Where is Everyone? Growing the Next Generation Outdoors

Pretty sure that is a look of pure happiness about eating dinner outside on a dock #ProveRonaWrong. Photo shared by Allyson Gibson
The drumbeat of news about kids in nature is bad – childhood has largely moved inside, screen time use is at an all-time high (and has real consequences), unstructured playtime is shrinking. Most recently, my friend Rona Kobell with the Bay Journal lamented that we are “a nation of people who are afraid of the outdoors.”

After reading Rona’s blog – “Where is everyone” I set out to prove her wrong by asking friends and colleagues on social media to post images of happy kids outside with the hashtag #proveronawrong. The case has never been stronger: we need to get our families outside.

Nature is good for us. It helps with physical and mental well-being, is an important context for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and is really fun! Through experiences with the great outdoors we are creating the next generation of stewards – yes, our kids are next to address the impacts of climate change and continue the fight for clean and abundant water.

Scott Sampson, who in our house is the famous Dr. Scott from the TV show Dinosaur Train, writes in his new book Wild Child that we can and must respond to these problems and restore an emotional connection to the outdoors. One of the recommended ways to do this is by camping. By participating in National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Campout, you and your kids can get outdoors and connect with nature. Here are some family fun tips for the Great American Campout.

Teaching the next generation to kayak #ProveRonaWrong. Photo shared by David Harp
#ProveRonaWrong We DO spend time in nature with our kids! But I agree with Rona, we don’t do it enough. Let’s change that! Photo shared by Kim Martinez
Along with these trips, nature experiences can happen locally too. In the Mid-Atlantic, for example, we have loads of resources including, Chesapeake Family’s 100 days of summer which includes some cool outdoor experiences, and nearby in Delaware Beach Chair Scientist regularly has ideas about outdoor fun. National Park Service’s new Chesapeake Explorer App allows you to search for local hikes and proves there is a nexus between screen time and green time. We just got back from camping where we took some campies at Cunningham Falls, part of the Maryland state park system which extends from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

But getting kids outside can be as simple as heading out back with plastic binoculars or a bug net. My son enjoys watching wildlife –bugs, butterflies, birds – a few feet from our house.

Recently, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources revealed to me that Maryland parks reached capacity 84 times in 2014 – there were too many people using them! And so far, NWF’s Great American Campout has 50,000 “pledges to camp”, including over 5,000 in Maryland.


Pledge to camp this summer! For each camper who pledges, $1 will be donated to protect the great outdoors for all Americans, up to $100,000.

Thanks to everyone who answered my call on social media to #proveronawrong, the results are particularly satisfying with so many smiling kids enjoying the outdoors. This summer, help me prove Rona wrong, get kids outside and grow the next generation.