In a time when technology and online worlds too often dominate the everyday, many children are finding it difficult to connect with nature. Among the desire to play online video games with friends and pursue connections through social media, there are groups and organizations with a mission to make nature-based experiences more easily accessible. Project ASCENT, a nonprofit corporation based in Thompson Falls, is focused on reconnecting children with the natural world.

Spending time in nature provides a way to positively impact the mind, body and spirit of youth. A healthy exposure to vitamin D promotes bone health and helps minimize issues related to diabetes and heart disease; exposure to outdoor settings may be effective in reducing ADHD symptoms; and playing in the dirt can significantly improve a child’s mood and reduce anxiety and stress.

The Children & Nature Network provides research on the benefits of nature exposure in children. This resource and others offer data showing that time in nature significantly increases children’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. From improved cognitive ability and self-esteem, to reduced stress and cortisol levels, the benefits of nature exposure for youth are diverse.

A couple of young girls search for bugs along side a creek with plastic tubs and nets.

Photo: Rob Christensen

Project ASCENT aims to provide children with meaningful experiences in nature that are accessible through free camping, kayaking, and backpacking trips, nature walks, and hands-on outdoor education. “We write grants, do fundraisers, and hold online campaigns year-round to offer our adventures completely free each summer, so children can have these opportunities, regardless of socio-economic status,” said Rob Christensen, founder of Project ASCENT. “It’s amazing to see how connected kids from different walks of life can be when they are all experiencing the same thing at the same time in nature.”

“We’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of nature on children’s lives” said Richard Louv, PhD, author of Last Child in the Woods. “By providing opportunities for children to explore, play, and connect with the natural world, we are nurturing a generation that values and protects our planet.”

For youth, time in nature instills a sense of ownership, agency, and belonging to the natural world. Project ASCENT uses hands-on experiences, including activities like micro-trash scavenger hunts, flora and fauna identification, and habitat restoration lessons to help children connect with the environment around them.

According to the American Psychological Association, cases of stress and anxiety are increasing among both children and adolescents. Outdoor programs allow opportunities for quiet reflection, natural mindfulness, and sensory exploration. Whether it’s listening to the rustle of leaves in the wind, feeling the warmth of the reflecting sun on the riverbank, or watching the dance of the waves on a high mountain lake, children are encouraged to engage their senses and explore their concept of self in the natural world.

As our bustling world becomes ever more complex and disconnected, nature offers a sanctuary, a playground, and a classroom all rolled into one. A safe place to explore oneself and develop a connection with something bigger and more important. To help children connect to the benefits of nature, look for outdoor youth opportunities like camps or nature discovery events through local organizations, cities, colleges, and museums. Or start simply with hiking a nearby trail, camping in the backyard or eating dinner at the park.

For more information on the evidence and benefits of outdoor play from the National Wildlife Federation, visit

A group of young children kayak down a calm river surrounded by tall green trees, with an adult, all in green kayaks.

Photo: Rob Christensen


Rob Christensen is the Project Ascent Executive Director.