For three years, we have been talking to people about Come Alive Outside and the importance of creating the awareness, intention and opportunity for people to live healthier lives outdoors. One point that comes up in most of these conversations is that our children need to spend more time outside. Indoor entertainment is replacing outdoor activity, and this is leading to all kinds of problems. Studies have shown that today’s generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. When we talk about Come Alive Outside, we talk a lot about children.
In the past month, we learned something about the message of Come Alive Outside. It’s not just something for concerned adults to talk about and try to figure out how to save the children. Children get it. Come Alive Outside means something different to everyone, but no one gets it as simply and deeply as children.
Can you still remember the thrill of being a child and running across the lawn with your dog on a sunny day? Or how about the simple pleasure of searching for frogs and salamanders in the neighbor’s pond? Getting absorbed for hours. Playing games with friends or getting lost in the worlds of your own imagination. It’s true that many children these days opt for the easy, quick fun of video games over the joy and freedom of playing outside in natural places, but there are still millions of children who are growing up with a deep and personal connection to nature.
We are finding that there are no better advocates for getting children back outside and living active lives than children themselves. Anyone who is a parent may know just how hard it is for an adult to change a young person’s mind just by saying, “You should go and do such and such…” It may not change much as we get older, but especially when we’re young, we want to do what other people are doing. If we see that it is cool and fun, then we want in. If you are between the ages of 8 and 18, nothing takes the cool or the fun out of something faster than an adult telling you how cool and fun it is. Through working with FFA and 4-H chapters around the country, we’ve found that young people of all ages have very unique ways of relating to the Come Alive Outside message. This past week provided a great opportunity for young people to express what Come Alive Outside means to them at the Lake County Fair in Painesville, Ohio.
– Beth Paluch
Come Alive Outside at the County Fair
When Marie McConnell, a landscape professional and 4-H leader, heard Jim Paluch speak about Come Alive Outside a couple months ago, she was inspired for a couple different reasons. “The simplicity of the message was so inspiring, and it grew into something I never imagined. Growing up in the horticulture industry I have seen people have fun and enjoy what they do and, yes, make money. That has been lost with the downturn of the housing market. Everything now is based on price; that is never fun. Personally I feel you should have fun doing everything you do or ask yourself, ‘Why do I do this?’ Come Alive Outside touches all aspects of my life: Let’s have fun; get outside and enjoy life; and share it with others. For me, the ‘why’ is back and alive! The best part of Come Alive Outside is incorporating the concept into all aspects of my life; work, family and friends. What other campaign does that for a person? I can be inspired to sell more plants and then go home and work with youth in 4-H and use the same message.”
Marie took the message to other local 4-H leaders in Lake County, Ohio and the decision was made to make it the theme this year for all 37 4-H groups in the county. This past week, at the county fair, all of the groups built a booth to show how being outdoors and active relates with their specialties in 4-H. From the Sewing Club to livestock groups, we saw all kinds interpretations of how and why young people Come Alive Outside. As we walked through the fair grounds, a few things became obvious to us.
1. For children who spend time outside, it becomes an extremely important part of their lives. 4-H kids are definitely outdoor kids. Spending time outside with animals or interacting with nature is not just something that they do; it is a big part of who they are. In talking with the young people, seeing their booths and feeling the general energy and excitement around the fair, it was obvious that these young people appreciate “coming alive outside” in a very concrete way.
2. Children look at things differently than adults. There was one booth that was created by the “Hare-a-Trooper” group that drove this point home for me. Of all the time that we have spent over the last three years trying to define and express what Come Alive Outside means, never once have we come anywhere close to hares playing volleyball and riding jet skis. Of all the marketing materials and webinars that we have produced for Come Alive Outside talking about why we need to help children reconnect with natural, outdoor spaces, never once have we done anything that appealed to children half as much as hares playing volleyball and riding jet skis!
3. Come Alive Outside is something that you do. As an adult, when I think about spending time outside, I usually dream of sitting and looking at the mountains or relaxing on a beach. The one theme that ran through all of the booths that the children made, however, was activity. The outdoors bring the energy out of children. When children think of being outside, they think of exploring, running and playing. When you think about it, “at play” is the natural state of children when they are free to do what they want. Time spent indoors seems to train the play out of us until we get old enough that we forget how to just go out and run around.
Tackling Big Problems
Children love to play and may even experience nature in a more pure and joyful way than adults, but young people also comprehend and relate to complex problems in a unique way as well. A woman told me a story recently of talking with her 9-year-old daughter about the problems that stem from indoor entertainment replacing outdoor activity. One statistic that we often talk about is that today’s children can recognize roughly 1000 corporate logos, but on average can only name 10 plant and animal species that are native to their region. The woman was telling her young daughter about this and the girl decided to quickly test herself. As she realized that she fit pretty closely with the statistics, she became upset by what she knew and what she didn’t know. Her mother said that she was shocked to see her daughter so visibly shaken by the realization that she did not have a very deep knowledge of the natural place that she lives in.
We need to be concerned about the social and environmental issues that may endanger the world that our children and grandchildren will grow old in, but we may be wrong to think that we will be the ones to solve these problems. We may even be amiss to assume that we fully comprehend what these problems mean to the future generations that will have to deal with them most directly. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv points out an interesting flaw in how we educate our children about large global issues, particularly those that have to do with the environment. “Today, kids are well aware of the global threats to the environment, but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature on a day-to-day basis is fading.”
Just as telling children that they should do something is not the best way to get them to do it; telling young people about complex problems and issues is only productive if they can see how it is a part of their own life. For young people like those who participated in the Lake County Fair as part of 4-H, spending time outside is part of who they are. For these kids, living healthy active lives outdoors is nothing new. Greg Carter, one of the advisors for the Lake County 4-H Kid’s and K-9 Dog Club, put it very well. “Every group in 4-H, in one way or another relates to Come Alive Outside. It’s literally just putting a name to what we’ve already been doing, and bringing awareness that it’s not just a group or a project, it’s what we do; it’s who we are.”