Great American Backyard Camp Out

This weekend we celebrated Great American Backyard Camp Out by camping out in my parents' backyard. Some of our friends came out from the city and there were plenty of neighborhood kids running around, too. We set up tents, had a campfire, and just ran around in the grass, climbed trees and played in the dirt. My parents live in an old-fashioned neighborhood where kids run back and forth in between the yards all day and into the evening...which is quite different than what we can do in our neighborhood!

People need to spend more time outside. I think I could cure most of the apathy and ADHD I see in the classroom with a little exposure to nature. There's nothing wrong with technology, or television, but it needs to be balanced. Richard Louv says in the Nature Principle: 

"The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

That quote really resonates with me because I think you learn a lot of problem solving when you spend time outside. Watching clouds to predict the weather, judging whether a water source is safe to drink, timing your pace to see how far you might get in a day...these are all fairly high-stakes problems that have some amount of unpredictability involved, requiring you to make decisions, then adapt as new information comes up. Other activities, like climbing trees, catching fireflies and learning where the poison ivy is help to heighten the senses and develop motor skills.

M and I are a bit more adventurous than most...but before we moved to Phoenix in 2004, we really didn't do any outdoor activities. When we started hiking, we had our fair share of running-out-of-water scares, and how-do-you-set-up-this-tent arguments as the sun was setting. When we started hiking the Appalachian Trail we had six nights of backpacking experience between the two of us. Reading about hypothermia is nothing compared to actually trying to light a stove while your fingers are shaking in 10 degree weather. Last week I went on my first solo backpacking trip and realized I feel completely comfortable with my ability to handle pretty much anything, all on my own.

It's easier to learn outdoor skills when you are around other people who have them. That's how I learned about hanging a bear line and reading a topographic map and that birch bark makes a good fire starter.  I have a goal this summer to organize a backpacking trip for families with young children and show them that it is possible to take a two year old out into the woods and have everybody survive. But whether it's the backyard, or you venture a little further into the woods, the main thing is that summer especially should be a time where kids are running around outside.

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