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No Child Left Inside aims to connect Minnesota kids to nature

The No Child Left Inside grant program doesn't seem to be as controversial as the No Child Left Behind Act.

The latter was federal law for K-12 public education from 2001 to 2015 with the goal of closing the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility and choice, so that no child is left behind.

The other one simply aims to get more kids exploring the great outdoors to improve overall mental and physical health.

In 2019, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the NCLI program — multiple mini grants that have reached over 12,000 youth the last couple of years, as well as larger grants that have funded bigger projects.

Last spring, the 2021 Minnesota Legislature approved an additional appropriation of $900,000 to continue the program.

“We've had a great response to the first couple phases of the grant program and we’re excited to be able to continue to support getting more kids outdoors,” said Jeff Ledermann, DNR education and skills team supervisor. "These mini grants are here to boost outdoor programs and initiatives all around the state, especially in communities with limited opportunities to connect with nature."

Jordan Public Schools took advance of the program, applying for a mini grant which helped build the Scott West Nordic ski program.

Last winter, the co-operative between Jordan and Belle Plaine featured 20 skiers, 12 boys and eight girls, in its inaugural season.

“The strength and endurance gained by participating in Nordic ski during the winter months benefit their spring, summer and fall sports,” Scott West Coach Lisa Jamison said. “Our hope is to make this sport and our team atmosphere really fun and rewarding, so the athletes develop a love for this lifelong sport and encourage their classmate to join as well."


Although many of NCLI grants tend to be geared toward fishing and hunting, Ledermann said grants can be awarded to a wide range of outdoor activities which can be given to schools, nonprofits and other community organizations.

"There's been a lot of interest in these grants right from the start," Ledermann said. "That's why we went back to the Legislature to get approval for additional funding.

"Education doesn't always have to be in a classroom," Ledermann added. "We've always looked for ways for more outdoor learning opportunities."

Since 2019, some grants have been awarded to high school fishing and trap shooting teams, improvements for cross country ski trails and even something as simple as purchasing benches for outdoor classrooms. Grants have also been given out for transportation needs and expenses for related natural resource education.

At Andover High School, a science teacher received a $5,000 grant to purchase equipment for his annual February camping expedition for students to go to the Boundary Waters.

Applications for grants this year can be submitted through Dec. 2. Awards are given on a first-come, first-serve basis with the minimum request of $500 and the maximum being $5,000.

For more information or to apply for a grant, go to dnr.state.mn.us/r3/index.


Outdoor education can have many benefits. For decades, the National Wildlife Federation has worked to connect youth, as well as adults, to nature. It has a three-year goal to get "21 million American children, teens, and young adults out of their indoor habitat and into the great outdoors."

One of NWF's programs is called "Green Hour," which is designed for families to try to spend an hour a day in nature.

NWF's research shows that kids are spending half as much time outside than they did 20 years ago. And those who spend more time outdoors are:

  • More physically active, creative in their play, less aggressive and show better concentration.
  • 60 minutes of daily unstructured free play outdoors helps physical and mental health.
  • The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in wild nature activities before the age of 11.

A mostly unfrozen Credit River in Savage creates a picturesque wintry scene in January 2019. The river was added to Minnesota’s impaired waters list in 2018.