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      Are You Getting Your Family Outside Enough?

      Last weekend, my 3-year-old woke up asking, “Mommy, when can we go camping?”

      As someone who spends her career (at the REI Outdoor School) trying to get families outside, I couldn’t help but smile. This summer, I have been working on getting my 3- and 6-year-old girls outside camping, hiking and exploring as much as possible. We’ve found there is nothing more enticing than moments by the fire roasting and eating s’mores.  

      Rock climbingI learned as soon as we got to the campground that my 3-year-old’s enthusiasm was in fact driven by marshmallows. As a mom who tries her best not to feed her children sugar, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but…s’mores are the best! 

      These marshmallow/graham cracker/chocolate concoctions are a small price to pay for outside play time. Unfortunately, the evidence is pretty clear that kids in America aren’t getting enough outside time. The National Wildlife Federation recently released a report titled “Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body and Spirit Through Outdoor Play.” It brings together the medical research and policy in hopes that parents and child care providers will wake up to the importance of outside play time. The report states:

      “While contemporary parents spent their free time as kids exploring and playing in nature, their children devote only four to seven minutes a day to unstructured outdoor play like climbing trees, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, taking a nature walk or playing a game of catch. Yet, kids spend more than seven hours each day in front of electronic media.”

      Unstructured play is critical to not only normal cognitive development but also to curbing the epidemic of childhood obesity. In the NWF report, the Acting Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Rutstein reports: “Overweight and obese adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming obese adults... If this problem is not addressed, we will leave our children a legacy of shorter lifespans for the first time in history.”  

      Okay, what parent wouldn’t stop to think about that statement? We are shortening the lifespans of our children by not letting them play outside! 

      The s’more that enticed my daughter led to several hours of joyful exploring outside and imaginary play with gnomes, elves, hideouts, princesses and magical trees. My 6-year-old may not know how to move a computer mouse quite yet, but to my delight she can identify the difference between a huckleberry and poison sumac berry. When I first started camping with my kids, I thought I needed lots of stuff to help entertain them. Now I only pack a few books for bedtime; the rest they create on their own.  

      But, clearly, my kids are not the norm. REI, along with several other national organizations, founded the Outdoor Alliance for Kids with a goal to pass national legislation such as the Moving Outdoors in Nature Act.  This legislation is attempting to help states and the federal government put time for play outside back in the daily life of kids and families. (Ed: This paragraph was updated 8/24.)

      Nnature collectionThere are so many little things we as parents can be doing to help get our kids (and ourselves) outside. Here is my short list of ideas:
      •    Take a walk after dinner.
      •    Bring a Family Adventure Journal and make it a science trip.
      •    Bring a friend – this helped me at least twice this summer!
      •    Don’t make it a big deal – just load up the car with snacks, water bottles, sunscreen and essentials and find a local park, river, trail or estuary to explore.
      •    Don’t have a goal – just make the next cool thing you see the destination. See the REI Expert Advice Kids and Hiking article for more tips.
      •    Learn something new together by taking a class with the REI Outdoor School.
      •    Get yourself outside – a parent outside means a kid is outside.

      How are you getting your families outside this summer?

      Posted on at 5:02 PM

      Tagged: Outdoor Alliance for Kids, Outdoors, REI Outdoor School, family, kids, moving outdoors in nature act, national wildlife federation and no child left inside act

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      I've also been working hard to get my two kiddos outside at least a little every day this summer. I can't believe how much it improves my mood -- and their imagination and learning! I'm sad that summer is almost over! Here's a list I put together of our favorite backyard nature activities Enjoy!

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      Because our time was limited this summer, I decided to do three big camping trips in somewhat distant state parks, and to supplement with visits to local nature preserves. I live in the Chicago area, and there are probably 100 nature preserves in the three closest counties (Cook County, and Lake and McHenry Counties which border Wisconsin), not to mention other areas within two hours' drive. So my son and I did about a dozen hikes, each a couple of hours spent looking closely at bugs and birds, lifting rocks to discover what was underneath, and using our wildflower and insect identification guides. My son's sense of wonder reminded me that everything is larger to a child, and even the small nature preserves in the middle of Cook County are wild lands to a child.


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