Can Urban Forest Settings Positively Influence Children with Autism?

In late July, autism_greenspaceUSDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the four recipients of the 2016 USDA Forest Service’s National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge grants. One of the recipients, Georgia State University (GSU) and several partners, will investigate the impact of natural environments such as urban and community forests on symptom expression in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Brian Barger, research assistant professor at GSU, is principal investigator for the grant, with collaborators from other universities, nongovernmental agencies, and the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS). Cassandra Johnson Gaither, project leader of the SRS Integrating Human and Natural Systems unit based in Athens, Georgia, and Annie Hermansen-Baez, SRS science delivery and Kids in the Wood coordinator in the same unit, will provide their expertise in assessment and science delivery.

“Research results showing the positive effects of managed natural environments such as urban parks and forests on human general and mental health have grown exponentially over the last decade,” said Barger. “Yet no studies to date have explored the effects of these environments on the expression of core and associated symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorders.”

To read the full article in SRS’s CompassLive, click here.

Every Kid in a Park Initiative

DF-41The Every Kid in a Park initiative enables every US fourth grader (or age equivalent free-choice learner) and his or her family to have free access to any federal land or water for an entire year (up to August 31, 2016). The Every Kid in a Park initiative aims to encourage valuable opportunities to explore, learn, and play in our national parks, forests, and other federal lands.

Fourth graders were targeted because research show that children ages 9-11 are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways. They are most likely to have positive attitudes towards nature, the environment, and culture, and grow into the next generation of stewards for our natural wonders and historical landmarks.

Beginning September 1, 2015, fourth graders can visit the “Get Your Pass” section of the Every Kid in a Park website at www.everykidinapark.gov, complete an online activity, and download a personalized paper voucher for print and unlimited use at federal lands and waters locations for one year. The paper voucher also can be exchanged for a more durable, Interagency Annual 4th Grade Pass at certain federal lands or waters sites. The Every Kid in a Park website also offers information and tips for trip planning and how parents can get involved.

Educators will be able to visit a specific area of the website and download and print lesson plan ideas and activities, along with paper vouchers for each of their students. Educators also will find information about the locations of their nearest federal land or water as well as field trip transportation grant opportunities.

The Every Kid in a Park initiative is supported by eight federal agencies:  the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Education, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Visit the Every Kid in a Park website to find out more! www.everykidinapark.gov

Want Your Kids to Get Into Harvard? Tell ‘Em to Go Outside!

DF-41A growing body of evidence supports the belief that spending time in nature has positive impacts for youth.  Schools that have developed outdoor teaching areas and nature-based educational experiences report academic improvements among students in multiple subject areas. Researchers are finding that out-of-school learning experiences, which include non-formal educational settings like national parks, museums, and nature centers, contribute to student’s knowledge and interest in science and the environment.   

To read the full article click here.

Louv, Richard. 2014 Sept 22. Want Your Kids to Get into Harvard? Tell ‘Em To Go Outside. Children & Nature Network: The New Nature Movement. http://blog.childrenandnature.org/

 

Partnership Spurs Diversity Outreach Projects in Texas

YEARS AGO, John Warner, an urban district forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service and a longtime InterfaceSouth partner, recognized that landownership patterns in the southeastern part of the state around Houston were changing rapidly. Latino, Chinese, and Vietnamese families from Houston were moving to the interface and buying 5–20 acre tracts of forestland within his rapidly growing multi-county district. He realized that the agency was going to have to change its communication approach to reach many of these new forest landowners. “As an agency, we know how to communicate with traditional landowners,” says Warner. “However, outreach to different ethnic groups is something new for us.”

In 2007, an opportunity to reach these new landowners presented itself when Warner met Tamberly Conway, a graduate student in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University. Conway was working with Latino Legacy, a program established by the university and funded by the USDA Forest Service’s [USFS] More Kids in the Woods program to connect Latino communities with the public lands and forestlands in the Houston area through bilingual conservation education programming. (Conway has since been hired by the USFS as a conservation education specialist working remotely in Texas for the USFS’s office in Washington, D.C.).

 To view the full article and learn more about recent activities of the Centers for Urban and Interface Forestry, visit our latest issue of Leaves of Change at: http://www.interfacesouth.org/products/leaves/partnership-spurs-diversity-outreach-projects-in-texas/index_html

Connecting Kids to the Hogtown Creek Watershed in Gainesville, Florida

mary__kids_in_woodsInterfaceSouth and local partners, including the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Alachua County School District, the Gainesville Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs, and Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, received funding through this year’s Forest Service More Kids in the Woods (MKIW) cost share funding opportunity. The MKIW program supports activities and programs designed to spark curiosity about nature and promote learning through applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles.

Project partners will collaborate with Westwood middle school science teachers to conduct outdoor science learning activities and service learning projects within the nearby Hogtown Creek Watershed in Gainesville, FL. Partners will also organize a school camp out, participate in career day events and science fairs, and conduct a train-the-teacher workshop on outdoor learning concepts and techniques. Project successes, materials and information will be shared locally, regionally and nationally through our combined partner networks.

To learn more about the Forest Service’s More Kids in the Woods program and 2013 cost share funding recipients visit: 

www.fs.usda.gov/main/conservationeducation/about/education-themes/kids-in-woods  

www.fs.fed.us/news/2013/releases/05/more-kids-outdoors.shtml