The Nature Connection Network and its member organizations, together, seek to remedy the disconnection from self, others, and the earth it has witnessed in communities and attributes to the drastic reduction in time spent out of doors (the EPA estimates 93% of the average American’s life is spent indoors) and concurrent lack of unstructured play, free time, purposeful work, and over-use and addiction to technology.
Programs are designed to help any individual, but especially youth, gain mentored access to pristine wilderness spaces and the undeniable benefits of spending time in nature. Research overwhelmingly indicates that time in nature has a positive effect on almost every aspect of a child’s life, including: stress reduction and improved self-discipline (Wells and Evans, 2003) (Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan, 2001); improved social relations as a result of unstructured, out of door play (Burdette and Whitaker, 2005); increased creativity, problem solving, and intellectual development (Kellert, 2005) (Bell and Dyment, 2006); increased attentiveness (Kuo, Browning, and Penner, 2018); and improved academic performance in social studies, science, language arts, and math (American Institutes for Research, 2005).
In areas of dense urbanization and socioeconomic inequality, the need is even more pronounced. Though our member organizations share a deep commitment to financial access to its programs, the most vulnerable children in surrounding communities continue to be implicitly excluded due to their families’ lack of ability to seek out and pay for extracurricular activities, a common and critical issue among disadvantaged students.
According to a 2015 White House whitepaper entitled “Economic Costs of Youth Disadvantage and High-Return Opportunities for Change,” the realities of the challenges facing at-risk youth, as well as the benefits of alleviating them, are enormous. According to the paper, income-inequality has created a severe disparity in enrichments families are able to afford their children: families in the highest income quintile now spend a staggering seven times more on things like books, computers, summer camps, music lessons, and other activities than families in the lowest income quartile.
Accordingly, familial income – and its effects on academic success, access to enriching out of school activities, and exposure to caring adult mentors – is an even greater indicator of future success or failure than in previous generations. Further, youth of color are disproportionately impacted by these trends, with 38% of black children and 40% of Hispanic children living in poverty as compared to 20% of all children and just 11% of white children. The paper also cited research that linked participation in extracurricular and out-of-school programming to reduced incarceration, reduced teen pregnancy, increased graduation rates, decreased mortality rates, and over the long run, better job placement and a lifetime of earning more wages.