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Last Child on the Couch

How 10 grassroots innovators are helping kids get active outdoors

Learn a New Sport Together
Research shows that most kids get introduced to the outdoors through their parents. But mom and dad can become students, too. Matt Poppleton watches it happen with some frequency at the REI store in Bloomington, Minnesota, where he directs events and outreach. Like many outdoor stores and hiking clubs, REI offers dozens of free clinics on climbing, geocaching, and boating. He loves it when parents and kids show up for the classes together. "Families are more at ease when everyone’s a beginner," Poppleton says. "And sometimes the kids are quicker on the climbing wall or rolling kayaks, and end up teaching their parents." Not only can adults learn new skills, but families develop new activities to enjoy together. Case in point: Poppleton recently saw three young girls tow their father into the store to get certificates recognizing their completion of REI’s Family Adventure Program (–a nationwide initiative to promote local hiking. "The girls were dressed in tutus and tiaras and probably on their way to a dance recital," he recalls, "but they were super excited to finish the hikes–and their dad looked proud, too."

Inspire a Future Spielberg
Next time your child begs to bring a digital thingamajig hiking–let him. "Gadgets aren’t necessarily the enemy," argues Kat Diamond, co-founder of Nature Strollers, a hiking club based in Orange County, New York. "By encouraging kids to take photos or record a movie during a hike," she says, "you’ll help them to share the experience with their friends and have more fun." According to a 2008 Outdoor Foundation survey, teens cited too little time and too much schoolwork–not their addictions to cell phones and handheld video games–as the factors keeping them inside. So instead of unplugging your kids, equip them with cameras and assign them the task of recording your adventures. Diamond saw this strategy work last spring when a group of kids discovered several toads mating loudly in a pond. "We all took photos and shot videos," she says, "and several kids put together a hilarious movie on their home computers–that they excitedly shared with friends."

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