Barrington, Lake Zurich group reacquaints kids with the outdoors
Arlington Heights resident Jim Vanderpoel helps with the net Aug. 18 during Citizens for Conservation's "creek seining" fishing class at the Fox River in Carpentersville. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 31, 2012 8:08AM
BARRINGTON — Leave No Child Inside, a multi-state initiative encouraging children and families to get outdoors, has continued to expand in the Barrington and Lake Zurich areas since its inception four years ago.
“More people are becoming aware of the importance of spending time outside,” said Pat Winkelman, a cofounder of the local effort.
“The first thing that comes to mind is KidFest,” said Winkelman, explaining that the program’s annual outdoor celebration for children drew about 900 participants in early May to Citizens Park in Barrington. The first year, she added, attracted around 300.
Leave No Child Inside is an initiative of Chicago Wilderness, an alliance that aims to bring environmental protection and education to the region. Several organizations, including area schools, libraries, park districts and forest preserves, have teamed up in recent years.
“They all feel that getting back to nature is important,” Winkelman said.
Susan Lenz, a local teacher and volunteer member of the organization’s board, said she has worked with many area children to encourage them to spend time outside. She maintains that many parents have grown comfortable with allowing their kids to stay inside for television and video games.
“It’s not as comfortable for kids to be outside anymore,” said Lenz.
“It’s all to get kids and families outside to enjoy nature,” she added. “It trickles down. Kids become curious and they want to go outside, and we’re very lucky to have so many places to go to.”
Winkelman said the organization hosts events all year long. She said one program last winter at the Flint Creek Wildlife Center in Barrington featured a mile walk in which kids and their parents learned about various hawks and owls that live in the area. A Barn owl that had been trained to fly from hand to hand was brought on the walk.
“It was quite the experience,” Winkelman said. “Everyone just bundled up and it was very successful.”
Summer and fall events include seine-fishing at the Fox River and activity workshops for educators. Many local municipalities, Winkelman added, have dedicated June as Leave No Child Inside month.
“It’s interwoven into the community with the goal of reacquainting children with nature,” said Winkelman, adding that the organization has the ultimate goal of breaking the barrier that has, in recent years, built up between modern families and the outdoors.
“Sometimes it’s nice just to turn the phone off and go out,” Winkelman said. “Plus, it gives parents and children that one-on-one time they sometimes don’t have as much of anymore.”
Winkelman, who is serves as vice president of the Barrington-based nonprofit Citizens for Conservation, said she believes being out in nature calms children down. Also, she said, familiarization with nature helps eliminate any fears they might have of it.
“That’s what we’re trying to overcome,” Winkelman said. “That fear of the unknown.”