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*Cope Environmental Center has been reaching out across the state to ensure that every child in Indiana is within 60 miles of a ‘partner’ nature center who will provide environmental education and creative outdoor experiences.

*19 nature centers, stretching from Wesselman Nature Society in Evansville to Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart, have agreed to become official partners in Indiana’s “Bicentennial Nature Center Network.”

*On Friday, June 19th, 2015 the network received endorsement as an official Bicentennial project.

*One Wednesday a month, the nature centers get to know one another through a conference call. They had their first  ‘Nature Center Summit’ as a pre-conference to the annual EEAI Conference (Environmental Education Association of Indiana) at the Indiana State Dunes in September 2016. The next summit will take place locally at Earlham College in 2016.

We envision this partnership leading to stronger relationships with teachers and schools by using shared environmental curriculum. We are thrilled to have this network working together to help facilitate experiences that help more kids encounter nature!” says Alison Zajdel, CEC’s Executive Director.

This shared curriculum is in the last stages of completion and will be launched by all the nature center partners by the fall of 2016. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is also playing a critical role in this project by hosting the curriculum on their website alongside of their “robust existing digital programs” such as Nature Rocks and Nature Works. TNC advocates for conservation efforts around the world and includes “more than 600 scientists, located in all 50 U.S. states and more than 35 countries.” TNC hopes the project “will inspire experiences with nature and build advocates for conservation.” Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources is also supporting the group by leading Bicentennial land conservation efforts across the state.

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Kids today are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago (1) yet several studies have shown that children need plenty of time outdoors in order to be happy, healthy, and responsible individuals. Just as concerning, the average American child spends 44 hours per week staring at some kind of electronic screen (2) which has led to the appearance of what some are calling ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in many children. “Kids have lost their connection to the land and are trapped in a world with sixty ounce sodas, addictive salty/sugary snacks, and screens on every side,” says Kyle King, Community Outreach Coordinator at CEC. “It’s important to lead kids to a different world where they can wade with the tadpoles, run without restraint, and feel the mud between their toes.”

Interested in learning how you can help with this project or any other initiative to get more kids plugged into the outdoors? You can contact Kyle King at 765.855.3188 or k.king@copeenvironmental.org. Cope Center looks forward to hearing from you!

(1) “The Changing Times of American Youth: 1983-2003” (Juster, F. Thomas et al., 2004). University of Michigan.
(2) (Study: Rideout, Victoria et al. (2005). Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.)