The mission of the Children’s Forest of Central Oregon is to unite our community to inspire lifelong connections to nature for all kids. We are a network of 25+ public, private, and non-profit organizations working to connect children and families to nature through learning, exploration, and play. With the average American child spending 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen, we believe that ALL of our kids, families, and communities will grow healthier and happier if we get families outside more often. We focus strongly on equity and inclusion, working to connect underserved audiences to impactful experiences in nature. We define nature broadly, from backyard gardens to neighborhood parks to neighboring National Forests.
Envision a world in which every child is inspired by nature to become a healthy individual and create a sustainable future.
- Promote equitable access to outdoor experiences
- Inspire kids and families to spend more time in nature
- Improve health outcomes in youth and families through engagement with nature
- Build capacity across our network of partners to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion related to our mission
Our Values and Beliefs
Equity guides our work. Not all kids have equal access to the outdoors, and not everyone feels safe and welcome in outdoor spaces. It is imperative that we work together to dismantle the systems and barriers that create inequitable access.
Outdoor time is essential for our health. The health and wellbeing of children, families, and communities improves when people connect to the outdoors.
Time outdoors looks and feels different for every person.We recognize and value the diversity of ways and places people connect with nature. We strive to create a more inclusive narrative for what time outdoors looks like.
Nature-based curriculum strengthens core education programs. Learning in the outdoors enhances educational outcomes by improving children’s academic performance, focus, behavior, and love of learning.
Outdoor engagement builds the next generation of leaders. Youth need regular and positive experiences in the outdoors to develop an appreciation of the natural world, stewardship ethics, and an interest in careers in natural resources.
Collaboration and inclusion are essential to our success.No one organization can achieve our mission alone. Our work to lift up individuals and organizations who bring diverse perspectives and skills and create a culture of respect and continuous learning.
The Children’s Forest of Central Oregon (formally known as Deschutes Children’s Forest), began in May of 2011 when Deschutes National Forest, partnering with Discover Your Northwest, was awarded a national grant to become one of only twelve Forest Service sponsored demonstration Children’s Forests in the country. As the first nationally recognized Children’s Forest in the Pacific Northwest, the Children’s Forest of Central Oregon (CFCO) emerged out of a dynamic coalition of committed and diverse partners. In a unique twist, the health care industry joined together with educators, natural resource and recreation professionals, and conservationists to develop the Children’s Forest of Central Oregon for the benefit of healthy minds, healthy bodies and healthy forests.
Our coalition came together because local and national trends indicate that time spent outdoors is in steep decline, while at the same time environmental literacy is dropping. This cultural shift toward the indoors, and an increasingly sedentary population, is associated with a host of physical and mental health problems in our youth including rising obesity rates, asthma, type 2 diabetes, as well as anxiety, attention deficit disorder, bullying and depression. But why is this happening? Health experts warn that excessive recreational screen time and the allure of screen media is both unhealthy and addictive. And many argue it directly competes with the kind of outdoor experiences that were once the norm in childhood. The Children’s Forest of Central Oregon seeks to change this. Given our region’s rich natural resources, dynamic conservation education programs and strong partnerships, we possess the collective capacity to reverse this trend and address what Richard Louv has famously coined “nature-deficit disorder.”
Since 2011, the Children’s Forest of Central Oregon has grown to include 27 community partners from across Central Oregon. Run by a small “backbone” staff, it has been designed to add value to the work of existing organizations and agencies by providing increased coordination, additional funding, and intentional focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In 2014, The Children’s Forest of Central Oregon was awarded the U.S. Forest Service Chief’s Award for Youth Engagement, which is the highest honor awarded in the Forest Service.