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A naturalist for the Olander Park System, Sandy Gratop wants to see children outside no matter the season — spring, summer, fall, or winter.
She has an ongoing part in ensuring that children in northwest Ohio get out of the house and explore the outdoors. Working with the group Ohio Leave No Child Inside, and working with local parks to design activities that will expose children to outdoor learning experiences, she finds value in reconnecting to nature.
“Everything we do basically promotes using our parks [and] being outside in Sylvania,” she said about the park system’s activities.
She said that she works with a group of preschoolers on Friday mornings, educating them about the wonders of the great outdoors, in a program called Nurturing Nature. Ms. Gratop said the park system alternates instructors — there are five — so children get the most benefit.
The nature topic varies weekly.
“Right now, we’re really focusing on birds. I have a specialist with me each time and then the fourth time or so, I take [the participants] on a field trip and we go to various places in the community.”
Last weekend, the park system educators hosted The National Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids, which was a two-day event for families, aimed at teaching them how to identify and document birds.
Kindergarten-based learning skills are emphasized at every meeting. Activities that expand cognitive skills and that encourage social interaction are also emphasized.
The park system also offers several nature walks throughout the winter season for all age levels.
In addition, Ms. Gratop also helps put together a calendar that promotes outdoor activities in the state, as well as a 12-page booklet outlining family activities that is distributed through the local library.
The idea of encouraging students to observe nature has caught on in the last several years.
“The whole concept has grown out of this new movement that shot up around 2005,” she said, adding that the Leave No Child Inside program is now nationwide.
There has been a push in recent years to get children to get off the couch, to put down the video game, to turn off the TV, and to go outdoors.
In 2010, Ohio introduced a Ohio Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, which emphasized outdoor playtime as a fundamental need for toddlers, ’tweens, teens, and others who young at heart.
Several states and a number of large metropolitan areas either have enacted or given serious consideration to such proclamations that promote outdoor activities for children.
For more information about programs with the Olander Park System, visit olanderpark.com.