GERING — Children are spending an average 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment each day, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A program from the Department of the Interior is encouraging fourth-graders to disconnect from their devices and plug into nature.
The Every Kid Outdoors program provides fourth-graders with free access to more than 2,000 recreation areas including wildlife refuges, marine sanctuaries, forests and national monuments.
“This pass gives kids an outlet to explore in some of the most beautiful places on earth,” said Kayla Gasker, a park ranger and centennial coordinator at Scotts Bluff National Monument.
Gasker said it’s important for kids to spend time outside, pointing to a term coined by author Richard Louv in 2005 called “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
Although the term included the word “disorder,” it’s not actually a medical diagnosis. Instead, it’s a term used to describe the gap between children and nature.
“It has to do with the amount of technology that exists nowadays,” said Gasker. “That technology is phenomenal but it can also be detrimental.”
According to the National Wildlife Federation, spending time outside can have a slew of mental and physical benefits including stress reduction, increased levels of vitamin D and improved fitness levels.
Additionally, being outside improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness and may be effective in reducing ADHA symptoms, according to the NWF.
Dan Morford, superintendent of Scotts Bluff National Monument, said the Every Kid Outdoors program is also a chance to teach children about the importance of conservation.
“There are kids that go, ‘I want to be a fireman,’” said Morford. “Hopefully, we can spark a little interest and they’ll say, ‘I want to be a park ranger.’”
The free pass can be downloaded from everykidoutdoors.gov after completing a short educational activity. The voucher can then be traded for a durable plastic keepsake pass at Scotts Bluff National Monument.
The pass is valid for unlimited use between now and Aug. 31, 2020, and grants free entry to fourth-graders (or home-school equivalent), all children under 16 in the group and up to three accompanying adults (or an entire car for drive-in parks).
The pass doesn’t cover additional fees for amenities such as camping.
The program is a collaboration between the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Forest Service.
In March, President Donald Trump signed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, which funds the program for the next seven years.