As the school year winds down and families gear up for summer, many parents or grandparents are looking for ideas to get their kids or grandkids away from screens and opting outside. In his best-selling book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder,” a condition that is becoming more prevalent in homes as children spend less time outside and more time in front of screens.
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In 2010, the Kaiser Foundation found that kids were watching an average of 4 hours and 29 minutes of television a day. The study also reported that kids were spending around 1 and a half hours a day on the computer and a little over an 1 hour a day playing video games. Meanwhile, kids are a lot less likely to get outside.
So what’s a parent or grandparent to do? Taking the kids camping is a great way to start! Camping and RVing provides the perfect launching point to get the whole family out hiking, geocaching, biking, exploring, and more. But not all kids will be enthused with all this outdoor-togetherness. Which is where the fun and motivating Kids in Parks program comes in.
According to the Kids in Parks TRACK Trails website, “TRACK Trails include hiking trails, biking trails, geocaching trails, paddling trails, nature trail disc golf courses, and even adventures you can do in your own back yard! In addition to getting prizes in the mail, you can TRACK your adventures in your own online nature journal and see how many trails you’ve visited, how many miles you’ve hiked, and more.”
Although the Kids in Parks program is currently only offered in nine states (plus D.C.), it has continued to expand since it started in 2009. A few of the trail programs are located in or near national parks and sites, so before your next camping adventure it would be worth checking the available locations to see if any line up with your itinerary.
Additionally, the program has expanded to provide an opportunity for kids all over the U.S. to participate even if they don’t live near one of the current locations. Kids in Parks created two take-home components–the TRACK Rx and Backyard Adventures–which parents can download and print for their kids to complete anywhere.
We discovered the Kids in Parks program while camping at the Lake Thompson Recreation Area, in De Smet, S.D. This park site offered a kid-friendly hiking trail where the kiddos could work on four different TRACK Trail adventures related to bugs, birds, trees, and nature. The activities are similar to what we’ve completed through the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program.
After completing the four adventures over the two days we were visiting, we headed over to the Kids in Parks website to log the adventures for each child. The program awards the kids prizes based on how many adventures they complete. (Fair warning: The website asks you quite a few questions when logging each child’s adventure, so that was a bit time-consuming.)
We were so impressed, however, to get home from our trip and discover the first set of prizes had already arrived! In addition to an award certificate, the kids each earned a Kids in Parks patch, nature journal, and site specific stickers to go in their journals.
The kids had so much fun participating in this program that we hope to be able to log some more adventures on a future camping trip. We will also be watching to see if they expand this program to more states. I’d love to see our home state of Pennsylvania add some locations!
This is one simple thing we will be doing to get our kids spending even more time outside this camping season. What about you: What things do you do to get your kids opting outside?
For more programs aimed at helping kids get outdoors more, check out the following links:
- National Wildlife Federation
- Ranger Rick’s Geocache Trails
- Children & Nature Network
- The Nature Conservancy
- Last Child in the Woods