Seven Cities Activate Strategies to Connect Kids to Nature

About the Author

Priya Cook is the Principal Associate for the Connecting Children to Nature program, the newest program of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

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“Imagine a city known for excellent environmental education because its parks are natural classroom. As a city, we are creating greater access to nature for all of our younger residents.” -Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

Last year, the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education & Families (IYEF) and the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), selected seven cities: Saint Paul, Minnesota; Madison, Wisconsin; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Providence, Rhode Island; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco, California; to participate in the Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) initiative. The goal of CCCN is to address disparities in children’s opportunities to play, grow, and learn in the outdoors.

In November, seven Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) sites began implementing strategies for connecting children to nature more equitably in their cities. Mayors like Rosalynn Bliss of Grand Rapids, Michigan, seek to restore childhood to the outdoors and commissioned eight months of community dialogue, policy scans, nature-mapping, and network building to inform strategies for action, such as:

  • Developing green schoolyards and enhancing access to nature at public elementary schools and early childcare facilities
  • Connecting to nature through out-of-school time programming
  • Cultivating youth leadership and stewardship
  • Bringing more diverse groups of residents in regular contact with natural features in city park systems

The chart below indicates priority strategies among the pilot cities: Saint Paul, Minnesota; Madison, Wisconsin; Grand Rapids; Providence, Rhode Island; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco.

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Over the next three years, each of these cities will execute its priority strategies with peer exchange, learning and technical assistance from the CCCN partners and $50,000 grants to kick start city efforts for at least the next nine months. Prominent strategies rely on involvement of key partners such as parks and recreation agencies, school districts, out-of-school time networks, conservation and youth development organizations, and elected and community leaders, as well as adult and youth residents. A metrics framework drawing upon cities’ initial assessment practices and indicators will inform a broader field of cities and partners seeking to measure both systems-level change and direct impact on children. CCCN partners will offer additional resources for municipal action in the coming months, including in-person opportunities detailed below.

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Join Us to Learn More

Learn more about city strategies at the 2017 International Conference and Summit of the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), April 18-21 in Vancouver, British Columbia. C&NN extends an open invitation to a wide variety of additional participants to attend the Conference and Summit including other city leaders, planners, public health advocates, field practitioners and thought leaders committed to advancing policies, partnerships and programming for connecting children to nature.

Additionally, city parks professionals can learn more from Austin and the other CCCN cities at a May 17-19 National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Connecting Communities to Nature Innovation Lab.


The CCCN webinar series begins with “Emerging City Strategies to Connect Children to Nature” on Thursday, February 23, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST. Register here to learn more about the priority strategies adopted by CCCN pilot sites.

Cities Connecting Children to Nature is a partnership between NLC and Children & Nature Network. Connect with CCCN through upcoming conferences, webinars, and our newsletter.


More reading and resources 

The Cities Connect Children to Nature Initiative Underway in Madison

A Breath of Fresh Air: City of Grand Rapids Aims to Reconnect Children with Nature

Photo credit: Getty Images

1 Comment

  1. I hope that this is received in the spirit in which it is offered. I can’t email you directly because I don’t have Outlook. I received an email that included the following. “The pilot CCCN cohort broke trail, expanding cities’ capacity to collect data on how well and how much children equitably connect with nature. The cities built their capacity through articulating strategies and identifying early indicators of progress. With much work remaining in order to institutionalize and standardize children and nature assessment within and across cities, the CCCN Metrics Toolkit offers a starting point for municipal leaders to consider what strides in institutions, infrastructure, and programming will lead to better outcomes for all young residents.” I’m not sure who wrote this but unless your audience is graduate students it’s written with too many big words. The Flesch-Kincaid grade level is 17. If you have MS Word, you can run the analysis to see for yourselves. This passage is unreadable by normal folks. I just wanted to let you know so that you could revise your approach it if you think that your audience needs easier readability.


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