Getting kids outside is prescription-worthy for parks conservancy, UPMC Children’s

Maybe you’ve heard of “parks prescriptions” or doctors prescribing time in nature. Maybe you’ve been to City of Pittsburgh parks hundreds of times. What you may not know is that spending time in city parks is just what the doctor ordered, since Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh teamed up to offer Pittsburgh Parks Rx.

It all started in 2016 when UPMC Children’s resident (and non-native Pittsburgher) Dr. Justin Schreiber contacted the Parks Conservancy wondering how to learn more about the parks and whether parks prescriptions were done here.

They weren’t, but “the seed was planted,” according to Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy senior manager of special initiatives, Kathryn Hunninen.

Dr. Schreiber stuck with the creation of Pittsburgh Parks Rx, which was propelled by the ramping up of UPMC Children’s Community Health Division.

At that time, doctors in seven community clinics had pre-populated patient letters to “prescribe” time outside, specifically in the parks, along with scavenger hunt sheets and tips for sustaining the elements.

Like many things, that program was stunted by the pandemic. But the program is in the midst of a reinvention, and it’s coming back in a big way.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and UPMC Children’s is teaming up with nonprofit Park Rx America to turn “patient letters” into electronic prescriptions that generate reminders and track patient participation.

And the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh will begin rolling around town this fall with representatives ready to persuade kids and caregivers to get outside.

“As we know, it’s really important to be outside and have our kids and families out there doing activities, so this is a way to help them both know where to go, which parks are in their areas, help them understand what’s at those parks,” Dr. Schreiber, a UPMC Children’s pediatrician and psychiatrist said in a recent Instagram video available @pittsburghparks and @childrenspgh. “And it helps them be able to say this is something so important, we’re going to write a prescription for it.”

But the benefits aren’t limited to prescribees.

On the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s website are individual activity sheets for 23 City of Pittsburgh parks whose activities might even inspire park veterans.

“They were developed from that lens of a mixture of getting people to explore a place that connects them to nature but also encourages physical activity,” Hunninen said.

If you know the Frick Environmental Center grounds like your own backyard, maybe you’ve never intentionally turned over a log to study the tiny ecosystem that exists there or sat quietly to learn only what your sense of hearing can reveal, as two of that area’s sheets suggest.

And if getting outside in cooler months seems intimidating, there are fall and winter sheets with tips for staying comfortable and motivated while keeps shivers to a minimum.

For more information, visit

Abby Mackey:, Twitter @AnthroAbbyRN and IG @abbymackeywrites.

First Published November 17, 2022, 6:00am