Input from children strengthens their engagement with the outdoors

Today many youth development professionals advocate for youth participation in child-friendly initatives to increase children’s ability to venture outside their homes. The City of Boulder, the municipality in the U.S. state of Colorado, engaged local children in shaping their neighbourhoods.

Children today spend much less time outdoors than their parents did due to a number of barriers that might be obstructing children’s relationship with the outdoors and nature. Yet there is a growing evidence that unsupervised outdoor play and connection with nature is vital for children’s development.

Play makes children happy

“The idea that children and families should have daily contact with nature is increasingly proposed as a right of children. Children’s access to nature, however, is not equitably distributed. This is especially true in low-income and inner-city neighborhoods of many cities around the world, where there are few natural amenities and limited access to parks.  Many city children also have limited independence or ability to access parks or natural spaces on their own,” said Victoria Derr from the University of Colorado.

In addition, the evidence suggests that children seek unsupervised outdoor play and the issue of health and safety is severely limiting children’s freedom.

“Not only do children have rights to informally play in nature, but children also consistently express a desire for informal play spaces through child-friendly cities research. Children’s rights extend also to issues of integenerational equity and therefore an initiative ‘Growing Up Boulder’ was introduced to promote young people’s involvement in the planning and design of parks, public spaces, and neighborhoods,” explained Derr.

Creating nurturing environments for children

Growing Up Boulder, which is an on-going city-wide initiative to help make Boulder an exemplary child- and youth-friendly city that began as a partnership between the University of Colorado, the City of Boulder, the Boulder Valley School District, former State Senator Dorothy Rupert, local non-profits and businesses, and children and youth from ages 0-18.

Growing Up Boulder partnered with several schools to develop design recommendations for a city park in the city’s civic area.  The project allowed detailed consideration for how best to incorporate ideas of nature play and public art into the design of a public space.

The planning process resulted in a large grant to fund the construction of a new nature-based playground. It will open this fall to the entire community while also providing significant opportunities for youth leadership and dialogue with community partners.

The neighbourhood design along Boulder Creek reflects children’s desire for access to informal play in diverse natural spaces that are integrated throughout the city fabric.

“These projects help guide the integration of children’s rights to participatory planning with children’s rights for access to play, to nature, and to culturally relevant public spaces.  They also help expand our thinking about education for sustainability and resilient cities,” said Derr.

About Growing Up Boulder

Growing Up Boulder (GUB) was established in 2009 to include children and youth from Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A. in the participatory processes of urban planning and design.  The partnership brings together the Children, Youth and Environments Center for Community Engagement at the University of Colorado, the City of Boulder, the Boulder Valley School District and several community organizations that work with children. The program shares the participatory approaches of UNESCO’s Growing Up in Cities with the rights-based focus of UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative.

For more information please visit the website

Author: Marketa Vesela

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