OLYMPIA - The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has announced the first awarding of grants to 25 organizations and agencies around Washington as part of the No Child Left Inside program, created to get kids connected with nature. Cape Disappointment State Park is included.

Other organizations receiving the grants include school districts, non-profit organizations, conservation districts and environmental organizations. Funds will be used to provide youth outdoor education and recreation programs.

The 2007 Washington Legislature established the No Child Left Inside program, provided $1.5 million in funds and appointed the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to administer the program. State Parks convened an advisory committee of 22 organizations, natural resource agencies, private businesses and outdoor education leaders to set grant criteria and help with selection. A total of 238 grant applications were received, totaling more than $8.6 million in requests.

"It is very exciting to get this program on the ground so fast and get the awards made so organizations can get started getting kids outdoors," said Rex Derr, State Parks director. "Washington is the first state in the nation to have its Legislature establish and fund a No Child Left Inside grant program like this one. This puts Washington on the cutting edge of the national conversation going on right now about how essential it is that we provide a connection to nature for young people, for their own well-being and for the future health of our environment."

The national discussion was sparked by author Richard Louv's 2006 bestseller, "Last Child in the Woods." Louv coined the phrase "nature deficit disorder" and joined others in making the case that younger generations are growing up without a strong connection to nature, putting their very health and overall well being in peril. Parental concerns about safety outdoors in communities and the prevalence of technology in the form of computers and video games have kept kids inside on couches instead of out among the trees and in the woods.

This sedentary lifestyle has contributed to the national incidence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in younger and younger people. Children in urban and suburban areas may be at most risk, but the problem also extends to rural populations and is included as a focus in the grant program.

Educators and recreation leaders, including Louv, cite research showing that direct experiences in nature have profound effects on the cognitive, emotional, intellectual, social, physical and sometimes spiritual development of children. Outdoor education programs lead to increased mastery of science, reading, math, language arts and spelling on standardized tests. Outdoor education and recreation also foster cooperative learning and civic responsibility.

Frank Galloway, a former State Parks ranger, is manager for No Child Left Inside and also supervises Inside-Out, a State Parks youth and family camping program with a focus on cultural diversity. Galloway says he's seen first-hand the magic that happens for kids when they make a connection with nature.

"You literally see the light go on in their eyes," Galloway says. "Learning about our environment and getting out in nature is very powerful for anyone, but especially for kids. It can provide meaning for their lives and give them a sense of confidence and self-reliance that branches out to other areas of their lives and helps them be successful. Programs like this also ensure that we are raising environmental stewards for the future."

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