Friday, August 31, 2007

Extra - Daycamp in the Piedmont

Good article on a day camp in Virginia.

These folks are keeping technology out of the nature experience, a different approach for today's kids, and a seemingly successful one at that.

Lyt also knows how gadgets can get in the way of that direct experience. "No cameras in camp," he told me, explaining that when a child holds a camera, it becomes the focus, rather than the living thing itself. "Instead, we emphasize the real connection between that living thing and its habitat." Besides, kids have plenty of other opportunities to learn how to use cameras, along with computers and other electronics.

Kids Daypacks

Slate has an article up with ratings on kids backpacks. The main angle here is for school, but day packs were originally intended and as far as I am concerned, still have the primary use of supporting day hikes.

Be assured there are many more packs out there than described in the article. All of the big outdoor companies such as The North Face and Kelty are selling them too.

It used to be that "offshore" packs were made with inferior materials, but in this "globalized" world, pretty much every pack is made offshore , and the materials that used to be exclusive to the US are now used wherever the packs are made. This means that most of these products nowadays are of decent quality, regardless of where they are made. My experience tells me that these packs are also made stronger because of the significant loads of books that kids carry. That is a whole different topic.

My favorite day pack until it literally fell apart last year was a circa 1986 Chouinard Equipment daypack. Lightweight, no frills, strong, doubled as a sleeping bag stuff sack. No pictures left of that one.

For those looking for deals, I always check this site.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ways to Get Them Out There

OK. So you have these kids you want to get outside, but they won't just go out in the back and play. What incentive can you offer?

How about handing them a pair of binoculars. Cool technology, lots to look at. They may even look at critters in the field or birds in the trees.

No endorsement for this site other than they sell these decent kid's binoculars and they have a cool slogan.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Greening the City

We've spoken in the past about the studies done by Frances Kuo and Andrea Faber-Taylor at the University of Illinois-Urbana that links better health and living conditions to urban greenspaces. Here's an article on the growing urban farm/garden movement and the multiple benefits these efforts provide.

At Brooklyn's Added Value, the conversation about nutrition starts in grade school. Almost every child in the local school district has visited the farm at least once through its "Farm to School" program. Added Value also runs a youth program that teaches high school kids food production and sales, media literacy, sustainable business development and community education and organizing.

"We're not growing farmers, we're trying to grow young people who are inspired by the world around them and who care and see themselves as empowered to take action in fixing things," says Caroline Loomis, Added Value's community education coordinator.

These programs produce dirty hands and engagement in the outdoors.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Two Definitions of Luxury in the Woods

Early on when I was living at Gray Knob, a beautiful little cabin at 4,400 feet on the Nowell Ridge of Mt. Adams in New Hampshire, I used to have a lot of fun at meal times. Of course, when you are living three miles and three thousand feet above the nearest road, hauling, cooking, and eating good food is always on your primary agenda. We had a two burner propane stove with a stovetop oven, which allowed us to cook pretty much anything we wanted. Couple that with an ice cave and a insulated tin box, and we could roast turkeys, bake bread or quiche, and make a mean eggplant parmesan.

Serving up dinner was always a time of wonder for visitors who had sweated all day to get to the cabin, carrying their Backpacker's Pantry or Mountain House foods. Inevitably, you'd end up sharing your food with some of these folks, even a can of beer from the six pack that was carefully hidden in the ice cave. On Thanksgiving in 1982, we even cooked an entire Turkey Day dinner with all the fixins for every person who showed up.

But we earned every bite of that food. Eating our "luxury meals" required a hike down the mountain, a 16 mile round trip to the IGA, then some careful packing of 60-80 pounds, and finally the hour and 40 minute grunt back up the mountain (when in mountain shape).

Now I hear about an April article in the LA Times that told a story of real outdoor luxury. I read it and it seems to describe the worse kind of cartoon caricature.
"We're just not the camping kind of people. We don't pitch tents. We don't cook outdoors. We don't share a bathroom. It's just not going to happen," she said. "This is a kid who has never flown anything but first class or stayed anywhere other than a Four Seasons."
"It's not about experiencing what Lewis and Clark did," said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a New York-based research company. "It's about enjoying nature and all the comforts that come with the luxury lifestyle. They see it as one big seamless, wonderful experience."
I'm all for heading to a mountain resort or a deluxe fishing lodge if you have the means and want to be pampered. They used to call these places in the West "dude ranches", and they were for city folks who had the means and the will to "rough" it.

I wonder how different things are today from those golden days of dude ranching. I think the difference is in 1922, you went to a dude ranch to experience nature, and that was the best venue for wealthy city dwellers.

But let's not pretend that the resorts and experiences described in the Times article are, for many people who visit them, anything other than a self indulgent exercise, with nature perhaps best serving as a bragging point at the next tennis club cocktail party. You're not getting a real outdoor experience when a butler finds the elk for you and drives you out to them, or when your tent costs $650 per night (double occupancy FAMP). Remember too, you could upgrade to a luxury mountain home with hot tub for up to $3,460 a night.

It just doesn't pass the muddy boots/hands test.

In addition, I think I'll stay away from buying futures in smore (as described in the article) production. I'll stick to doing it myself.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Wrong Direction

From the AP and the Times.

A lack of exercise is a huge factor in obesity rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that more than 22 percent of Americans did not engage in any physical activity in the past month. The percentage is greater than 30 percent in four states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Here's a link to the report.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Off topic

This is off topic, but its not every day that our little village in Virginia, Unison, gets in a national article in the NY Times.

"THE land around Unison, Va. — a clutch of homes 50 miles west of Washington, with no stoplight or commercial enterprise —looks much as it did around 145 years ago when Union and Confederate soldiers clashed in the fields.

And it seems destined to stay that way, for now.

Last year, the Unison Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001, dissuaded a developer from building 28 homes on 90 acres, with the threat of endless litigation."

And we'll keep fighting.

Kids and Trout

What program has kids:
  • raise trout from eggs to fry in the classroom.
  • monitor tank water quality.
  • engage in a stream habitat study.
  • learn to appreciate water resources.
  • release their trout at the end of the year?

Here are some examples of this program in action:

Queensbury, NY
Liberty High School, NY
Hommocks Middle School, NY

Good way to connect.

Here's a column on kids and fishing from the Concord Monitor.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

NDD Survey For Kids

Check out this survey. Have your kids take it.

After that, here's a column from the Marietta Ohio paper.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I've never heard of this website until someone passed me this link.

The essay is a review of books regarding children's lives today, from a fresh perspective.

A plethora of recent books has set out to show that the modern world is damaging our children. The authors are allowing their rather romanticised view of, and nostalgia for, their own childhoods to influence their inquiry into how children’s lives have changed in recent times...

...In many ways children’s lives have improved immensely over the years. In fact, only a few hundred years ago children could not even be said to have a childhood. The French historian Philippe Aries showed in the classic Centuries of Childhood that the idea of childhood simply did not exist in medieval society. ‘As soon as the child could live without the constant solicitude of his mother, his nanny or his cradle-rocker, he belonged to adult society’, Aries wrote...

...It is true that the lives of most children today are very different from those of, for example, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and friends, with their many adventures - including getting lost in caves or playing pirates on the Mississippi river. But the changes we have seen in children’s lives over the last century, or even decade, are far from all for the worse...

Interesting Stuff.

Junior Maine Guides

Maine is a great outdoor state and the home of Maine Guides. There is a fine program that certifies kids as Junior Maine Guides. Kids in three age categories learn a series of skills to make them comfortable and safe in the woods.

The program is sponsored by the Maine Youth Camping Association and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Kids can participate through a network of camps across the state.

Achieving the Junior Guide Level sets up the kid to go for his/her Maine Guide License in the future.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More Play News

SunTimes Media Group photo

After the post on the boy's camp the other day, thought this article would give us some balance. A look at how girls are playing in suburban Chicago.

"Not a lot of kids are out there playing. In the summer, we used to play outside from sunup to sundown," said Tracy Bennett, who dropped off daughter Kayla Vysther, 12. "They don't have that urge."

Bennett said it's hard for kids to play in her neighborhood of townhomes by Elgin Community College, as there is no nearby park and no yards. Her kids don't really ride bikes, either.


Ed Abbey shows us what he thinks of Technology

Lowell Monke, an associate professor of education at Wittenberg University, spoke at last year's National Dialogue on Children and Nature on the dangers of technology in the classroom.

Here's a new article in Orion where he expands on his vision of getting technology out of the classroom.

There are many other specific things that schools could do to compensate for the lack of balance children experience in our overmediated culture. But one thing they must do is provide an alternative to the current penchant for viewing children as little biological machines whose knowledge and skills can be “constructed,” assessed, and labeled in schools according to the same cold logic of the spreadsheet that businesses use in producing commodities.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I came across this blog post last night with this great photograph.

The writer says they saw the sign outside a camp in Oklahoma. The point of the article is thought provoking and disturbing--people are actually suggesting that some benefits to kids from nature can be duplicated virtually??

The need for students to have TIME to be creative, to discover, to learn to resolve conflicts, to make decisions independently as well as collaboratively with peers in complex, unpredictable environments is vital– not optional. Dr. Yong Zhao, in his closing keynote at BLC07, mentioned how video game environments now provide some of the only opportunities some young people have to be in these types of situations today (albeit virtual, rather than natural.) Kids NEED opportunities to live life an unscripted contexts outside the constant, direct supervision and CONTROL of adults.
Let's do what we can to make sure these unstructured activities are done outdoors and not in some virtual environment!

Camp Season's Over

My friend Rob heads up to New Hampshire every summer to help his parents run their summer camp for boys in the White Mountains. I have been checking their website occasionally for good shots of campers in the outdoors that I have used on this blog. Here's some last pictures for the season that catches the simplicity of the camp experience. Makes me want to get out and start a fire just to cook some hot dogs over the flames.

While these are simple pleasures, I'm afraid that our society may have made waste of cooking hot dogs and smores or chucking a water balloon, or playing capture the flag. In the blog post yesterday I quoted a writer as saying kids thought that outdoor play was dull. Have we gotten past cooking over a fire because it's too dull? Is swimming in a lake not exciting?

Maybe not. The kids at Rob's camp seem to agree with me, we can still enjoy some simple pleasures outdoors. And there lies a hopeful key to engaging those who think it's dull to play outside--summer camp. Perhaps we should do all we can to make a camp experience possible for as many kids as possible.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Outdoor Industry Leaders Talk

At the recent Outdoor Industries Show in SLC, a gathering of industry leaders looked at the issue of nature deficit. Outdoor Industries Association head Frank Hugelmeyer said:
"Imagine a time when children no longer play outdoors, when their laughter disappears from woods and fields, when they no longer know the wonder and joy of nature. For many children, that time is now."
Larry Selzer of The Conservation Fund also spoke of his efforts working with a wide range of folks to get kids reconnected.

As a former "mountain shop" gear/clothing buyer and manager, I have always been a big supporter of the outdoor industry, and it's great to see them taking a leadership role in figuring ways to get kids active. The Outdoor Industry Shows are great venues to spread the word and make more folks aware of the challenges we face.

Check out the Outdoor Industries Foundation website, which has a bunch of resources.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Blunt Commentary

Back from our road trip.

To start off the week, here's a commentary on fat kids.
"...outdoor play has become dull. Kids don’t know what to do outdoors because they are so accustomed to having things done for them. Games are set up in teams that play each other – and that’s recreation. At home, five year old children are still taken care of like infants, so the very idea that they would have to actually find something to “do” is a bit daunting."

The only thing missing in this essay is a prescription for outdoor play. I think the description of these millennial kids, who consider unstructured play as "dull" is right on, but have we really given up? What do we do to inject excitement, short of getting four year olds out rock climbing?

More soon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kids and hunting

Hunting is a great way to connect children to nature.

We do a kids hunt every year at my workplace, it's a good program. That statement comes from a guy that has fished a lot but has never gone hunting. Funny thing is, I am a WV hunter Education instructor, and we have had a number of kids go through classes that we offer.

With the rise in suburbia, the populations of deer have skyrocketed as the number of hunters, and the number of acres open to hunting have plummeted. We've even seen the number of calls to end hunting (animal rights folks) slow, as the deer have started to impact our backyards and gardens.

To many folks who have not hunted forget that hunters were the ones that started the American Conservation movement, and they don't think that their kids would want to hunt. In many rural places, where school would have holidays to allow kids to hunt, are seeing the numbers of hunters plummet s their kids play on play stations and x-boxes instead of getting out in the woods.

Hopefully, we won't see an end to hunting in the next twenty years. Definitely the future depends on kids taking up the sport.

Some info.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Life Expectancy News

We've been saying that a huge opportunity for getting kids reconnected to nature is the health linkage. Who, beside some political partisans in DC don't want to see healthy kids?

There were a number of reports over the past day or two that look at the slipping life expectancy rates in the US compared to other nations.

From the Post:
Adults in the United States have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Nearly a third of U.S. adults 20 years and older are obese, while about two-thirds are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
So we're fatter, less active, and while our life expectancy is higher than many, we could still do a better job. Some might argue that we are doing a lot better than 100 years ago, with the advent of modern medical knowledge.

I wonder what the numbers would be if we took the medical technology of today and combined it with the outdoor activity of an average rural inhabitant of 1910? I'd guess we'd be better than 42nd.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

News clips

Blogging fro Asheville, NC, and will be on the road for the next week so my posts may be sporadic. Here's a short news article from the Star in Toronto on Rich Louv's continuing dialogue on Nature Deficit..

Friday, August 10, 2007

Our Kid's Future

Each generation has had an issue that has defined it-- The Great Depression, WWII, The Cold War, Viet Nam.

Global warming and the subsequent changes in our climate may well be our children's defining issue. With nature deficit, will our children be ready to be leaders in 20 years?

One prescription, take a summer walk, visit a farm, go camping, or just tell the kids to go out and play.

One hour a day.

Here's a good column that discusses this in more deatil, from Reading Massachustetts.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fish Stories

Oped from the Star tribune in Minneapolis.
If I was the fishing tackle industry, I'd promote more heavily toward the joy of family fishing rather than big-bucks competition.
Keeping with Minnesota, here's a primer on getting kids started with fishing.

Like other outdoor industries, the fishing industry needs to be aware that without engaging kids in their sport early on, in 20 years they won't have any interest in fishing, and their industry could die. And that's no fish story.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Getting kids outside in urban areas demands a welcoming environment. With the proliferation of strip malls and badly planned commercial development. Every city has places like this.

Complete the Streets is an organization that works to make urban streetscapes more livable for all residents.

Check them out here. USA Today also did a front page article on their efforts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Open Space Design

As a follow up to the Biophilic design post yesterday, here's a paper on the importance of urban open space for what the author calls intergenerational activities.
Urban open space is the common ground for people to engage in activities and rituals that bind a community together (Carr et al. 1992). What are the qualities of such an intergenerational space?

GreenPlan Philadelphia has a great website that looks at this topic with specificity.

Lessons Learned About Planning & Designing Great
Open Spaces
# Involve the neighborhood
# Design with a vision
# Revive underused or unused space
# Design parks with flexible programming in mind
# Cleanliness equals respectfulness

With this type of work being done, it's easy to be more optimistic that we can make a difference and reconnect children with nature.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Biophilic Design

Saw this essay at the AIA website.It's by Alex Wilson Executive Editor of Environmental Building News, and is a good overview of the issue of Biophilic Building Design.

The Urban Land Institute also had a good supporting piece.
While the research further defining the emerging art and science of green building is evolving, some developers are using their intuition and early biophilic knowledge to bring connections to nature into their projects now. Angelo Tsakopoulos, a developer who runs AKT Development in Sacramento with his daughter, is an outspoken promoter of nature-based design and of Richard Louv’s recent book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, which describes the growing disconnection between today’s electronically plugged-in kids and the wildness of nature. Tsakopoulos has given nearly 200 copies of the book to leaders in Sacramento and is working to weave these biophilic strategies into AKT’s community developments by promoting habitat and open-space preservation.

Yale's Stephen Kellert has written a book on this topic and held a conference last year on the topic. Robin Moore at NC State is also doing fine work. There are fine case studies out there. We'd like to see a list of best practices to accelerate the usefullness of this good work.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sunday Extra

Things are moving in the right direction at Tyler State Park in East Texas.
Hopes appear high that outdoor education classes - such as last week's "Lost in the Forest," offered as part of Tyler State Park's Outdoor Learning Series - will help counteract what wildlife officials call "nature deficit disorder."

Here's press story.

The States are really hitting the issue of Nature Deficit head on. Texas, Connecticut, Maine, Arkansas, all across the country, things are happening on state parks and forests.


So Time magazine has a cover story on the plight of boys in today's society. It's a good article, but left out is the whole notion of nature deficit,which seems to be a big piece of the plight of boys today, in my opinion.

Take a look and see what you think.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

National Parks

I must admit, while I have been to many National Parks over the years, I haven't been to one lately other than Shenandoah, which is located only 20 miles south of my house; and Grand Teton, which I visit 2-3 times per year thanks to a Board that I serve on. I guess there was Wind Cave five years ago...otherwise, not much.

As a kid, my folks did their best to get us to every possible park, and someday I need to make a list of all of the Parks we visited.

There are several National Park Blogs out there, but the one I see one a regular basis is the National Parks Traveller. Earlier in the month they had a post up on Park visitation, namely the top 10 and the bottom 10. Here's the top Parks:
Top 10 Most Visited National Parks
Rank Park Name Visitation
1 Great Smoky Mountains NP 9,289,215
2 Grand Canyon NP 4,279,439
3 Yosemite NP 3,242,644
4 Yellowstone NP 2,870,295
5 Olympic NP 2,749,197
6 Rocky Mountain NP 2,743,676
7 Zion NP 2,567,350
8 Cuyahoga Valley NP 2,468,816
9 Grand Teton NP 2,406,476
10 Acadia NP 2,083,588

While a lot of people still visit the parks, it seems that the type and duration of the visits have changed. Getting more folks out of their cars and into the Park has always been a goal. What can we do to actually accomplish this?
"Is our goal to make it a driving experience?" Babb asked. "As fast as possible from one end to the other so you can pack more people in? Or is our goal to get visitors out of their cars and show them this park, show them its sights, its smells, its sounds? I think if you get out and explore a little, you have a much better visitor experience."

Check out this thoughful piece on the future of Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, from the Missoulian.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Formula

Here's a formula for getting kids outside and connected with nature.

Step one: Head to local state or national forest campground with kids, tents, sleeping bags, food, etc.

Step two: After dinner, sit around campfire. Tell kids they need long thin sticks pointed on one end to keep bears away. Send them to find those sticks.

Step three: Bring out a box of graham crackers, bag of marshmallows, and two large hershey bars before tehe kids return.

Step four: Tell kids you are kidding about the bears, and pass out marshmallows.

Step five: Put roasted marshmallow in between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate.

Step six: Eat smores. step 6a, repeat steps five and six.

(secret--can be done wih backyard campfire any night you want.)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Ten Predictions and Twelve Hot Topics

The World Futurist Society has its 10 predictions for the next 25 years trend forecast out.
Forecast #5: Children's "nature deficit disorder" will grow as a health threat. Children today are spending less time in direct contact with nature than did previous generations. The impacts are showing up not only in their lack of physical fitness, but also in the growing prevalence of hyperactivity and attention deficit. Studies show that immersing children in outdoor settings--away from television and video games--fosters more creative mental activity and concentration.

Here's the list.

The Green Skeptic has his Top Twelve Environmental Hot Topics here. Guess what #7 is?
7. Diminishing connection and access to nature among children ("Nature Deficit Disorder").

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Extra: Maine Grows the Movement

Maine Governor John Baldacci just announced Maine's new "Take It Outside!" initiative.
The purpose of the campaign is to spur government agencies and outdoor organizations to develop ways to get youngsters to overcome inactivity and spend more time outside. A Blaine House Conference on Youth and the Natural World will be held next spring to consider the ideas.

This is a good move by the Pine Tree State, which has extraordinary natural resources whether they're mountains, forests, rivers, or rugged coastline.

I attribute a lot of my interest in wilderness to experiences I had running Maine rivers like the West Branch of the Penobscot and the Kennebec and paddling lakes like Moosehead and Chesuncook when I was a teen. The program that took us to these wonderful places, called the Maine National High Adventure Area at the time, (early 70s)was run by the National Council of the BSA and it offered true a wilderness experience for 14 year old kids like me. While the National Council dropped the program some years back (A tremendous mistake in my eyes), the local Scout folks still run it much the same as before, Calling it Maine High Adventure. Here's a shot of us sailing south on Moosehead Lake towards Kineo.

We crossed the entire Lake that day in a rig of five canoes tied together with a dining fly sail in just over 3 hours. I was 17 on that trip, as I recall.

Kudos to Governor Baldacci for growing the Movement.

Many Perspectives

Orion Magazine is a wonderful magazine. Published by the Orion Society, the Magazine gives us a rare perspective on our relationship with the world that is not found in the mainstream media. Rich Louv published a piece in Orion back in the winter, and many people read it. Orion has a blog, and a diverse group of folks came together to talk about the article and the issue of children and nature. I haven't seen many other places where you can read so many experiences and perspectives on the issue. It really is worth having a cup of coffee and clicking through the comments. While there are many great entries, here's one that stood out for me, written by a person that runs a small place-based education center in Montana's Bitterroot Mountains.
"In my school, we have no plastic toys, no computer games, no super heroes and no desks. What we DO have is imagination with no boundaries, a garden, birds calls we call back to, picnics on the ground, a year round stream to fish from, ant hills to know what season we are approaching, cloud watching, torn jeans, and a love for every day. When we go to RECESS -- I open the door and watch them FLY!!"