In a nutshell, the goal of the Deschutes Children’s Forest organization is this: “To get every kid in Central Oregon outside more,” said the group’s coordinator, Katie Chipko.
The children’s forest is not a place, but rather a collaboration between a number of interested parties, including the Deschutes National Forest, several local school districts, the Bend Park & Recreation District and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, as well as health organizations such as St. Charles Bend.
“We are all working together toward this pretty big goal,” said Chipko. “We just feel crossing streams and climbing trees is so important to mental and physical well-being.”
The Deschutes Children’s Forest began in 2011 after receiving a grant from the U.S. Forest Service. The government agency awarded grants to each region to start children’s forest programs; Chipko says this is the only children’s forest in the Northwest.
Planning for programming began in 2012.
One major effort of the group is to help teachers take their students outside. It offers funding for bus transportation for field trips and also helps with teacher training. At one local school, Ponderosa Elementary, the group has offered training and resources to encourage teachers to teach more classes outside. Chipko estimates most teachers now offer instruction outside the classroom (often in the neighboring Pine Nursery Park) about once a month.
The next step is for children to begin work on creating a field guide to the park, which neighborhood residents can use. Chipko expects kids to work on that element next year. Also next school year, the group will expand to offer a similar outreach at Bear Creek Elementary School and possibly La Pine Elementary School.
The Deschutes Children’s Forest will also reach out to kids beyond the classroom. On April 6, it will host Discover Nature Day at Shevlin Park (see “If you go”).
The goal, Chipko says, is to offer “a positive and fun experience for families that’s free in the outdoors.” The event for grades K-8 and parents will be filled with a variety of nature and outdoor activities. The Bend Park & Recreation District will offer tree planting for Arbor Day, the High Desert Museum will bring birds of prey, the Forest Service will offer kids the ability to earn Junior Forest Ranger badges, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council will help children look for invertebrates in the creek and the Central Oregon Environmental Center will offer predator and prey games.
This will be one of about six similar activities the group will host throughout the summer.
The Deschutes Children’s Forest will also host a screening of the movie “Play Again,” a documentary about nature deficit disorder, on April 5 (see “If you go”). Chipko says the event is a fundraiser.