Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young recently introduced the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, a positive and unifying vision of what childhood in Baltimore can and should be. Led by the City of Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks, city agencies and many partners have been working with youth, residents and other stakeholders to develop a declaration of the rights of Baltimore children to access healthy outdoor time.
The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights states that children in Baltimore have the right to:
- Breathe fresh air
- Splash in clean streams, ponds, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay
- Explore safe and inviting forests and wild spaces
- Grow a garden and eat fresh fruits and vegetables
- Play in vibrant neighborhoods, schoolyards and parks
- Understand and feel connected to their city’s unique ecosystem
- Develop confidence in outdoor skills and recreation
- Work with neighborhood mentors in nature
- Have space for agency and action
Research shows that children who learn and play in nature are healthier and happier and more likely to thrive in school and their communities. People in communities with access to nature also tend to have increased resilience to trauma and stress and live longer, healthier lives.
In addition, they are more likely to have better attention spans and quality of sleep. According to the National Wildlife Federation, spending time outside raises levels of vitamin D, which helps to protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues. Being outside even improves distance vision.
The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights was introduced in conjunction with Baltimore Wildlife Week in May. During the week, many children took part in the wide array of festivities, illustrating the idea that being close to nature and the outdoors brings positive health benefits, as well as fun and inspiration. Some of the child-friendly events included wildlife-themed dance parties, nature walks, science shows and environmental art pop-ups.
Celebrations like Baltimore Wildlife Week are a great way to start introducing children to the outdoors and the wildlife that share their backyard.
Baltimore residents are no strangers to the array of wildlife that call the area home. The city is known for the Baltimore oriole — the state bird of Maryland, with its distinctive black, white and orange plumage. A few years ago, volunteers planted a 10,000-square-foot oriole habitat next to Camden Yards.
Baltimore is also home to diamondback terrapins, peregrine falcons, checkerspot butterflies, blue crabs, oysters and cownose rays, just to name a few of our more iconic neighbors. Gwynns Falls Urban Forest, the second largest urban forest in the country, offers more than 1,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat, as well as hiking/biking trails, a nature center, an Outward Bound facility, pavilions, historic structures and many other amenities.
Access to clean and welcoming parks, pools, schoolyards and trails supports civic pride. Children who are able and willing to embrace an outdoor lifestyle develop a positive relationship with nature and are more likely to become environmental and community stewards.
Giving children access to the wonders of nature grows their love for wildlife and inspires them to protect wildlife and natural resources. We feel strongly that all children have a right to be proud of where they live.The Children’s Outdoor Bill is the first step of a larger effort to connect children to nature. Baltimore is one of 18 cities participating in the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative, generously supported by the National League of Cities and the Children & Nature Network.The introduction of the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights would not have been possible without the support of the Baltimore Office of Sustainability (housed within the City of Baltimore’s Department of Planning), the City of Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition.
City agencies and our partners are committed to continuing to work toward a city that is equitable, safe and nature-centric for all children and families — it’s a critical part of how we can continue to build a city that is successful for everyone.