Make kid-friendly environment part of public policy

ED COUNCILL Published:

Last month an Outdoor Bill of Rights resolution for Kentucky kids (HCR 29) was endorsed in the Kentucky House of Representatives.  Sponsored by District 57 Rep. Derrick Graham, the concurring resolution was placed on the House consent calendar.  It follows the idea behind other rights making up the amendments to our U.S. Constitution. In this case, it seeks better lives for our children through enhanced access to nature, better-planned places to live, relevant education, and safe communities.  It was assigned to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, chaired by Sen. Brandon Smith. 
As with similar resolutions, the question is why do we need this policy and what specific problems does it resolve? We indeed would NOT need it if it weren’t for the following problems facing Kentucky children:
Our children are becoming increasingly overweight and obese.
Many are overly scheduled with adult-driven extra-curricular activities.
Their leisure time is increasingly spent in a virtual world of video games, cell phone texting and Internet surfing.
They are disconnected from nature; so that as an abstraction, many think food comes from a store wrapped in plastic, not from farmers.
Too many kids are frustrated to the point of being disruptive, act out, participate in bullying, and pursue other anti-social behaviors.
Increasing numbers are diagnosed as have learning disorders that are treated with Ritalin at a rate of five times the total of the world’s kids combined.
U.S. kids are only average among the developed nation’s scores in math, science and reading.
Our lifestyles are limited by fears of “stranger danger” that turn our homes and neighborhoods into prisons, virtually inaccessible except by car; thus access to safe, non-structured recreational opportunities is severely limited.
Nature and wilderness are becoming distanced by sprawl and poorly planned growth and development.
Our communities are increasingly less kid-friendly, which is an economic development issue because entrepreneurs and innovators for the post-industrial era are more often attracted to communities that are.
Last year a team of educators, parents, students and outdoor services professionals met to design a program to address these issues.  Based on the principle that nature in fact improves learning and grows new neurons in young brains, the group’s pilot/test project involved 600 kids from area school systems. The unanimous conclusion was that it worked; students had significant and memorable learning experiences; and their overall performance was enhanced.     
This result led to creating a nonprofit that would pursue this program under the concepts of No Child Left Inside, Last Child in the Woods, Where Do the Children Play? and our own local educator/author Dennis Rader’s Learning Redefined as the centerpieces of its efforts to establish a permanent program. The non-profit provides tax exemption incentives to donors and a mechanism for grants, as they become available.
Our series of community conversations has been effective in exploring ways to improve our K-12 system and to involve all interested parties in the process, particularly our children. And more are planned for the near future. We welcome the public, parents, teachers, and especially the students of our school systems.
Convinced that it is time for such a public policy?  I am.  Case in point: Forbes magazine cited Frankfort recently as the top micro-metropolitan area to raise a family in the Southeast, 20th in the nation.  On one hand, this is good news; on the other, it means that we have work to do to keep up and compete with the other 19, or settle for their leftover slices of the economic pie. I say let’s do everything we can to create a culture that brands Kentucky is a kid-friendly place to live, work, visit and play in the 21st century.
 One way to achieve this is to pass this Kentucky Outdoor Children’s Bill of Rights as public policy that encourages this culture of learning so desperately needed to move our commonwealth forward.  Contact your state legislators and tell them to support this resolution. To get a copy, call 395-1513, email  KGH@kidsGROWkentucky.org or contact your legislator and add your name and support. Your participation in this challenging and rewarding journey will go a long way to achieve passage of HCR 29. Call or contact your senator to support this resolution.
Ed Councill is a 32-year resident of Franklin County whose family owns Canoe Kentucky, a paddlesports adventure and outdoor recreation business.

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