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Connecting Urban Families to Nature with Nature Smart Libraries

Have you ever tried to plant pumpkin seeds from the pumpkins you carved for Halloween? As a child I loved to pretend I was successfully growing my own patch of pumpkins each fall in my parents’ backyard. I would plant the pumpkin seeds I had collected around an old tree stump and wait for them to grow (they never did).

Having steady access to nature is something I took for granted as a child growing up in a rural community. Not all children have easy access to nature, and some communities are impacted more than others.

A growing body of research suggests that regularly spending time in nature can help children be happier, healthier and perform better in school. It’s no secret, however, that today’s children have become disconnected with nature. They spend more time indoors connected with devices than outside playing in and learning about the environment that sustains them.

Families in urban areas also face the challenge of having less natural space to explore in more densely developed, growing cities. And for some urban communities, connecting children and families with nature is a challenge that goes beyond the disappearance of green spaces.

Not all children have equitable access to nature. Low-income communities and communities of color face greater disparity in nature access in urban environments. This means children in these communities grow up with even less access to nature than their urban peers, facing diminished access to the benefits of nature.

Through the Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative cities across the country are leading efforts to make it easier for all children regardless of race or economic status to experience the benefits of nature in an urban environment, including some of our very own: Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

One strategy cities are employing to facilitate equitable access to nature in these communities is creating Nature Smart Libraries. Libraries are a familiar, locally trusted place in communities and by making them “nature smart,” children and their families have an opportunity to interact with nature through library resources and programming.

In September, the City of San Antonio launched their Nature Smart Libraries pilot in areas deemed to be of greatest need. Their objective is to reach communities through libraries by articulating the benefits of children in nature and growing awareness of where green spaces exist that are available to them nearby or through mass transit. Currently, the libraries offer not only nature books but also programming by local nature sites. Ultimately, the libraries will also offer trips to other nature sites.

By increasing awareness of the benefits of nature and facilitating opportunities for families to find and explore nature on a more regular basis, the City of San Antonio hopes to improve the equity and quality of those experiences throughout the city for all families to be able to enjoy and reap the rewards of nature.

You, too, can find places for your family and kids to explore and connect with nature near you on a regular basis. Visit NatureRocksTexas.org and get exploring soon!