A local effort to get kids outdoors and boost creativity in education now has the support of state lawmakers.
House Concurrent Resolution 29, passed during the 2012 regular session, makes it a “public policy goal of the Commonwealth” to encourage Kentucky kids to go fishing, visit parks or farms, and bike on safe routes to school.
Gov. Steve Beshear ceremonially signed the resolution Wednesday at the Capitol. He said free play opportunities, outdoor experiences and field trips to natural areas are important for kids’ health, emotional stability and intellectual development.
“Here in Kentucky, we are blessed with an abundance of beautiful outdoor areas, from our lakes to miles of streams, our dense forests to rocky cliffs,” he said.
“We also have an abundance of neighborhood areas for folks to be in and play in. So whether it’s one acre or a thousand acres, these areas are a good wilderness waiting to be explored.”
Ed Councill, founder of Frankfort’s Canoe Kentucky, spearheaded a two-year effort to get the resolution through the General Assembly.
Councill said it’s needed because kids are increasingly disconnected from nature. Many spend their leisure time in front of a TV, cell phone or computer screen – leading to health and behavior problems.
Concerns about safety mean kids don’t have access to safe, non-structured opportunities to play outside, he said.
Through kidsGROWkentucky, a nonprofit organization he and other supporters formed last year, Councill has taken 600 kids from area school systems on the water free of charge.
The resolution doesn’t carry the force of law, but Councill says the document gives legitimacy to his group’s efforts. It could pave the way for partnerships or grants in the future.
“I just want to show that there is concern for getting kids outdoors, and there needs to be public policy to state that,” he said.
“It will show that what we’ve been testing on a pilot basis as a way to improve learning experiences has credibility.”
Rep. Derrick Graham, a Frankfort Democrat, sponsored the resolution. Councill says they started working on it in August after a chance meeting at a gas station.
“This is a concurrent resolution that promotes Kentucky’s natural resources, and at the same time the idea that our children should take advantage of those resources that are available throughout the commonwealth of Kentucky,” Graham said Wednesday.
Last year, Councill tried unsuccessfully to pass the resolution in the Senate with Julian Carroll as sponsor. This time around, he worked with the support of representatives from the American Heart Association, tourism and public health.
Joining Councill at the signing ceremony Thursday were Frankfort author and fellow kidsGROWkentucky founder Dennis Rader, Franklin County Health Department Director Paula Alexander, and Art Williams, an environmental lobbyist with the Kentucky Conservation Committee.
Alexander said she supports the resolution because getting kids outdoors could benefit their health, from getting more exercise to socializing with their peers.
There’s not one answer to why kids are spending less time outside, she said, but things like computers, video games, air conditioning and limited recess at some schools contribute.
No Child Left Inside – a national movement to get kids outdoors to learn about the environment – made its way to Frankfort in 2010.
Councill began meeting with educators from public and private schools, home schools and Kentucky State University, environmental professionals, community development and children’s health providers to kick off the effort.
He says he was inspired by Rader’s book “Learning Redefined” about the need for right-brained learning in schools.
The group agreed to a pilot program, getting children outside for field trips and camping adventures to enhance their environmental awareness, and promote bonding, teamwork and collaboration among students.
The National Audubon Society, National WIldlife Federation and the Sierra Club have all enorsed the No Child Left Inside movement.
More than a dozen states – including neighbors Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio – have adopted a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights to encourage kids to play outside.
Kentucky’s resolution was originally titled as an “outdoor bill of rights,” but Councill said legislators removed that wording because they were concerned about the legal implications.
Fourteen representatives voted against the resolution when it first arrived on the floor. After the name change, both chambers passed it unanimously.
Councill isn’t fazed about the name change. The support of state lawmakers is what’s important, he said.
The effort to get kids outdoors also has the backing of the state education officials.
The state Board of Education in December voted to support the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Plan, a joint effort between the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Environmental Education Council.
The optional plan gives schools ideas for tying environmental literacy to science and other subject areas, and professional development for teachers.
List encourages kids to:
>Fish, swim, paddle, ski, wade, splash or otherwise enjoy a Kentucky stream, creek, river or lake
>Hike, hunt, bird watch, view elk and other wildlife, and explore Kentucky’s natural wilderness areas, parks, trails, woods, natural habitats, farms and agritourism establishments
>Bike in safe areas and routes to schools, recreation and park areas, neighborhood stores and shops
>Enjoy kid-friendly parks
>Attend school activities, extracurricular events, and free play opportunities that inspire and hopefully instill a culture of learning that develop balanced right-brain and left-brain learning and promote the concepts of No Child Left Inside
>Assist, advise and promote access to outdoor areas and opportunities.