Tuesday, May 7, 2013
On Saturday, April 27th, Indiana Dunes launched its “Nature in My Neighborhood” initiative and its new Nature Play Area.
The “Nature in My Neighborhood” program is part of the Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative and is designed to emphasize to urban children that nature is in the park, but also something in their neighborhood. This program seeks to help kids make the connection between the national park, their health and home life, and community wellness. It will encourage them to be physically active in the outdoors. School children from Geminus Head Start and the Jose de Diego School will also be on hand to take part in the festivities.
Students visiting the park and participating in the program will learn how clean water, clean air, outdoor recreation, and exercise are important to everyone. The Nature Play Area is an “unstructured play area” at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education modeled on the ideas from the Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods.”
Formerly disturbed land has been set aside to allow children to interact with the land in a free exploration zone. Youth are encouraged to interact with the land while still respecting NPS regulations. Moving rocks, piling logs, digging holes, and other activities are allowed as long as nothing is removed from the park and no plants or wildlife are harmed. More than 200 people, including organizations and and families, were involved in testing the ideas over the past year. Their feedback helped guide the program design.
Upon finishing the program, children receive a “Nature in My Neighborhood” kit that provides opportunities for families to reconnect with the outdoors at home and to get outside exercise. The free kits contain, simple field guides, a map of local trails, magnifying lenses, healthy food guide and other items to encourage kids to explore nature at home and to get outside.
At the same time, the park also unveiled its new distance learning equipment that will bring the park to children who cannot physically get to the park. This equipment will allow park employees to have live-time, two-way connection to classrooms, boys and girls clubs, and other community locations. Children will be able to see and talk to National Park Service employees in real time to learn more about the park, the science of nature, and the importance of protecting our land, air, and water.
These efforts were supported by the park friends group, the Dunes National Park Association and their major contributors NISPCO, Walmart, and the members of the Lawicki family.