Check out my segment on Utah’s Fresh Living Show (KUTV)
We live in a beautiful world filled with amazing national parks, forests, mountains and other sites. Did you know that just in the United States alone there are over 400 national parks and most people can reach a park within a 2-hour drive by car? I love living in Utah because I don’t need to drive far to see something amazing. However, this year I am hoping to see even more sites in the United States because of a new program regarding fourth graders. Three cheers for my son Martin, who is in fourth grade! Recently the White House and the Federal Land Management launched a new initiative called Every Kid in a Park. If you have a fourth grader in your family, I hope you are ready to go exploring!
First I would like to say that regardless if you have a fourth grader or not, taking your kids out in Nature is always a fabulous idea. Between school, homework, piano, structured sports and other indoor activities I am always looking for ways to get them outside. Regardless if it is a day trip or a weekend vacation I feel we always come back happier and fulfilled by being outdoors. Their natural curiosities are awakened; electronics are turned off, and we spend time talking and laughing. I feel it is a necessity to bring our children to nature. Even if they complain because their Minecraft game might need to be put on hold.
A fun item I have found for my kids is their own passport for the National Parks. I highly recommend getting these for you and your family. They have a regular National Park passport for $8.95 and a Kids National Park passport for $6.95 that you can purchase online or sometimes these are sold at the parks in their gift shops. The passport allows you or the kids to track the sites visited as well as information on completing Junior Ranger programs and a field journal. For many of the different parks, there are cancelation stations that allow you to stamp the date and name of the National Park in your passport at the gift shop or Ranger Station (just like a normal passport). While many kids do not have a passport to travel around the world, this is a fun way to let them earn stamps by visiting sites in the United States.
If you have a fourth grader in your family now is the time to travel!! Every fourth grader can get a free pass by going to www.everykidsinapark.gov. If you are a teacher of fourth graders, you can also get passes for your students by going to the same link. The goal is to provide opportunities for more people in the country to experience the many national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and much more. Although this pass is only for fourth graders, it benefits the entire family. This pass will cover any fees required for vehicles to enter the park (as long as your fourth grader is in the vehicle). If the site charges per person, the pass will cover all children under 16 and up to three adults for free.
To receive the pass, your fourth grader must fill out the information and answer a few questions on www.everykidsinapark.gov. Once the application is finished, you must print out the pass to bring with you, as electronic versions of the pass will not be accepted. Next you will need to figure out which parks you would like to visit. A fabulous site to determine where to go is www.findyourpark.com, All types of experiences can be found by entering your state, zip code or the type of activity you would like to do. Finally get outside, head to your park, show your pass to the Ranger and start the fun! The fourth-grade pass expires August 31, 2016. Which means, that although winter is upon many of us soon and some of the parks are closed, now is a perfect time to begin planning outdoor fun for spring and summer.
Please read all instructions on rules regarding the pass. It is stated that the pass doesn’t cover things like camping, boating, and special tours. However, I was looking online at Timpanogas Caves (a site near my home) and fourth graders can do a cave tour for free. I am definitely going to plan on doing this with my kids in spring. Most places do not offer anything special besides entry fees. However, it doesn’t hurt to go online and see if fourth graders can do anything more. Also, if a site is owned by a private operator they might not honor the pass. And good news for those of you who are like me and lose everything, if your pass is lost you can go back to the website and print out another one.
This year is a great time to see some sites because the National Park Service turned 100 on August 25, 2016. To celebrate 100 years, they have kicked off a fun Find Your Park movement. If you have a park that you love, or you find a park that you love this year you can join the movement by using social media and posting a picture with #findyourpark. People from all over the United States have been sharing their favorite parks and memories. You and your family can share as well by posting pictures and seeing what other people have posted. Check out the National Park Service and National Park Foundation to see what celebrations are happening throughout the year at your favorite parks.
Many studies have been done on the importance of getting children outdoors. I have found numerous books and articles on the importance. One book that really has opened the eyes of the Nation on the importance of being outside in Nature is The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Below are just some examples of improvements that have been documented by taking kids outside. (Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature by NC Division of Child Development and Early Education)
- Supports creativity, problem-solving and intellectual development
- Children played more cooperatively
- Enhances cognitive abilities
- Improves academic performance
- Reduces Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms
- Increases physical activity
- Improves eyesight
- Improves social relations
- Improves self-discipline
- Reduces Stress
With all of these reasons and more now is the perfect time to plan an exciting outdoor activity. Take a break from the day to day hustle and find ways that you can bring nature into your life. I am already making a list of the places I would like to visit this year. Who is with me??