Accepting the Forest Chiefs Honor Award

Last month I had the privilege of visiting Washington D.C. to accept the Chief’s Honor Award—the highest awards given out by the U.S. Forest Service to publically recognize exemplary achievements in Forest Service programs that contribute to the Service’s strategic goals.

The Engaging Urban America award—the award presented—recognizes Forest Service individuals, work units, partnerships, or groups that have demonstrated major achievements in promoting conservation education, community “greening” efforts, and management of urban forests and youth opportunities to volunteer in urban forestry activities in their neighborhoods.

As Chief of the USDA Forest Service Tom Tidwell and others spoke of the award I was taken by the power and influence of partnerships. This was an achievement of federal, state and local collaboration. Public and private partners engaged to change the lives of children in Denver. It was a memorable experience to witness how Nature Explore, and more importantly, the challenge of connecting young people with nature has been embraced and championed by so many with a common goal. In this case, it was an opportunity to recognize US Forest Service team members who are leading the way.

I accepted the award on behalf of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation for our work with the Warren Village project. Warren Village is a program that helps motivated, previously homeless single parent families to move from public assistance to personal and economic self-sufficiency through subsidized housing, on-site child care, educational guidance and career development.

The Certified Nature Explore Classroom at the Greta Horowitz Learning Center at Warren Village is unique for multiple reasons. The Center uses Creative Curriculum, a child-centered approach in which the children’s interests drive a variety of projects. The Center is located in downtown Denver, and although there is a public park close to the Nature Explore classroom at Warren Village, residents of Warren Village wouldn’t use it out of fear of their safety. This Nature Explore classroom gives mothers and children the comfort of security with the enjoyment of outdoor exploring.

This project was a collaboration of organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Parks & Wildlife. The sponsored classroom illustrates the great work we can do when we come together.

Additionally, the outdoor space at Warren Village serves as a model of how communities can engage local partners. One example of its effect is in Philadelphia, where a second classroom is being created with the help of the Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Horticultural Society and Philadelphia Forest Service.

It is meaningful to be part of something that is enriching lives through outdoor classrooms and inspiring to see where else our collaborations will lead us.

2013 Nature Explore PSA highlights children interacting with nature in outdoor classrooms

The new, 2013 Nature Explore PSA has been posted on the Nature Explore website.

A collaborative effort of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, the mission of the Nature Explore program is to connect children with nature.

Today, children are more disconnected from nature than ever, more likely to spend idle time watching television indoors than running and playing outdoors.  If current trends continue, the next generation will enter adulthood facing greater health challenges, inferior social skills and a diminished conservation ethic.

NEC2With the development of Nature Explore Classrooms, children learn and play outdoors through experiencing the wonders of nature.

These well-designed outdoor spaces provide real-world evidence of the enormous benefit outdoor learning opportunities provide for children.

Proven to be beneficial for children affected by domestic violence, Mary Kay, Inc. has sponsored the development of 17 Nature Explore Classrooms at women’s shelters across the United States.

In urban areas where residents have limited access to nature and no backyards, places like Five Towns Child Care Center in Inwood, N.Y., or the Hooper Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, Calif., have built Nature Explore Classrooms to provide children and families with a safe place to spend time among grass, flowers, and trees, where children can explore, play, and learn nature’s many lessons.

NEC1There are currently more than a hundred certified Nature Explore Classrooms across the United States and Canada, and the list continues to grow.  As the network of Nature Explore Classrooms expands, the impact on children is also growing.  More children are developing meaningful connections with nature, instilling a lifelong sense of wonder and imagination.

Help connect more youths to the environment by sharing the 2013 Nature Explore PSA and spreading the word about the many benefits children experience when interacting with nature.

TV stations and networks can request the PSAs (:60, :30, :20, :15, :10) in your preferred format by emailing Sean Barry at sbarry@arborday.org.

Watch the 2013 Nature Explore PSA below: