Thanks to UA, More are Enjoying It

Nature Has a Way With APS Kids
Posted on 10/24/2022
Image of Connecting Kids With Nature(Bob Jones for News5)

If you love the outdoors in Northeast Ohio, now is a great time to get out of the house and not just for the fall colors.

The fresh air can improve your mood, reduce stress and help you stay more active.

It's also a chance to connect some kids with special needs to nature thanks to a new program taking place at The University of Akron Field Station in the Bath Nature Preserve.

The program called "Connecting Through Nature" is a partnership between the university and the Akron Public Schools District.

About 30 middle school students who have cognitive or physical disabilities are taking part in the nature adventure over a six-week period. About 15 of the students participated in three consecutive Tuesdays. The remainder of the group will show up the following three Tuesdays.

The outdoor activities include hikes and electronic scavenger hunts during which the kids have lists and search for things like acorns, pine cones and sticks as long as their arms.

On a recent chilly Tuesday, they're also roasting some s'mores.

"S'mores go a long way. S'mores and a bonfire go a long way on a cold day," joked Dr. Lara Roketenetz, director of the Field Station.

The program combines hands-on activities and an overall "enjoy the outdoors" experience that some of the kids may not typically have the chance to enjoy, according to Melissa Dreisbach, a visiting UA professor with the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.

"They're city kids so they don't always get to get out, take a bus and go into true nature, and this is just another experience from them to add to their lives that they may not necessarily get to have on a normal everyday basis," Dreisbach said.

Dreisbach came up with the idea because a program that brought APS special needs students to the university for exercise went away a few years ago when UA dropped the physical education major.

Organizers said the physical benefits of the new program are obvious, but the mental health perks are equally important, especially with the isolation concerns caused by COVID-19.

"With COVID, we were all kind of locked in our houses or online doing a lot of things, so this is definitely helping us take the step back to some kind of normalcy," Dreisbach told News 5.

Roketenetz said it's the first time Field Station has hosted a program dedicated to multiple visits with the same kids.

"When you can do it more than once in kind of quick succession, those are things that change hearts and minds, I think," she said.
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