Last month in the UK, 300 organizations including schools, play groups, Scout groups, businesses, conservationists, campaigners, farms, and others officially launched the Wild Network, a movement to help break kids away from growing up indoors in front of screens and to get them outside.
It’s already old news that our kids are losing touch with the outdoors at a staggering rate. Exposure like Richard Louv’s best selling book, Last Child in the Woods, that explores what he calls “nature-deficit disorder” is blowing the problem wide open. But even with the headlines, the books, and obvious connection between health and the outdoors, we’re not changing the trend. The Wild Network is the most ambitious collaborative effort yet to do just that.
Andy Simpson, chairman of the Wild Network, put is bluntly: "The tragic truth is that kids have lost touch with nature and the outdoors in just one generation."
The Wild Network’s opening salvo in their battle to get kids outside is a feature length documentary film, Project Wild Thing, which began a tour of 50 cinemas across the UK on October 25th.
Just watching the trailer for Project Wild Thing made me shudder; the picture painted by the film is horrifying, but it’s not a horror film, it’s a documentary about our kids. Here are a couple of attention-getting sound bites from the trailer:
“Technology is turning our children into glassy-eyed zombies.”
“Our children’s generation is going to be the first in history to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.”
Producer David Bond calls the outdoors “the ultimate, free wonder product.” But for some reason parents aren’t buying it. Bond explains, “It’s not the kids don’t want to touch the frog or jump in the pond, it’s the adults that have said, ‘no’.”
Only one in five children between the ages of eight and 12 have a connection with nature and, on average, children in the UK spend four and a half hours in front of a screen. The rest of the modern world shows similar trends.
One goal of the Wild Network is to get kids outside for an extra half an hour of “wild time” each day. To put that in perspective, getting your kids outside for half an hour each day will only reduce their screen time by 10%.
I wasn’t able to download the film here in North America, but when it becomes available, it will be high on my list.
Meanwhile, we all need to do what we can to get our kids outdoors. To begin with, taking your kids on a dream trip works like magic for turning kids into lifelong outdoor enthusiasts, but what matters in the long run is turning the outdoors and nature into a normal part of your child's everyday life. It seems to hardly matter what activity kids do, so long as they do something outdoors almost every day.
The Wild Network is essentially a marketing agency representing nature, giving parents ideas and resources for easy, and often free, access to natural areas: be it landscaping your own backyard, local parks, simple play areas or other family recreation resources.
In some ways, writing about this on the Heli-Ski Blog feels a little like preaching to the choir. We all love the outdoors. But are we giving our kids the same opportunity to be outside that we had when we were young - or that our kids deserve? And do we have the same conviction to get kids away from their screens as we do to direct our children away from other aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle? Or are we buying healthy food for our kids, sending them to good schools, and then accidentally doing them a huge disservice by helping them spend their childhood in front of a screen?
Unfortunately, it seems that in trying to protect our children from the dangers of the world, we’re creating another monster and keeping them inside a bit (ok, a lot) too much. And the powerful marketing machine behind electronics does nothing but make it easier for our kids to be outdoors less, get less exercise, socialize less and be less healthy.
The Wild Network is nature’s first public relations firm. It’s about time. Bring it across the Pond, please!
Photos of kids unplugged at a local playgound, and far from the screen with CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures by Topher Donahue.