By Samantha Van Gent
Experiencing the great outdoors is an unforgettable, wild, exciting feeling—at any age. I remember spending countless hours as a child in my neighborhood’s open field, playing on my rope swing, and picking flowers. Beach days, hikes, and camping trips were among my favorite pastimes.
But for too many children these days, nature experiences are constantly interrupted by the world of video games, technology, and a fear of the "unknown." Which raises concerns: who will be the next generation of environmentalists, and who will care to protect our oceans, wild lands, forests, and the health of the planet, if everyone is busy typing, clicking, and staring at the screen?
Many outdoor enthusiasts and advocates believe that in order to inspire appreciation for nature and care for the environment, young people must connect first-hand to nature. In his bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods, author and journalist Richard Louv explains that exposure to nature increases children's creative thinking, stimulates positive childhood growth, and fosters positive environmental ethics and values. By contrast, children who are not introduced to outdoor play are more susceptible to attention disorders, depression, and the most relevant childhood trend, obesity.
"I think if kids are exposed to the outdoors they will develop a relationship with nature, and if they don’t they will develop fear," says Melanie MacInnis, program manager for the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program. "There is a lot of fear of the unknown."