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Take a Child Outside Week aims to promote outdoor engagement and exploration


Parents spend time with their kids at the Chapel Hill Community Center, on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is hosting its annual Take a Child Outside Week from Sept. 24 to 30. The week aims to break down barriers that keep children from exploring nature and provides opportunities for children and families to interact with the natural world.

Take a Child Outside was founded as a website in 2007. It was inspired by author Richard Louv’s 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods," which calls attention to youth spending less time outdoors than previous generations.

“[Louv] started collecting stories and sharing out and speaking — and that inspired Liz Baird, who was at the museum at the time, to start the Take a Child Outside initiative as a way of encouraging and supporting adults to help get kids outside,” Take a Child Outside Coordinator Beth Cranford, said.

The initiative works with a group of more than 150 partners nationwide and is designed to highlight places — like the Museum of Natural Sciences — that invite adults to bring children outdoors and provide activities that do not require extensive time or equipment.

Cranford said Take a Child Outside is promoted year-round through the website, but the organization makes a big push for engagement Sept. 24 through 30.

Research done by groups like the Children & Nature Network found that time spent outdoors can have positive effects on children's physical, mental and social well-being.

“There's really a host of ways that natural environments could benefit kids, but I do think the biggest one that has been the most studied is the idea of stress reduction and attention restoration,” Nissa Towe-Goodman, a research scientist at UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, said.

Jennifer Warren, a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Hillsborough Elementary School, said she thinks increased access to technology may be why young people interact with the outdoors less than in the past.

“I think kids are more apt to jump on their iPads or play games online, as opposed to going outside and just climbing a tree or digging in the dirt to see what they can find or build forts — just being in the space outdoors,” Warren said.

Warren previously worked with the Muddy Sneakers outdoor education program as an educator in Asheville. Muddy Sneakers is a not-for-profit organization that creates outdoor curricula aligned to North Carolina’s essential science standards for students.

When Warren moved to the Triangle, she couldn't find a program similar to Muddy Sneakers in the area. She introduced Muddy Sneakers to Orange County Schools — where she now works — and Durham Public Schools.

“They're able to look at different perspectives of a question because they have more than just a textbook experience or more than just an experiment done in the classroom," Warren said. "They can actually see their science content around them and make connections to what is outside during those learning experiences.”

Among other activities happening this week, the Museum of Natural Sciences is hosting a Bilingual Nature Stories event on Sept. 28 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and a "Preschoolers" at the Pond event on Sept. 29 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. for children aged 7 and under. The events will be held at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation, the museum's 40-acre outdoor education facility in Raleigh.

An event for all ages, called FlutterFest, is planned for Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the location of FlutterFest. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

@DTHCityState |

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