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Outdoor Learning Improves Health of NC Children

Photo: Pictures of outdoor play space in Randolph County. Courtesy: Randolph County Partnership for Children
Photo: Pictures of outdoor play space in Randolph County. Courtesy: Randolph County Partnership for Children
October 15, 2012

ASHEBORO, N.C. - Thousands of children across North Carolina are learning to play in the dirt again. It's part of a statewide effort to increase the health and nutrition education for children and their families called Shape NC. In Randolph County alone, 4,000 children benefit from the program, which provides outdoor classrooms and specialized education.

Pauline McKee is executive director of the Randolph County Partnership for Children.

"The outdoor learning environments are really critical. The classroom has now moved to the outdoors, so it's serving an educational purpose as well as increasing physical activity."

After peaking in 2005, the number of overweight children in Randolph County is on the decline, McKee says, which she attributes to Smart Start and Shape NC programs. Shape NC is made possible through a partnership with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC) and the North Carolina Partnership for Children.

In addition to funding provided by BCBSNC, Shape NC programs are assisted by community partners like Kelly Contractors, Asheboro. Owner Mac Kelly says his company contributes to the outdoor playgrounds for very personal reasons.

"I've got two young kids myself, and we grew up on a farm - my family did. We're seeing that a lot of kids are lacking some of the natural-type atmosphere."

The outdoor playgrounds incorporate natural features and are constructed with the help of volunteers and donations.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC