We need to get kids outside! Recreation groups, land managers, youth organizations, health providers and educators are starting to get serious about this crisis: Kids spend far too little time outdoors enjoying physical activity. It's a cause we can all rally around, one with which we all agree. We need to put it first, before we put effort into who does what on which patch of ground.
Individual interest groups each have their own efforts under way. I'm concerned that this may not be enough. The problem is so massive that a coordinated effort is essential, one that focuses simply on kids, family and fun. After that message is hammered home, then interest groups and local efforts can add their refinements. With some luck and good will, the cooperation generated in this initial effort will carry through to more focused efforts.
We need to start early, with toddlers. Little kids naturally love to be outdoors, to bask in the sun, crawl in the grass, play in the dirt. A world of natural exploration, away from indoor toys, opens before them. Encouraged at this age, that world of natural exploration can become a lifelong quest.
Winter offers special opportunities, compromised only by the need for appropriate dress. Snow becomes the wonder of a starry flake, the canvas of a snow angel, a ball to throw, the stuff of a man, and a marvelous surface on which to slide whoosh down a hill.
Later on, snow play means skiing, snowboarding, tubing or snowmobiling, all in the company of family and friends. It means learning skills and how to take care of yourself. It means working with family to maintain equipment and help fix machines. Snow can be an enduring passion.
If toddlers are to be encouraged to love the outdoors, then this must start with mom and dad. Parents need to be there, enjoying themselves as much as the kids. This is where a kids-outdoors effort must begin.
I'm worried that it may be too late. How many moms and dads are engrossed in cyber world role playing while the little ones are parked in front of the TV? By the time kids are 10, they can get sucked into the omnipresent Internet-cell-phone communication web that consumes all their attention right down to their very soul. There's no room for outside influences, let alone outdoor activities. They can't go anywhere without being plugged in, and thanks to satellites, they don't have to.
It's a daunting task. We can each go about our efforts and make some progress, but we'll be far more successful if all groups work together in a simple, straightforward way that's pervasive and consistent. All together now, moms, dads, kids -- outside.
Adena Cook is a consultant with the BlueRibbon Coalition. She may be contacted directly here:
The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. It represents over 10,000 individual members and 1,200 organization and business members, for a combined total of over 600,000 recreationists nationwide. 1-800-258-3742. www.sharetrails.org