Madison Plan submitted, followed by $50K award!


Last February, the City of Madison was one of seven cities awarded a grant to develop a plan to connect children to nature. A community-engaged planning process then ensued, identifying ideas and priorities for the plan.

As a result, Madison and six other cities (Austin, Providence, San Francisco, St. Paul, Louisville, and Grand Rapids) will each receive a $50,000 grant to implement year-one activities. Next steps include hiring a coordinator for implementation, setting uIMG_6477p our process for our initial focus on boosting access to nature, and working with partners to move toward building on existing efforts. Stay tuned for more details!



Madison Connecting Children to Nature: Updates!

We have completed multiple steps in our planning process as one of seven cities participating in a national initiative to Connect Children to Nature. A collaboration between multiple community organizations, led by Public Health Madison & Dane County and Madison Parks, the initiative is developing a plan by mid-August that will shape a path toward boosting time all children spend in nature.  The initiative is sponsored by the Children & Nature Network and the National League of Cities, Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

What’s up, when. The goals and timeline for this initiative will give you a more detailed sense of what’s up and what’s to come.

On March 5, more than 85 community members joined us at Warner Park to identify assets and barriers to connecting children and families to nature, and we dreamed about possibilities. We have summarized themes from March 5 and will more succinctly summarize results soon. Currently, we are conducting community interviews to diversify perspectives. We’re also expanding our look at assets across age groups and settings.

More than 85 community members identified assets, barriers and dreams to connecting all Madison children to nature.

Members of the core planning team are scheduled to meet again on May 17 to review data and articulate goals and objectives for an action plan. After that, there will be periodic updates and we’ll call on those of you who indicated interest to in identifying steps toward financial sustainability of a plan.

Bring on the Youth! In June, we will welcome 6 high school student interns through the City of Madison’s Wanda Fullmore Internship program. If you know of students interested in this program, please forward this information to them! When they apply, they can mention interest in the Children & Nature Initiative on their applications. Their role this summer? Gather insights from youth and community members about the value of nature and the “Commons” to community building. They will work on projects with Centro Hispano and Community Groundworks, along with Public Health and Parks, all guided by staff from the Center for Resilient Cities.

Your chance to engage. If you haven’t yet taken the opportunity to engage youth or others in the community, here are the instructions! We welcome your contributions!

Also, Please save the date: On Tuesday, July 26, from 4-7pm, we’ll host a public review session of a draft plan. It will be fun, social and lively! Location/details to follow! If you know of someone who you think would like to be included in this initiative, ask them to fill out this online survey.

Many thanks to James Mills for coverage of this initiative! We also wanted to share a link if you didn’t have a chance to hear the WPR interview.

Madison Selected as one of 7 Cities to Connect Children to Nature

Check it out! a JOINT NEWS RELEASE from

Madison Parks  &  Public Health – Madison and Dane County

Madison WI – February 10, 2016 – The City of Madison, along with six other U.S. cities, was selected to participate in a “groundbreaking” initiative, Cities Connect Children to Nature.  Sponsored by the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families (IYEF) and the Children & Nature Network, the initiative seeks to give every child the chance to meaningfully connect to nature.

“Madison has a wealth of urban nature,” says Mayor Paul Soglin, “but not all Madison kids get a chance to enjoy it. This initiative will move us in the right direction.”

Muir Elementary’s hard-working students got a boost from volunteers at CUNA Mutual during their 2013 garden build. The initiative was supported by the Madison Community Foundation Madison Metropolitan School District.

As a partnership between Public Health Madison and Dane County, City of Madison Parks and multiple community partners, the initiative recognizes a growing body of scientific research that points toward the powerful benefits that even small amounts of time spent in natural settings can offer.

I’d like to get involved!

“It’s a great opportunity,” says Madison Alder Rebecca Kemble. “The additional resources will add a tremendous amount of value and national collaboration to our efforts to ensure that every child in Madison can connect to restorative, natural places and activities. Because of our rich City Parks system, many of these places are right nearby.” Other cities selected include Austin, TX; Providence, RI; San Francisco, CA; St. Paul, MN; Louisville, KY; and Grand Rapids, MI.

“Nature captures children’s curiosity,” says Mary Michaud, Policy Director for Public Health Madison and Dane County. “Active play in nature helps kids restore their ability to focus, not to mention sleep. Nature play also teaches children how to negotiate all kinds of risk in very safe ways.” Recent research also suggests communities reporting more nature contact also report more social connectedness and less violence.

The planning grant will facilitate a focus on increasing equitable access to nature and engaging youth leaders, emphasizing work with organizations serving youth and families of color. Partners will build a plan to ensure all youth have access to time in nature, developing important skills for leadership and civic action along the way. Phases of the 7-month process include 1) Taking stock, 2) Engaging for action, and 3) Identifying a sustainable city-wide model to support the work. This summer, youth leaders will complete assessments of neighborhood environments and out-of-school time opportunities, actively shaping the results of the City Plan.

“Restorative spaces that benefit children don’t have to be big, and they don’t have to be far,” says Eric Knepp, Superintendent of Madison Parks. “Madison Parks is proud to host this important community discussion on how to better our children’s lives through connecting them to nature.”

On March 5, a kick-off event at Warner Park Community Center will offer a chance for youth and organizational leaders to review Madison’s assets and current challenges to all children spending time in nature. They will begin to identify common priorities and goals, discuss opportunities, clarify obstacles, and prioritize action steps in the plan. Youth and community organizations are encouraged to register for the event.

For information on this free event and tickets see

Can’t come Saturday, March 5?  Answer a brief questionnaire and we’ll be in touch!

Nature is good for you. Article round-up!

Over the past few months, it’s as though we’ve made a big discovery. A pestle of articles about Why Nature is Good For Us has appeared in major national media outlets.


In 2016, we hope you can do something to get kids outside. In the interest of motivating you to action, we’ve put together a nice little reading list for you. Enjoy!

Nadra Kareem Nittle. Math in the Garden: Are School Gardens the New Classrooms? The Atlantic. October 15, 2015.

Jessica Leahy. Teach Kids to Daydream. Mental downtime makes people more creative and less anxious. The Atlantic. October 16, 2013.

Why Adults have to Stop Trying So Hard to Control How Children Play. The Washington Post. December 11, 2015.

Tim Walker. The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland. Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom. The Atlantic. October 1, 2015.

Florence Williams. This Is Your Brain on Nature. National Geographic. January 2016.

Take a Hike for Health: Small Doses of the Outdoors Make a Big Difference. The Seattle Times. December 3, 2015.

Exposure to Nature May Reduce Crime, Strengthen Communities. Huffington Post. December 3, 2015. (From the journal Bioscience.)

Seeing Green: The Importance of Nature for Our Health. Mother Earth News. December 2015/January 2016.

Gayle Worland. Celebrate a Wacky Winter Outdoors. Wisconsin State Journal. January 1, 2016.

City of Madison selected for National Leadership Academy to Connect Children to Nature

Monday, October 5, 2015 – 3:06pm

Madison, WI– The National League of Cities (NLC) and Children & Nature Network have selected Madison to participate in the Connecting Children to Nature Leadership Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah this October. The leadership academy will provide city officials with the skills and knowledge to take up new or expanded leadership roles in improving access to nature in their communities.

Mary Michaud with Public Health Madison & Dane County, Alder Rebecca Kemble, and City Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp visit the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City.
Mary Michaud with Public Health Madison & Dane County, Alder Rebecca Kemble, and City Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp visit the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City.

Over the course of the two-day meeting, City of Madison Alder Rebecca Kemble, Madison Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp, and Public Health Madison & Dane County Policy Director Mary Michaud, will represent Madison. They will learn about promising practices and strategies for connecting children to nature. Participants will work with national experts, attend workshops, conduct field visits and engage in peer learning with city leaders from the seven other cities who have been selected for the leadership academy.

“Kids too often do not have experience associated with this incredible natural world around us,” said National League of Cities President Ralph Becker, mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah. “This effort to connect kids to nature means there will be less screen time for kids and more time spent exploring the great outdoors.”

Benefits for increasing young people’s access to nature include improved health outcomes, such as lower rates of childhood obesity, as well as stronger academic skills and increased opportunities for social and emotional learning.

“Madison’s participation in the Leadership Academy will help us take advantage of our city’s incredible human and natural assets,” said Alder Kemble. “We look forward to bringing back approaches that benefit youth who don’t normally spend time connecting to nature.”

Following the leadership academy, Madison will receive an invitation to apply for planning and implementation grants to support the city’s programs and initiatives focused on connecting children to nature. Additionally, Madison will have the opportunity to join the new NLC Children and Nature Learning Network, which will provide ongoing opportunities for city leaders to learn and receive support from nationally recognized experts in the field and city peers.

The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.

Mary Michaud, 608-280-1461

Save the date! Design workshop for nature-based play

Register now! Simply send an email to Justin Svingen, with: Your name, your organization (if applicable), whether you need child care, and how many children you’ll bring.Design for nature-based play: Flyer for May 9 event Sponsored through a prevention grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Register now! Simply send an email to Justin Svingen, with: Your name, your organization (if applicable), whether you need child care, and how many children you’ll bring.

Children need movement to learn, develop and grow

How many times have you watched a child sit in a classroom chair, fighting the urge to move? It strikes a visceral chord in many of us who remember that awful tension that crept up through your neck and out through your arms. Sometimes it felt like you wanted to scream.


A recent article describes how school settings have continued to restrict movement in children and outlines why heavy gross motor play is essential to overall development.

It turns out that the strong, undeniable urge to move that we all remember helps children get what they need every day. Movement through play–especially play rich in sensory input–is one of the primary means for children to learn and achieve appropriate developmental milestones.

How can we better understand and address the ways our school schedules, environments and adult-centric views limit the opportunity for children to get what they need?

Ever heard of place-based education? Now you have.

Imagine you take a group of fourth graders out into the neighborhood around their school. You begin to tell them about the animals that live in the neighborhood. At least three hawk species, four owl species, anyIMG_6430 number of migratory songbirds, and a world of trees just waiting to be identified. You tell the kids that if they followed the path of rain water that runs into the storm sewer, they would wind up in Lake Mendota.

It’s hilly, and kids are winded after walking up a big hill. Old red and white oaks reach out over ranch homes, dwarfing locusts and maples planted when the homes went in.

“Flying squirrels call those oaks home.” That gets them. The questions start popping. “Where do the squirrels sleep? How do they fly?”

“What do the hawks and owls eat? Why do they live here?”

“How can you tell the difference between a red and a white oak?”

You help them imagine this land before houses were built. For a hundred years, the land was farmed. Before that, oak savannah filled the space with high, swaying grasses and sprawling, sturdy oaks.

“Some of the oldest oaks are 150 years old,” you say, looking up. “They were here far before people ever dreamed of building houses on this land. In fact, they could have been saplings during the Civil War.” Another cascade of questions. New eyes on the places they live in and walk through every day.

Place-based education captures what is already in a place and helps students generate knowledge, rather than consume it. Teachers act as guides or co-learners, changing the dynamic of power among learner and educator. Students direct the inquiry, generating fodder for real-world problem-solving. Teachers who practice place-based education indicate that students feel valued. They come to a far deeper understanding of place and its importance in the life of the community. And evidence suggests it works.

For more about place-based education, see: