Guest post courtesy of Carolyn Ward, CEO, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation
When I grew up, I spent most of my time outside – as did all the other kids in the neighborhood. I don’t remember many “rules” about being outside or many restrictions about what we could or could not do. We just “played” and mom and dad were happy that we were not inside and underfoot. You could drive through any neighborhood in my hometown and most were filled with the sounds of laughter and children playing. And then something changed…I grew up. I guess I had stopped paying attention to things like children outside and by the time I had a child myself and began to notice such things again…the neighborhoods seemed empty. I no longer saw the swing sets and tree houses of my youth.
This stark realization became even more troublesome when my young daughter began playing with other kids her age. It took no time for me to realize that these kids did not go outside to “play”. Many had never walked barefoot on the grass or sat on the ground without a blanket to “protect” them from the ground. This was the beginning of the inspiration for the Kids in Parks program, and I was Inspired.
I left my career as a professor to see if I could help make a difference. With childhood obesity rates rising and children’s connection to parks and places decreasing, I was excited to see if a program linking children’s health and the health of our parks and public lands could really work. With the support and partnership of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, we launched the Kids in Parks program and opened our first TRACK trail in 2009. Now, with 11 trails in the ground in three states, linking over 40 partners, we have distributed over 30,000 brochures, and had over 12,000 kids and families unplugging and going outside.
From studies that show increased brain activity and higher SAT scores when children play in natural settings to research that links lower incidences of bullying, ADHD and depression in kids that play outside, there is clear evidence that children benefit from time in nature. We know that it is through a personal meaningful connection with natural and cultural resources that lasting positive impacts can be achieved both for the children and for the place. Getting kids and families outdoors and moving helps develop healthy stewards who are connected meaningfully to their heritage and their home.
Our vision is to create a TRACK trail near every citizen in North Carolina and then spread the program across the country. Together we form the partnership for health: children’s health, the health of our parks, and the health of our communities. My daughter plays outside…
Watch and share the Inspired story on Kids in Parks to support getting more kids outside.