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Children Outdoors

Why is getting children outdoors important?

Richard Louv wrote the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. This book illustrates the changes that have taken place from approximately three generations ago when children played outside and learned about their world through natural experiences to a generation now that is not "connected" to nature because without prompting, most children no longer go outside to play. A reduction in time spent outside seems to increase behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder, whereas more time outside increases an understanding of the natural world, relieves stress, and reduces undesirable behaviors. His second book, The Nature Principle, delivers another powerful call to action—this time for adults.
Visit the Children & Nature Network national website to see what programs are offered in the Commonwealth. The Children & Nature Network includes ideas for getting kids outside. Check out Nature Rocks: Let's Go Explore and learn how to start a local program in your region.

Virginia’s Signature Environmental Education Program

Providing a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) to all children before they graduate from high school.
There are two primary goals of a MWEE. They are to:

  1. Provide a meaningful bay or stream outdoor experience for all students in watersheds before high school graduation; and
  2. Provide students and teachers with opportunities to directly participate in local restoration and protection projects, and to support stewardship efforts in schools and on school property.

Virginia Outdoors Plan

DCR conducts a survey called the Virginia Outdoors Plan every five years to gauge the level at which Virginians are participating in specific outdoor recreation activities.

Virginia Organizations that aim to get people outside

American Hiking Society
There are 10 Virginia chapters. Join a chapter or learn how to get one started.
Blue Sky Fund
Provide transformational experiences for urban youth through outdoor education.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has gardens designed for children. The garden also offers educational classes for adults and teacher workshops.
Martinsville - Henry County Community Nature Initiative
Sponsored by the Virginia Museum of Natural History with a grant from the Harvest Foundation.
NoVA Outside
Participate in outdoor activities in Northern Virginia through volunteer activities, events, teacher training, student opportunities, and funding.
Richmond Audubon Society
The Richmond Audubon Society works with children yearround to get them outdoors. They take children kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and teach them about wildlife.
Roanoke Valley Kids Club
Kids in the valley, adventuring!
Stafford Virginia Outdoor Kids Activities
Outdoor activities for families in and around Stafford which includes historical places to visit, parks and playgrounds, sporting events, and other things to see and do that get the family outside.
Virginia Cooperative Extension
The Natural Resources and Environmental Education program of 4-H offers projects in wildlife, forestry, fishing, outdoor adventure, and environmental education.
Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation
Information about state parks, natural heritage, soil and water conservation, and special events.
Virginia Master Gardener Program
The Virginia Master Gardener Program is a statewide corps of volunteers that provide education and outreach pertaining to gardening.
Virginia Master Naturalist Program
Satewide corps of volunteers providing education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities.
Virginia State Parks
Educational programs for families and recreational opportunities
Virginia Tourism - Get Outside
Information about what Virginia has to offer in sports and recreation, golf, parks, water and winter sports, guides and equipment, hunting fishing, and Captain John Smith's Trail.

Explore Virginia. Find an environmental event, playground or visit a national or state park

One-stop, online source for free information and directions to 10,000 of the best outdoor places in America listed (on a map) from national parks to local nature centers and is nearly unique in listing another 50,000 recurring outdoor events for individuals and families to attend.
Outdoor recreational activities organized by state and the activity that you are interested in getting more information about
Let's Move Outside
Get ideas for healthy lifestyles and recreation.

Other Organizational links to getting outside

American Camp Association
Camping experiences are essential to children's growth and development. Camping fosters an appreciation of the environment and helps children to grow up to become good stewards to the environment. Information about camp accreditation and affiliations.
Audubon Society -- Get Outside
The Audubon Society invites families to visit their centers to get in touch with nature. Additional information about gardening to attract birds and opportunities to volunteer.
National Get Outdoors Day
Participants from federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and the recreation industry host the annual National Get Outdoors Day (GO Day) to encourage healthy, active outdoor fun at sites across the nation. Partners will offer opportunities for American families to experience traditional and non-traditional types of outdoor activities. Prime goals of the day are reaching currently underserved populations and first-time visitors to public lands, and reconnecting our youth to the great outdoors.
National Parks
There is no admission fee at national parks on the following dates:

  • National Park Week (April)
  • First Day of Summer (June)
  • Public Lands Day (September)
  • Veterans Day weekend (November)

National Public Lands Day
This website invites you to get outside and enjoy public lands. Try outdoor play, hiking, biking, birding, etc. This website has links to other sites to help you make plans to go outside.
No Child Left Inside Coalition
The Coalition is working to support legislation to ensure that every student achieves basic environmental literacy. The No Child Left Inside Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) to include environmental education. The legislation would provide new funding for environmental education, particularly to develop rigorous standards, train teachers and to develop state environmental literacy plans. It also proposes giving states that develop environmental literacy plans access to additional funds.
Outdoor Recreation in America
National events calendar for outdoor activities. Outdoor Recreation in America is sponsored by the American Recreation Coalition. Their mission is to protect public lands and enhance outdoor recreational activities.
Take Me Fishing
Everything you need to know to get started fishing with the family and the kids. Includes a "Little Lunkers" page to teach kids about fish.
Virginia Fishing Adventures
Offers outdoor adventures for both children and adults. Includes camping and guided day trips.
Virginia Outside
Offers fishing, mountain biking, afterschool enrichment programs and weekend programs such as snorkeling in the James River Park System for boys and girls 1st - 5th grade.

Websites that offer activities/ideas for getting kids outside
Science activities and games
Family Activities
10 backyard science activities
Great American Campout
The Great American Campout is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation. A Great American Campout national event is promoted each year in June. This website lists camping games, recipes, songs, etc.
Go Play Outside lists traditional games that you can play with kids.
How stuff works
Easy outdoor science activities for kids
Nature Activities for Middle School Girls
Online Schoolyard & Classroom Investigations
Connecting outdoor instruction to the Illinois Standards of Learning

Tips, Resources, and General Reading

Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv, was the recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal for his research and book about this topic. His most recent book, The Nature Principle supports the idea that as our technology increases, so does our need for spending time in nature. For more information, visit the author’s website at:
A Natural Sense of Wonder, author Rick Van Noy, has written a series of essays about enjoying the outdoors with his children and why nature matters.
Recommended Books for Children by Master Naturalists
A Grandparent's Collection of Books with Nature Themes for their Grandchildren
Sharing Nature with Children in the Classroom
Beginning reading list on children and nature
A sampling of books to provide background reading for teachers and parents.
The Nature Pyramid
Resilient communities offer multiple opportunities for children to be in nature, for both education and play. UVA’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation Senior Associate, Tanya Denckla Cobb, created the Nature Pyramid. Like the “Food Pyramid,” the Nature Pyramid depicts the kinds of activities that are important for human health, and indicates desired proportions of these different activities. Since Denckla Cobb developed this concept, the Nature Pyramid has been incorporated into an environmental education curriculum, and has been presented to various audiences. It is a concept in progress. She welcomes your feedback at

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