Giving Compass' Take:

• Children and Nature Network highlights the importance of expanding access to environmental education programs to underserved youth and offers insight as to how to increase inclusion efforts across race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. 

• How can environmental organizations collaborate on inclusion initiatives? What role can funders play in expanding access? 

• Read more about the importance of access to environmental education.

Outdoor time promotes physical and mental health, relieves stress and anxiety, and improves social skills. We also know that time in nature is particularly important for youth development and well being. Yet young people in the U.S. spend an alarming 90% of their time indoors. While the fields of outdoor and environmental education have been striving to meet this need and help reverse this trend, the reality is that for many youth, the problem is compounded by systemic barriers.

Access to programs varies by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. For example, the Outdoor Foundation reports that 70% of outdoor recreation participants are white.

Underserved youth experience a range of barriers to accessing outdoor programs, including:

  • Lack of information, not being aware of opportunities
  • Distance and lack of transportation
  • Cost of programs
  • Lack of equipment
  • Safety concerns
  • Parental permission or support
  • Feeling unwelcome and experiences of discrimination
  • Lack of programming that is relevant to the target youth audience

There are positive signs that the broader environmental field, including youth-serving organizations, recognizes the issue and is beginning to respond.

While these are steps in the right direction, most programming in the field is provided by small, place-based organizations with limited resources and capacity. Supporting these local groups to engage underserved members of their communities is a vital priority.

Leaders in the outdoor and environmental field understand that the ability to achieve their mission depends on robust outreach and meaningful engagement. Success means including everyone.  Much effort to date has focused on simply increasing participant diversity, without necessarily considering the social factors and prevailing narratives that have produced the problem to begin with.10 The central, underlying challenge as this work evolves and matures is to authentically incorporate social justice and inclusion.

Read the full article about connecting youth to nature from Children and Nature Network.