In September 2015, the United States government launched the “Every Kid in a Park” program. This program provides every fourth grade student in the country (including those who are home schooled) with a pass that allows them, and any family members accompanying them, to enter national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, and all other federally-owned lands – over 2000 sites in total – completely for free.
Why fourth graders? Studies show that when children are regularly exposed to the natural world before age 11, they develop a more positive and caring attitude toward the environment. With climate change and air and water pollution continuing to pose problems for residents of Thurston County and the Puget Sound region, we need our future generations of leaders and residents to be knowledgeable and passionate about protecting the environment. Children currently in the fourth grade are also part of an age group that better reflects our country’s growing diversity and changing demographics, meaning that the greatest number of children from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds will have equal opportunity to participate. Additionally, fourth grade is often the last time children in school will be part of one-teacher classrooms, which makes it easy to plan class field trips. If you are a fourth grade teacher, find out how you can get passes for your entire class on the program website. Adults who engage fourth graders as part of religious groups, after-school organizations, or camps also qualify as educators can also print passes for their fourth graders.
The opportunity for kids to get outside and experience nature has never been more important. A study supported by the National Institutes of Health detailed the dangers of “nature deficit disorder” in young adults and how even short amounts of time spent in nature can produce significant and long-lasting health benefits. The report noted that young adults who spend time “in or near green spaces” demonstrate higher academic test scores, better self-control, and fewer behavioral problems at home and in the classroom. Here in the Evergreen State, we’re lucky to have easy access to many green spaces, but the greenest ones are most likely to be found in some of our nearby national parks.
If you don’t have any fourth graders in your family this year, don’t worry. The program will continue, with next year’s fourth graders getting the opportunity to see and experience the beautiful natural wonders of our country with their families for free. If your child completed the fourth grade this spring, they have the opportunity to use their pass until August 31, 2016. If your child is entering the fourth grade this fall, they will be able to get their fourth grade passes starting September 1, 2016.
As the program says, “No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re within two hours of an included site.” If you live in Thurston County you won’t have to travel far to take part in this program. The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located in the northeastern corner of the county, and is about a half-hour drive from anywhere in the county. There are also several other national lands within easy driving distance. Depending on where you live in Thurston County, Black River Unit of the Nisqually refuge, Julia Butler Hansen and Ridgefield national wildlife refuges, Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks, Gifford Pinchot, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie, Okanagan-Wenatchee or Olympic national forests, and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument are all relatively close. Fourth graders and their families will find excellent opportunities for recreation and education at each of these locations. Let’s get every Thurston County fourth grader outside in a forest, park, or wildlife area!
Warber, S. L., DeHudy, A. A., Bialko, M. F., Marselle, M. R., & Irvine, K. N. (2015). Addressing “Nature-Deficit Disorder”: A Mixed Methods Pilot Study of Young Adults Attending a Wilderness Camp. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2015, 651827. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/651827