Policy Library

Case Studies

Outdoor Learning Opportunities and Environments

Sometimes, all kids need to get outside more often is access to safe green spaces and outdoor learning opportunities in schools. Greening schoolyards, increasing outdoor learning opportunities, and incorporating the outdoors into holistic school wellness programs all hold the potential to improve students’ health and well-being.

Example policies:

Emerging ideas: 

  • Incorporate outdoor learning environments so that playgrounds, outdoor classrooms and labs, and school gardens are part of the definition of school grounds to support their development and maintenance through infrastructure funding.
  • Require student and community engagement in the process of (re) designing playgrounds, parks, and public spaces.

Example policies:

  •  OR Outdoor School for All provides every student with an opportunity and funding to attend a week of residential outdoor school.
  • WA SB 5357 licenses outdoor early learning and child care programs and removes “brick and mortar” building requirements.

Emerging ideas: 

  • Fund school districts in developing free gear libraries for use by students and classes. Or, offer tax incentives to outdoor gear companies who donate gear for such libraries.
  • Incentivize or require early childhood care centers to enhance learning and development through outdoor engagement.

  • The D.C. Healthy Schools Act promotes student health and wellness through school meals, locally-grown food, local wellness policies, healthy vending, physical activity, green schools yards, and/or other student health measures.
  • OR HB 2579 provides funding for school garden education programs and funds to purchase healthy, local food.

Emerging ideas:

  • Incentivize or require school to begin with outdoor movement/exercise.
  • Set district or state-wide standards for mandatory outdoor time.
  • Provide school funding for rain and/or winter gear to make sure all students can go outside during most weather conditions.
  • District policies could support outdoor engagement as part of school wellness plans, which currently focus on nutrition and might mention recess time (in minutes). More robust plans could include details on outdoor engagement.

Outdoor Access and Connectivity

Kids can’t play and learn outside if they can’t get outside, but one in three children today does not have a safe park or green space within a ten-minute walk of their home. Improved access to the outdoors across all socioeconomic groups, and improved connectivity to make sure everyone has the transportation and resources they need get outside, starts to equalize who gets to learn and grow outdoors.

Example policies:

  • The NM Outdoor Equity Fund supports micro-grants to help local government, Indian communities, and nonprofits run youth outdoor engagement programs for low-income youth, families, and communities.
  • IA’s Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program provides environmental education grants as part of funding for natural and cultural resources through the Conservation Education Program (CEP).

Emerging ideas: 

  • Support parents with options for out of school time learning experiences, including outdoor education. Similar to the Out of School Time Funding Ballot Initiative that is being discussed in CO.

Example policies:

  • UT’s Every Kid Outdoors Initiative encourages kids and families to get outside, be active, and try new affordable and accessible activites. Families can download and complete an activity passport for their children that includes 10 free or low-cost outdoor recreation activities that can be done near their home, at a city park, or on public lands.
  • The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, which has passed in 15 states, defines every child’s right to experience fundamental outdoor experiences during their childhood.

Example policies:

  • The Every Kid Outdoors / Every Kid in a Park campaign expands the National Park Service’s Every Kid Outdoors program, which offers fourth graders free entry for themselves and their families into national park systems, to state and regional park systems.

Emerging ideas: 

  • Offer free state-parks pass for check-out at the public libraries, similar to Colorado’s “Check out State Parks” where any library card holder can check out a backpack from the local library that includes a park pass and an assortment of gear and books designed to encourage outdoor engagement.
  • Provide free access to zoos, parks, and botanical gardens to specific age groups or on specific days to encourage kids and their families to try to new activities and visit new outdoor places.

Example policies:

  • AZ, CA, NJ, and IL have passed policies to assure federal funding for Safer Routes toSchool is well administered by the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
  • The Safer Routes Partnership provides guidance to improve policies to make sure bicyclists and pedestrians are considered in transportation and school infrastructure planning, design, construction, and maintenance. A fee-based mechanism can support funding for safer streets and school yards.

Emerging ideas: 

  • Support (through funding or declarations) a focus on near-by outdoor experiences. Rather than prioritize out of town experiences (multi-day outdoor experiences), which can often be the first thing to be cut when budgets are tight, explore opportunities to introduce equitable access to nearby nature experiences.
  • Remove barriers or support costs associated with transportation to support outdoor engagement both in school and outside school.

Example policies:

  • MN passed a provision that allows active military personnel and veterans with a service-related disability to receive a free year-round vehicle permit, providing unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas (MN Statutes, section 85.053, subdivision 8 and 10).
  • NY and OR provide support for nature-based therapy programs for veterans.

Systematic Environmental Literacy and Education

Young people deserve opportunities to learn in, thrive in, and appreciate the outdoors, so they can become informed and engaged champions for our natural resources and communities. Ensuring environmental literacy and education is integrated in all forms of education ensures students will have opportunities to learn about and care for the outdoors.

Example policies:

  • The MD Green Schools Act of 2019 calls for a significant increase in the number of schools that become certified as Green Schools, and provides funding to support environmental learning and student action projects, including teacher professional development and student transformation to and from outdoor environmental learning experiences.
  • CA’s Environmental Literacy Initiative introduced systematic environmental literacy into K-12 schools through the development of Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs) to complement California’s content standards and required the development of a model curriculum. A subsequent bill codified the EP&Cs along with encouraging school districts to promote instruction in environmental literacy, and directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to provide leadership to further the goals of environmental literacy.
  • WI’s Green and Healthy Schools and MA’s Green Ribbon Schools complete the federal Green Ribbon Schools program, which reduces the environmental impact of schools, improves health and wellness, and increases environmental and sustainability literacy.

Emerging ideas: 

  • Consider outdoor experiences and environmental education as core subjects that receive similar assessments and emphasis as math and reading.

Example policies:

  • MD Conservation Corps (MCC) is an award-winning AmeriCorps program that engages young adults in extensive natural resource management and park conservation projects. The mission of the program is to provide both skills training and opportunities for young adults to serve Maryland’s conservation needs.  The program focuses on three critical areas of conservation work: environmental and park infrastructure restoration, trail and waterway improvement, and environmental education and interpretation.
  • Great Outdoors Colorado awards funding to provide youth employment through the Colorado Youth Corps Association to do conservation work. Two $500,000 grants are given to local agencies and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, respectively.

Emerging ideas: 

  • Funding or grant programs that support career counselors and other educators who support career decision-making in gaining knowledge about outdoor and natural resources focused careers.
  • Funding from states for conservation corps, green corps, and other similar organizations.

States in the Lead

Explore the interactive bill library to see states leading the way in youth outdoor policy.