Under Illinois Skies: The importance of Access to Outdoor Recreation for Inner-City Youth
Emeline Brady ’20, Chicago, Illinois
Major: Environmental Justice & Citizenship
Minor: Political Science
Over the past two summers I was a nature camp counselor for the Chicago Park District’s “Under Illinois Skies” program. The goal of the program is to get inner-city kids outside and provide them access to outdoor environments. Because being outside improves children’s development, well-being and positive attitudes towards the environment, this program is essential to the campers’ growth and to preventing what researchers are beginning to refer to as “Nature Deficit Disorder.” The idea refers to the increasing physical and cognitive changes being seen, particularly with children, that indicate serious consequences from a lack of outdoor exposure. Essentially, kids are losing valuable lessons and connections that typically occur outside, such as risk-taking, creativity development, conflict resolution, and more.
Though on the whole a great program, there will always be room for the U.I.S. camp to improve. Currently there is a need for more environmental education experience from counselors. In addition, there should be more catering to our audience with regards to students of color and low-income families, and goals should be established with the campers early on in the program.
By providing young people with opportunities to explore and learn about their environments, programs like Under Illinois Skies highlight the major impacts outdoor recreation and education have for adolescents’ healthy development. This overall growth can be found from watching students light up when they recognize specific flora & fauna to trying new activities, such as cooking and kayaking. My research and experiences show how access to nature should be a right, because interacting with nature profoundly changes us for the better.