Obama is launching an “Every Kid in a Park” initiative Thursday, White House officials said, an effort that aims to get every fourth-grader to visit a national park in the years ahead.
The new campaign, which will offer all fourth-grade students and their families with free admission to national parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year, comes on the same day that the president is designate three new national monuments in Illinois, Colorado and Hawaii.
In concert with the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, the administration is seeking to expand young people’s participation in the system. Young Americans are increasingly spending time indoors on their electronic devices: a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that they now devote an average of more than seven hours a day, or about 53 hours a week, to electronic media use. Social research suggests that exposing children to nature when they are roughly 9 years old establishes a connection to the environment that lasts through adulthood.
Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation, praised the idea in a statement.
“The sense of wonder and discovery is never more visible in my daughter’s eyes than when she is outside experiencing nature,” O’Donnell said. “Nature is the best teacher, and our parks provide an ideal classroom for learning and inspiration. This is a fantastic initiative that will have lasting benefits for America’s children.”
Not only will all fourth-graders and their families get free national park admission starting in the 2015-16 school year, but the National Park Foundation, the congressionally chartered foundation of the National Park Service – will award transportation grants for children to visit parks, public lands and waters. The program, which was originally called “Ticket to Ride,” will focus on schools that have the most need.
The administration will distribute information and resources to make it easier for teachers and families to identify nearby public lands and waters as well as find programs that support youth outings; Obama has asked for $45 million for the Interior Department’s youth engagement programs as part of his 2016 budget, which includes $20 million specifically for NPS youth activities such as bringing 1 million fourth-grade children from low-income areas to national parks.