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Last Child on the Couch

How 10 grassroots innovators are helping kids get active outdoors

Sign Them Up for a Wild Summer
Your kids scoff at standard-issue summer camp? Too boring, they say? Pack ’em off to Survivor Camp. Instead of face-painting and dodgeball, your child will learn how to start no-match fires, follow animal tracks, and build wilderness shelters. "Parents kept asking us for a more intense summer experience," says Stacey Heffernan, who organizes the weeklong wilderness camp for middle schoolers at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park. "So our rangers created it." Studies show that realistic, project-based instruction makes a lasting impression on kids. That’s why the CVNP’s instructors teach new wilderness skills throughout the week, leading to a "sleep under the stars" overnight challenge. To find a summer camp that will challenge your child, go to

Cut Back on Organized Sports
Growing up in Norway, Kari Svenneby went outside every day. "We didn’t play soccer or baseball," she recalls. "Instead, we made tree forts, dammed rivers to make ponds, and picked berries." Norwegians call this approach to child-raising friluftsliv (pronounced: FrEE-looft-sleeve), which literally means "free air living." If that concept sounds foreign, it’s because our kids are increasingly trading outdoor activity for organized sports–from 1981 to 1997, the number of hours consumed by team sports leapt by a whopping 27 percent. On the surface, that doesn’t seem so bad, but studies show that playing sports is actually less vigorous than self-directed play. As an alternative to softball and soccer–and their weekend-gobbling schedules–Svenneby incorporated friluftsliv into her Active Kids Club (, a year-round playgroup that explores Toronto’s urban parks and recently expanded to six neighborhoods. "In Norway, playing outside is part of our cultural heritage," Svenneby notes. "But here, you need to fight for it."

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