NaturePHL Bringing ‘Nature Prescriptions’ to Local Doctors’ Offices
A new partnership hopes to encourage kids, and their families, to get outside and play.
Some local pediatricians are about to add something to their list of advice for parents: “nature prescriptions” that encourage kids — and their families — to get outdoors.
The average American child spends about 1 percent of their free time outdoors, as recess periods shrink and supervised play has become the norm. The statistic has inspired the creation of NaturePHL, a program providing resources to Philadelphia-area families to get children playing outside every day.
It’s a partnership between the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the United States Forest Service. NaturePHL is projected to reach over 100,000 children in the next three years through online and in-person education.
“Over the past few decades, childhood has moved indoors, and at the same time we’ve seen rates of obesity, depression, anxiety and other health problems amongst kids escalate,” said Aaliyah Green Ross, director of education at the Schuylkill Center. “NaturePHL is bringing childhood back outside by elevating opportunities for families to enjoy our city’s extensive parks and green spaces and by giving families the tools they need to improve their health with active play outdoors.”
Beginning August 1, CHOP clinics are incorporating the discussion of outdoor activities and play into annual checkup screenings for children ages 5 to 12. If a kid isn’t spending enough time outdoors, they will be given a “prescription for nature,” and may be referred to a Nature Navigator, a community health worker who is a coach for families to help them find ways to make nature part of their daily lives.
“As pediatricians, we are always encouraging at least one hour per day of physical activity as recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics,” said Dr. Sharon Sutherland, a pediatrician at CHOP. “But now we can help them in terms of the ‘where’ and ‘how’ to make this happen.”
NaturePHL’s education taskforce has created educational brochures for doctor’s offices and online. The topics include the benefits of getting outdoors, how to create time in your day for nature, outdoor activities for families, safety concerns, and more, ensuring that every family has the information they need to find time to spend outdoors to fit all lifestyles.
NaturePHL’s website is an online resource for the people of Philadelphia to find public parks and green spaces in their community. An interactive map allows users to enter their ZIP code and filter by amenities such as handicap access, pools, community gardens, and more.
“The best way for parents and families to start getting involved is to go on the website and see what types of parks and activities are already in your area,” said Green Ross. “Even though the city of Philadelphia has so many parks and green spaces, most people don’t know about them.”
Another feature of NaturePHL is the collaboration with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to strengthen communities by promoting events and activities that are already happening at local recreation centers such as outdoor yoga, community hikes, and music and arts festivals. But NaturePHL also aims to create new events with the help of Nature Navigators such as pickup soccer games and nature walks to give children safe and clean access to public spaces in their own neighborhoods.
However, the importance of bringing kids outside to play moves even farther beyond personal health benefits: it teaches them the responsibility of caring for the planet and doing their part to help maintain it.
“Kids need to climb trees, play in the dirt, and splash in puddles because positive experiences in nature help form a foundation for a lifetime of environmental stewardship,” Green Ross said.
Find out more at Nature PHL’s website.
Lead photograph by Gwyneth K. Shaw.