Leave No Child Inside – Greater Cincinnati

Outdoor play in nature makes kids Happier, Healthier and Smarter!

We know that unstructured outdoor play leads to happier, healthier and smarter children! Leave No Child Inside wants to encourage a return to the joyful, creative outdoor play activities that should be the birthright of all children. The Child-Friendly Backyard contest is a fun way to encourage parents to allocate space for these safe, unstructured play areas. The measure of success for a Child-Friendly Backyard is that it will be a place your children and their friends will want to spend time playing, imagining and learning for many years to come! Judging is based upon your use of space, not the size of your yard. To see photos of last year’s contest winners, click here. For ideas on how to create a Child-Friendly Backyard, click here.

Entry forms must be submitted by August 15, 2009. The entries will be judged by Corina Bullock of the Civic Garden Center, Roberta Paolo of Granny’s Garden School and Susan Vonderhaar, of Dater Montessori. To be eligible for awards, yards must be within a thirty mile radius of Downtown Cincinnati. Winners will be recognized at an awards ceremony in the fall of 2009.

Download entry form »

Gardening provides different forms of engagement for children, including designing, planting, and maintaining gardens; harvesting, preparing, and sharing food; working cooperatively in groups; learning about science and nutrition; and creating art and stories inspired by gardens. Click here to read more about this report from the Children, Youth and Environments Center for Research and Design.

Cincinnati Public Schools Fifth Quarter Program Includes EarthSmart Institute


Jim Shelton meets with Fifth Quarter Planners and CPS Parents.

Jim Shelton meets with Fifth Quarter Planners and CPS Parents

In an innovative program designed to stem the loss of learning that takes place during the summer for many students, Cincinnati Public Schools offered a Fifth Quarter, targeting grades K-7 at thirteen* schools. The voluntary program included enrichment opportunities intended to close the achievement gap between low-income and more economically advantaged students. A recent Johns Hopkins University study found that 65 percent of the achievement gap between poor and more advantaged ninth-graders is due to unequal summer learning experiences during elementary school years. By the fifth grade, low-income children can be 2-1/2 years behind their middle and upper-income peers.

Pleasant Ridge Montessori Students Plant Garden

Pleasant Ridge Montessori Students Plant Garden

Seizing the opportunity to provide children with valuable environmental education and healthy outdoor activities, Leave No Child Inside-Greater Cincinnati partnered with Cincinnati Public Schools and CincyAfterSchool (overseen by the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati) to establish the EarthSmart Institute. With assistance from Greater Cincinnati Environmental Educators and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, LNCIgc provided the schools with a menu of over sixty school outreach programs and more than thirty-five field trip opportunities, many of which were offered free of charge. In an effort to encourage problem-solving, creativity and outdoor physical activity, LNCIgc also helped each school to identify a “nearby nature” location for the students to visit. There, students completed a series of self-directed activities, using an EarthSmart Institute Passport as a roadmap to discovering “nature in the neighborhood” and learning how human behavior impacts the environment. Fifth Quarter concluded on Friday, June 26, with grades four through seven attending the Paddlefest Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo. EarthSmart Institute “graduates” were presented with acertificate signed by Superintendent Mary Ronan and Mayor Mark Mallory, and participating schools received recognition from Governor Ted Strickland.


Pleasant Ridge Montessori Students Show Off Muddy Hands

Planning for the EarthSmart Institute, the Passport and graduation certificates were all donated to Cincinnati Public Schools. Many community organizations deserverecognition for their support of Fifth Quarter, but special recognition is due to the Fifth Quarter Planning Team: TheCincinnati Park Board, theFoundation for Ohio River Education (formerly ORSANCO),ALLYDater Montessori Nature CenterCincyAfterSchool and theOhio Department of Natural Resources. Special thanks also to the Paddlefest Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo planning team: Hamilton County Park DistrictOhio River Way, Inc. and the Paddlefest Steering Committee. All of these groups volunteered many hours of staff time to support this important and innovative initiative. We would also like to thank Greater Cincinnati Water Works for donating the cost of printing the EarthSmart Institute Passport.

*Sixteen schools were originally targeted for this program, but three of them are now in redesign and were removed from Fifth Quarter.


Ethel M. Taylor Academy Students Show Off The Covers They Made for Their EarthSmart Institute Passports

On Saturday, May 2, 2009, over 120 child care professionals gathered at the Oasis Conference Center for 4C for Children?s “Bringing the Outdoors Back In” conference. Keynote speaker Ken Finch discussed the importance of unstructured play in nature to the physical, emotional, social and cognitive development of children and how it can be brought into the child care setting. Workshops on topics such as “Facilitating Inquiry and Unstructured Play in the Outdoor Environment”, “Natural Playscapes”, and “Way to Grow! Promoting Healthy Weights in Child Care Settings” provided participants with new ways of looking at outdoor play and how to use play spaces effectively. “I learned more than I thought I would – I have never been to a conference or workshop on the outdoors – it was wonderful!” exclaimed one attendee. Another commented “I just loved all the hands-on activities and the information on what we can do to improve our outdoor play areas”.

The conference, co-sponsored by Leave No Child Inside – Greater Cincinnati and the Arlitt Child and Family Research and Education Center, proved so popular that 4C is now running a series of follow-up workshops on “Nurturing Nature in the Wonder Years”, and at least one child care center is inviting their community to a program which will educate parents about the importance of unstructured play to the cognitive development of children. “Many of our parents believe that their children need more classroom time – they do not understand the importance of free play”. Leave No Child Inside – Greater Cincinnati is providing the keynote speakers and materials for that program.

Workshop participants see nature as ar

An emissary from the Obama administration today praised Cincinnati Public Schools’ expanded summer-school program as a creative way to keep kids in class longer, a major administration priority.

During a tour of Pleasant Hill Academy in College Hill, where students were finishing their last day of Fifth Quarter summer school, Jim Shelton credited CPS for finding a good use for increased federal aid included in February’s economic stimulus package.

“We’re trying to get different districts and schools to think about different ways to increase learning time,” said Shelton, assistant deputy education secretary for innovation. “And they seem to be really creative about it, and think systemically about it as a district.”

Since mandatory classes ended in May, Cincinnati’s 13 most persistently failing schools have invited students back for an extra month.

The stimulus included a two-year, $21 million boost in regular aid for high-poverty schools for CPS, allowing the district to expand its usual summer programs.

The Fifth Quarter classes last a full day, include students’ own teachers from the school year and make extensive use of quasi-academic enrichment programs like gardening and nutrition lessons to augment reading and math instruction. The expansion cost CPS $1.5 million.

During Shelton’s tour, Pleasant Hill students were planting flower pots, learning how plants grow, while in another room, students were making salads and learning about the food groups. The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati oversees the out-of-class curriculum at most of the schools.

This year, about 250 of the school’s 750 students came back – up from about 80 in previous summer sessions, said Pleasant Hill Principal Cherese Clark.

“My son wakes me up in the morning to tell me it’s time to go,” said Leonard Dean, a parent at the school.

Later in the day, older students from all 13 Fifth Quarter schools went to Paddlefest at Coney Island, where they did environmental science projects and celebrated the end of classes.

CPS is using the rest of the stimulus’ boost in poverty aid to overhaul its three “redesign” schools, Superintendent Mary Ronan said. Those three schools, Mount Airy, Rothenberg and South Avondale, will start classes earlier, shrink class sizes and offer foreign-language classes.

The Obama administration is pressing districts to use its stimulus dollars to experiment, rather than fill existing budget holes. Then, after the money runs out, they can replace less effective programs with the experiments, if successful, Shelton said.

It’s common knowledge that nature can help us focus our attention. Ask most of us what kind of environment we visualize during meditation, and it would be “nature”.Read this fascinating article linking nature to brain function and how that information relates to our increasingly urban world.

We know that unstructured outdoor play leads to happier, healthier and smarter children! Last summer, Leave No Child Inside ? Greater Cincinnati sponsored a Child-Friendly Backyard Contest as a fun way to encourage parents to allocate space in their yards for safe, unstructured play. On Wednesday, October 15, 2008, the contest winners were announced and received recognition at the Cincinnati Horticultural Society’s Amateur Gardener’s Awards Ceremony.

Since the key words for a Child-Friendly Backyard are “creative” and “unstructured”, the contest guidelines were minimal! The ultimate measure of success for a Child-Friendly Backyard is that it is a place where children want to spend time playing, imagining and learning. The contest was judged based upon creative use of space, not the size of the yard. Some other considerations were:

  • The involvement of children in the design process;
  • A safe place that also allows for free, undefined and imaginative play;
  • Utilization of natural materials and space, making the most of available and accessible resources;
  • Evidence that other creatures and other children were also attracted to the space.

Two families were chosen as winners of the contest: The Harrison Family of Wyoming and the Mays Family of Loveland.  The judges also identified three families deserving of Honorable Mention (listed in alphabetical order):  The Dustman Family of Clifton, the McNett/Eicher Family of Loveland and the Miller Family of New Richmond.

Our judges, Corina Bullock of the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati, Roberta Paolo of Granny’s Garden School in Loveland and Susan Vonderhaar, coordinator of the Carson/Dater Montessori Nature Center, agreed that they enjoyed seeing the various child friendly backyards and said that the families truly enjoyed showing off their efforts! They commended them all on making the outdoors a priority in their family’s lives.

Their advice to other families interested in creating a Child-Friendly Backyard is to not let size or resources inhibit you from seeing the potential that lies in your space. Use resources you can find to create an open ended play area that has no clearly defined purpose, but where imaginations can take hold – like a fallen log and ornamental grasses. Create nooks and special places in your garden using plantings like a climbing tree or theme gardens. Their best advice: Include children in the dreaming process and you won’t be short of ideas!

The Winners

The Harrison Family Yard

The Harrisons of Wyoming did a wonderful job in the integration of areas for adults and children.  Their more adult focused outdoor space featured nooks and crannies that, with the power of imagination, a child could turn into a magical place.  In their garden design, they incorporated wildlife with a “bird store”, a “butterfly beach” and a garden for their pet rabbit.  With children older than most of other applicants, they also exhibited creative uses of raw materials through garden arts and crafts.

The Mays Family Yard

Even though the Mays Family had been in their Main St. house in Loveland for 2 months, their yard is a magnetic place for their children and for children from the neighborhood.  They demonstrated optimal use of a small area by using plantings, such as ornamental grasses, to create the illusion of separation and space.  The yard highlighted various gardens, grassy areas for play and special places in which children had ownership, all while being visible for subtle parental supervision.  Evidence of the children’s involvement and the communal nature of the Mays’ yard is their 10 year old daughter’s comment, “It takes a family to have a fun backyard”.

Honorable Mentions

The judges also identified three families deserving of Honorable Mention (listed in alphabetical order):

The Dustman Family

The Dustman Family of Clifton put great thought into promoting creativity through their playhouse structure.  In easy viewing distance from the patio area, the children have ownership of that space.  The judges all agreed that the hardscape of stone walls and steps was a subtle natural play area and a great asset to the yard.

The McNett/Eicher Family

The McNett/Eicher Family of Loveland maintained the integrity of the natural landscape and the neighborhood environment.  They were able to keep the front as a manicured lawn and dedicated the back to enhancing their children’s play.  They did a good job of balancing a defined sand play area and fountain with natural wooded paths, food producing gardens and wild flower gardens.

The Miller Family

The Miller Family of New Richmond was working with a large amount of space and took full use of it!  While staying true to the natural landscape of the wooded sloping hillside, the Millers designed various defined spaces – fire pit, picnic area, swing set, sand pit, etc.  The judges appreciated their use of natural building materials ranging from wooden railings to stone enforced pond.


Leave No Child Inside-Greater Cincinnati is a collaborative of individuals        and organizations educating the community that time spent in nature        is essential for the physical, mental and emotional health of all      children. The collaborative includes:

  • Cincinnati Horticultural Society
  • Cincinnati Museum Center
  • Cincinnati Nature Center
  • Cincinnati Observatory Center
  • Cincinnati Park Board
  • Cincinnati Recreation Commission
  • Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
  • Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati
  • Environmental Education Council of Ohio
  • Granny’s Garden School
  • Greater Cincinnati Environmental Educators
  • Green Umbrella
  • Hamilton County Department of Environmental
  • Services, Solid Waste Management District
  • Hamilton County Park District
  • Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Imago
  • Keep Cincinnati Beautiful
  • Mill Creek Restoration Project
  • Oxbow, Inc.

By Julie Eldridge

Early Childhood Educator at Cincinnati Nature Center

It wasn’t long ago that I could slip on my hiking boots, snap the leash on my dog’s collar and head out for a hike. The wind rustling through the trees, the gurgling water in the stream and the birds chattering all around soothed my soul and quieted my mind.

That was about 2½ years ago. Now I run through my checklist: diapers … check, wipes … check, snack … check, sippy cup … check, and when I’m really on the ball, extra outfit for falls in the mud … check. All this takes place while my eternally patient dog gives me an annoyed glare, as if to say, “Do we really have to keep this little person? He makes everything more complicated.”

Obviously, my hikes these days are not as quiet and soothing, but they are exciting in a new way. My son delights in seeing new things and checking back on what we have discovered on past hikes. He and I have share so much, I feel compelled to share some of our favorite ways for you and your baby or toddler to explore nature this fall.


Find a small tree or low hanging branch. Grasp the trunk or branch and gently shake. The leaves will tumble down all around your toddler or baby. Have the camera ready for some really neat pictures.

Stop and Smell the…

Flowers are nice, but there are many other distinct smells in nature for you and your little one. Scratch the green husk of a walnut to smell its spicy scent. Crush or tear leaves to emit a strong smell. Evergreen needles, sap or cones offer wonderful scents as well.

Mrs. Squirrel

Babies and toddlers love to watch squirrels and fall is the perfect time to do so! Next time you see a squirrel busily collecting nuts, describe to your child what she is doing. Then pull out a squirrel puppet. Your toddler will delight in collecting nuts and giving them to Mrs. Squirrel. The puppet can pretend to bury them or eat them right away. Be sure to have the puppet talk to your child and thank her for the help. This can also be done to help your little one understand nest building. Have the squirrel collect leaves and tuck them in a low crotch of a small tree within your child’s sight. Be sure the squirrel describes what she is doing, “Here I go, up, up, up the tree with my leaves. This is the perfect spot for my house. I’ll put the leaves right here. They’ll make a nice soft bed.” Next, encourage your little one to collect leaves and give them to Mrs. Squirrel. Your toddler will love helping and learning what squirrels eat and where they live.

Describe It

By simply describing to your baby what she sees, hears, smells or touches can help build her vocabulary. “This tree is big. Its branches go up into the sky.” “Those geese are loud. They say honk, honk.” “This rock is cold.” Words like big, little, rough, smooth, loud, soft, wet and dry are perfect. For a talkative toddler, ask her to describe what she is experiencing. Asking questions like, “Is the pond water hot or cold?” will easily encourage her. Be sure to give her new words to use by saying things like, “Ouch, that’s prickly. Can you feel how prickly it is?”

Find the Match

My son loves to find things that match. Often it’s that his yellow shirt matches the yellow school bus. The millions of leaves all around in the fall set the stage to play this game outside. Pick up a leaf that has fallen and ask your child to find one that matches. You can encourage her to find one with a matching color or shape.

Tickle, Tickle

A grass leaf, seed head or white pine needles make perfect ticklers. If your little one dislikes being tickled, encourage her to tickle you. She’ll love it!

Touch This

Sweet gum balls, elm leaves, a maple leaf covered with spiky insect galls, bark or a smooth rock are all wonderful items for your youngster to touch. The variety of textures is an excellent form of stimulation for babies. However, please be aware that some plants are poisonous and small natural items can be a choking hazard.

Walking Stumps

After a large tree died in our yard, we had it cut down with specific instructions to leave as many two-foot cross-sections of the trunk as possible. We placed these “stumps” in a circle in our yard. My son has climbed round and round on these stumps hundreds of times. The circle has also turned into a place to discover wild visitors.

Our hikes these days soothe my soul in a different way, as it is good to know that my little one is connecting to the natural world, a world that will teach him so much.

Article by Julie Eldridge

Early Childhood Educator at Cincinnati Nature Center

While April showers may bring May flowers, springtime also brings the season of MUD! Look away for one second and your child is ankle deep in it. Squelch, squerch, plop! His shining eyes and joyful giggles speak to every child’s innate desire to get their hands dirty. So forget about the caked-on laundry and mess that will inevitably be tracked into the house. Instead, put him in his worst-of-the-worst play clothes and some sturdy rubber boots and head outside together for some fun and messy lessons.

At the first sighting of the ooey-gooey stuff, he is sure to start in with some grand tromping, marching and jumping. Soon he looks down and notices his heavy mud-caked boots. While standing still to assess his sticky situation, an insect zips in and daintily lands in the mud. Your child is amazed as he watches the creature gather mud into a ball using her front legs and mandibles, then flies off with her load. Her destination isn’t far, as she comes to rest under the overhang of a shed. She carefully molds the mud into place on her tube-like nest. It is an Organ-pipe Mud-dauber wasp. Load by load, she busily builds each tube where she will later lay her eggs.

The wasp’s nest building reminds you of another muddy nest. On a whim, you both trudge over to nearby shrubs. Delighted, your child discovers a Robin’s nest. Robins, too, gather mud, along with dry grass, twigs and moss, to construct their nests. Roll up your child’s sleeves and encourage him to gather his own twigs, dry grass and all-important mud. See if you and your little one can make a nest worthy of a Robin. After some trial and error, you both discover just the right recipe to create a nest that holds its shape. Imagine how much more challenging it would be if you had to use your mouth to build a nest, just like the birds. Yuck!

The two of you head out again, and are baffled to discover mud towers or tubes rising 4-6 inches from the ground. Each has a hole in the center about two inches in diameter. “Snake hole,” your child declares. Not quite. This is actually a crayfish chimney. Crayfish burrow into moist soils, pushing the soil up into a chimney as they go. Digging down to find the crayfish is not recommended, as some burrows go many feet under ground. Instead, try to build one of your own.

As your child searches for just the right mud for a chimney, he stumbles upon tracks. A closer look reveals the track-making creature has five toes on each foot. Before tromping on the tracks, encourage your child to place his hands in the mud and make handprints next to the animal’s footprints. He marvels at how similar the animal tracks are to his own handprints.

The tracks were made by a raccoon and quietly, you both begin stalking the tracks. Your child discovers the raccoon was headed to the pond. As you approach, there’s a sudden leap. Splash! A bullfrog dives for cover. You spot another sitting like a statue in the mud, eyeing you as you eye it. Bullfrogs are well acquainted with the mud. Just a couple months ago, when the pond was covered with ice, they were snuggled down in its muddy depths. The warming water coaxes them out. Now the males serenade, “Jug-o-rum, jug-o-rum,” calling to attract a mate. To discover more about frogs and to hear and see these creatures yourself, join us for the Frog Foray at Rowe Woods.

The mud drying and cracking on your clothes and hands signal it’s time to get cleaned up. As you head inside, your child recounts the day’s discoveries. The lessons learned on this day of unstructured play will stick with him long after the messy hands and dirty clothes are clean again.

On Saturday, April 5, over 75 Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts at the Dan Beard Scout Reservation and over 30 Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts at Camp Michaels learned about conservation while helping our camps at the spring Camp Conservation Day.

Hundreds of sapling trees were planted along the banks of the Little Miami River. Scouts also staked protective tubes over the trees to protect them from hungry deer and the elements.

Invasive honeysuckle was removed from the woods around the Mountain Man Village at Cub World, preparing the area for new natural growth.

Everyone was treated to a hot lunch, prepared with an emphasis on environmental soundness and using only biodegradable products.

Scouts camping for the weekend were invited to a cracker barrel on Saturday evening.

The Dan Beard Council future conservationalists.