff, and the support and investment of community leadership in Holland, Kalamazoo and Detroit.

Photo Credits: Brother Yusuf Burgess, photos on pages 3 and 4. Cheryl Charles, photos on pages 5, 6, 8 and 10.

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About the Children & Nature Network

The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) is the only organization focused solely on building a national and international movement that reconnects children with nature to optimize their healthy development—cognitively, emotionally, socially and physically. Our purpose is to reverse the three decade trend in which youth spend less and less time outdoors, to their detriment and that of their communities, and to address the accumulating disadvantages that have affected low-income children for generations. C&NN builds awareness, provides access to state-of-the-art resources, supports the grassroots with tools and strategies, develops publications and educational materials, synthesizes the best available research, and encourages collaboration to heal the broken bond between children and nature.
C&NN Board of Directors Martha Farrell Erickson, Ph.D., Acting Chair Martin LeBlanc, Vice President Brother Yusuf Burgess Howard Frumkin, MD, MPH, DrPH Fran Mainella Betsy Townsend Ex Officio Cheryl Charles, Ph.D, President and CEO Richard Louv, Founding Chairman Amy Pertschuk, Managing Director, Treasurer Key Project Personnel Robyn Bjornsson, Executive Assistant Avery Cleary, Natural Families Network Coordintor Suz Lipman, Social Media Director Juan Martinez, Natural Leaders Network Coordinator Sara St. Antoine, Senior Writer and Switzer Fellow John Theilbahr, Co-Lead Strategic Alliances Nancy Herron, Chair, Grassroots Leadership Team Children & Nature Network 7 Avenida Vista Grande, B-7, #502 Santa Fe, New Mexico 87508 www.childrenandnature.org info@childrenandnature.org

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