Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Art Contest Connects Kids to Nature like Nothing Else

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Art Contest Connects Kids to Nature like Nothing Else

Article excerpt

"Art in the parks is a new avenue for our parks to educate kids and interpret nature," says Chris Holmes, director of interpretation and outreach services for Texas Parks and Wildlife, about the Texas State Parks annual children's nature art contest. The annual event, conducted in cooperation with the Get to Know contest of the Wild Neighbor Society, kicks off nationally May 1, 2016.

The Get to Know contest invites kids "to create original works of art, writing, photography, videography and music inspired by nature." The contest runs through November 1, 2016. All entries are submitted online and kids and students can immediately view their artwork in an online gallery open to all. Prizes--including art supplies, cameras, subscriptions to the National Wildlife Federation's Ranger Rick magazine and more--are awarded at the conclusion of the contest to the top entries.

The Get to Know contest was founded in 1999 in Canada with the support of internationally known wildlife artist Robert Bateman. One of the original purposes of the contest was to encourage kids to learn the names of the common plants, birds and wildlife they encountered every day. The contest has expanded beyond drawings, paintings and photography to include original writing, poetry, video and even music.

This contest has proven an ideal way for park and recreation agencies to develop creative new ways to connect kids to nature and art. "The goal of the contest for us has been to get kids into our parks, either as groups or with their families. When we get people to the park, the park speaks for itself," says Holmes. "People realize that parks are very special places." Holmes noted that some parks offer a bilingual program in Spanish and English. "We try to make sure that language is not a barrier to participation."

The contest now draws almost 5,000 entries nationally, and in recent years, the number of entries inspired by wildlife and nature seen in parks has grown dramatically. Many park and recreation agencies are developing programs around the contest, and some have even gone so far as to hold their own contests that feed into the national event. In addition to Texas Parks and Wildlife, East Bay Regional Park Authority, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and other park agencies have developed annual children's nature art contests and participate in Get to Know.

The Department of Parks and Recreation of M-NCPPC in Prince George's County, Maryland, has developed an extensive children's nature art program based on the Get to Know contest and now engages kids in summer playgrounds, afterschool programs and Extreme Teens programs to create their own nature art for their contest. …

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