Targeting Kids with Nature Programs Misses the Mark

Getting kids back into the woods means getting parents back, first

Getting kids back into the woods means getting parents back, first

There has been a great amount of coverage during the past two weeks about figures released by the US Forest Service showing visits to the nation’s national forests is off 13% over the past five years. When combined with the recent news that our children are becoming more sedentary and spending less time outdoors, it paints a rather bleak future for us as a people, and for our willingness to place value on the environment.

This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by the government and private organizations, which have initiated programs designed to reignite our children’s interest in the outdoors. Some of these programs, like the Teddy Project, seek to reach children in the home with animated cartoons and multimedia content. Others, like Kids in the Woods, bring school-aged children into the outdoors to participate in various educational projects.

That there is some merit to programs like this cannot be questioned, but is targeting the children really going to reverse these trends? It doesn’t matter how excited little Johnny and Jonnie are about the outdoors if mom and dad aren’t on board. After all, TV and video games are pretty easy, from a parental involvement standpoint, compared to a weekend of camping and hiking.

It’s not the kids, it’s us: the parents, who need to reevaluate our priorities and stop mortgaging our children’s future on electronic stimuli. If you want to get the children back into the woods, then first get the parents back.

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8 thoughts on “Targeting Kids with Nature Programs Misses the Mark

  1. A better way is to break down the barriers to getting kids outdoors and to communicate with kids in their modern language of technology. The current discussion about nature deficit disorder misses the point about kids today. Besides the Internet there is a lot of great new technology out there including outdoor products that makes it easier, safer and a lot more interesting to be outside. Kids love technical stuff. Is it really off limits to bring an iPod or to play your Gameboy DS Lite with your dad in the tent at night? How about the new Jetboil stove that is super light, easy to use and can cook a meal for four in 15 minutes or less so that you can get on to playing Amimal Crossing on that DS. All kids today were born after the advent of the Internet and most are better at doing research and communicating about issues important to them through the medium of online technology that adults are, especially when they are outdoors. In fact technology is what they are interested in even more than “the outdoors”. One place looking at this is the new web site There they talk about What they did, Where they did it and How they did it (WWH) outdoors. Over time it will help break down the number one barrier to getting kids outdoors: lack of knowledge. –

  2. For those wanting resources to teach kids about this, you may want to check out an award winning children’s book called “Anna Goes Hiking.” In the book Anna goes on her first hike with her parents and learns all about the outdoors and nature. The back of the book has a place where children can identify animal tracks, learn about the animals Anna saw on her adventure (what they eat, where they live, how big they get, etc.) and finally a “Here is what to bring if you want to go hiking too” page. The books are available on amazon or our website

    Best regards!

    Kakie’s last blog post..The Tale of Despereaux and a gift of healing power through our children

  3. I agree with you 100% if it was possible 150%.

    I know many parents who’s attitude towards parenting is buying their kids cool gadgets – ipods, laptops, etc, but don’t actually spend any time with their children playing outside, let alone go camping or hiking.

    If the parents are sedentary, the children will follow. The government programs mentioned can help parents however. If they didn’t exist then the parents have less to turn to. These are tools, but the mechanic needs to use em for them to make a difference.

    Yes, the crime outside is much more than what it was years ago, but have you ever wondered why? Could it be that the criminals are those kids who have parents who didn’t pay attention? I tend to think so. One way way to buck that trend is pay attention to our kids and help others with their kids and maybe someday kids can play outside again without us getting nervous


    Eric’s last blog post..Looking forward

  4. Excellent post. I teach Forest Ecology every year to a group of local 4H’ers, and although most come back, I’ve seen a decline in the overall numbers in kids that show an interest in the outdoors. It really does start at home, with parents – or at school, with outdoor groups like 4H, FFA, Scouts, etc. As our society becomes more and more urbanized, adults have to introduce the outdoors as a form of entertainment and recreation. Get them off of the game console, turn off the TV, and take them outside!

  5. John – “frequently forced” – lol! Sounds a lot like the Scribner home.

    Jim – I wonder about that, too (hoping Joshua will weigh-in). My oldest girl is interested in the scouts and both of my girls did a 1-week summer camp that they put on, this year. I didn’t get to do any of that stuff when I was a kid. In California my dad worked too much and when we moved to Oregon there weren’t any scouts in our rural area.

  6. When I was a boy we went of family camping trips and that was all my parents did out doors… I on the other hand loved to explore the woods across the street from my best friends house. We would spend the whole day just wondering in the woods. I was a Boy Scout so maybe that fueled my love for being in the woods.

    My brother went on most of the same family camping trips I did but was not in the Boy Scouts and to get him to go for a hike is pretty hard. So was Boy Scouts the missing link here? Maybe…

    Husky Hiker (Jim Bradley)’s last blog post..So You Wanna Go Geocaching? (Part 7)

  7. Roy, you make some excellent point here.

    I was fortunate to grow up in a rural area outside Anderson in far northern California. Both my parents also had a mostly rural upbringing, and they encouraged, and frequently forced, we kids to go outside for long periods of time.

    A few points:

    1. My parents allowed us the freedom to be outside doing what we wanted for long periods of time.

    2. My parents were not scared that we would be kidnapped or harmed.

    3. There was lots of nature to explore near the house: pastures, hills, creeks.

    4. As I said above, my parents had rural upbringings.

    However, the situation for most kids and their parents is, sadly, much different today.