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Donoghue Charter School fourth graders Kharielle Lewis, Tre-Vonte Harris, Nia Lackland, and Kai Hawk say they learned about why it's important to take care of the environment.

Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights aims to 'Leave No Child Inside'

by Noelle Radut
Nov 13, 2008


 Noelle Radut/MEDILL

The crew from Donoghue Charter School enjoyed their time at the Chicago Wilderness Congress.


Children should have the right to camp under the stars, play in the mud, climb a tree and plant flowers, according to a new Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights announced Thursday at  the Chicago Wilderness Congress.

The bill of rights is part of the Congress' year-old No Child Left Inside initiative aimed at creating a culture in which children are encouraged to connect with nature, said Peggy Stewart, manager of outdoor environmental education for the Chicago Park District, who heads the Congress' efforts to share its program nationally.

The doucument, presented at the Congress attended by 500 conservation experts, policy makers and community leaders at the University of Illinois-Chicago Forum, listed the following rights every child should have:

    *Camp under the stars

    *Catch and release fish, frogs and insects

    *Celebrate heritage

    *Climb a tree

     *Discover Chicago Wilderness--prairies, dunes, forests, savannas and wetlands

     *Explore nature in neighborhoods and cities

     *Follow a trail

     *Learn to swim

     *Plant a flower

      *Play in the mud

Chicago Wilderness launched its Leave No Child Inside initiative in June 2007. The idea for the initiative stemmed from the publication of environmental activist Rich Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods." Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder,” referring to today’s kids and young people who spend much of their free time indoors, being inactive.

Stewart says it’s easy to get involved. “If you’re in an institution that has all ten of these,” she said, “Excellent. It helps you get the word out.” But not everyone does. For smaller institutions that want to get involved, Stewart recommends, “you can do two or three of them and partner with agencies in the area and help kids in your area do all of these things.”

Melinda Pruett-Jones, executive director of Chicago Wilderness, said the goals of the Leave No Child Inside initiative are to: get more children to spend time outside, to involve adults, bring nature to children and to foster a conservation ethic.

Of these initiatives, “One of the most important is engaging adults,” Pruett-Jones said. “Because if you get children outside in nature, they know just what to do.” What the program seeks to do is reach out to parents, grandparents, scout leaders, community leaders, teachers, youth leaders, the “adult decision-makers” to give children the opportunity to explore and have unstructured time in nature. “That’s the key,” she said.

The Wilderness Congress also covered climate change, sustainable landscapes and initiatives taking place throughout Chicago and surrounding regions..

Pruett-Jones said that improving kids’ health is a crucial part of these initiatives.

“These children are our future and are really going to be responsible for caring for the natural world going forward. But if they have no connection with nature, what’s going to happen? We’ll have a really serious issue,” she said. “It’s about kids’ health, but it’s also about our future.”

But at the end of the day, it’s the kids that need to get it. And the crew from Donoghue Charter School got it.
“One thing I learned about the environment is that everything little thing that you do may cause air pollution, “ said 11-year-old Kharielle Lewis.

“I learned that trees give you oxygen and it is very important that people plant trees and don’t tear down too many of them,” added her classmate Nia Lackland.