Obama Administration to Offer Free Parks Admission for Kids

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President Obama is launching an “Every Kid in a Park” initiative that will offer free admission to the nation’s national parks to all fourth graders and their families for a full year.

The effort comes in time for the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, as well as an effort to encourage families to enjoy nature.

”Today, more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces. At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens instead of outside. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people now devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week – more than a full time job,” said the White House in a press release.

Beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, the initiative will offer information and resources for teachers and families, allowing them to easily find nearby public lands and waters as well as programs that support youth outings.  In addition, transportation support for schools in need and educational materials will also be supplied, writes Vanessa McGrady for Forbes.

Researchers at the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas found that field trips to cultural institutions have benefits for students that extend beyond an increased education.

“We found that students who attended a school tour at Crystal Bridges demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future,” said Jay Greene, one of the researchers. “We also found that these benefits were much larger, in general, for students from rural areas or high-poverty schools, as well as minority students.”

In his 2016 budget, the President increased the investment for youth engagement programs by $45 million, with $20 million of that specifically provided to the National Park Service for youth activities.  This includes the ability of 1 million fourth-grade children from low-income families to visit national parks.  The money will also go toward a fund for dedicated youth coordinators that will help enrich the learning experiences both in the parks and online.

It is the goal to make the initiative so popular it continues to last so that families of all income sizes can continue to enjoy the national parks for generations to come.

An unlimited pass for the parks are typically $80, although members of the military and people with permanent disabilities can receive one for free.  A lifetime pass for seniors is $10.