Inspiring a Love of Nature in the Next Generation

Marya SkotteField Notes

Summer is officially underway and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by supporting the White House’s initiative to get every fourth grader into a national park and other public lands in the 2015-2016 school year. Every Kid in a Park, which began in September of 2015, grants all fourth graders and three accompanying adults a free pass to all federal lands and waters, facilitating the opportunity for them to experience the amazing beauty, diversity and history of America’s many national parks.

Ranger with Rivera Elementary students in Yosemite

Rivera Elementary students walking through Yosemite National Park

Andrew Kuhn

At Yosemite National Park, Every Kid in a Park was instrumental in launching the Opening the Gateway to Yosemite project, which connected college students to underserved youth from Merced, California. The project incorporated a visit to the elementary school from National Park Service rangers to share the wonder of national parks, why they’re important, and how to be good stewards of our resources and public lands. The visit from the rangers inspired the students and they were eager to experience Yosemite National Park for themselves.

The second part of the project, an all-day field trip to Yosemite, was full of exciting and educational opportunities for these fourth graders. The activities included a ranger-led field trip to Yosemite’s lower falls where children learned about the geologic features of the falls, a trip to the Indian Culture Museum and Village to learn about Native American history in the park, and a hike around Cook’s Meadow to study Yosemite’s unique flora and fauna.

At Channel Islands National Park, we helped Santa Cruz Island academy bring fourth graders to the park who lived and attended school far away from the ocean. The opportunity allowed the students to engage in STEM-based learning opportunities and become junior rangers. The project also encouraged students to develop their critical thinking skills and explore one of the most prolific marine environments in the world.

Santa Paula youth leaving Santa Cruz Islands

Santa Paula youth leaving Santa Cruz Islands at Channel Islands National Park

The kids’ introduction to Channel Islands kicked off with rangers explaining the intricacies of the diverse land and marine ecosystems found in the park. During their field trip, they observed marine and coastal flora and fauna, all while noting their observations. These activities not only brought students to a living outdoor classroom where they could conduct place-based learning, but also gave them a chance to admire and learn about stewardship for their national parks. Check out this great video from their field trip!

Santa Paula youth hiking on Santa Cruz Islands

Santa Paula youth on Santa Cruz Islands at Channel Islands National Park

Amongst the arid trails and petrified remains of trees that are millions of years old, fourth grade students from underserved and underfunded schools in eastern Arizona spent a day in the Petrified Forest National Park studying the park’s ecology, history, and resources. Focusing on fourth graders who had never been to a park or had no way to get to a park, they were provided free travel and park entrance vouchers.

Thanks to the free travel vouchers, hundreds of fourth graders walked the Painted Desert Rim trail collecting data on the unique plant and animal life in the park. The students were happy to know that the data they collected would be used to help the park answer questions about animal populations and when certain plants bloom. This experience gave these children an opportunity to visit a national park and to be a part of important stewardship work – two things that most students have never been involved with before.

Parks offer a wealth of resources and diverse experiences. Help us support programs that get kids outside playing, learning, and marveling at the wonders of our national parks. We’re proud to support the initiative by providing transportation funding to bring fourth graders to parks.

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