President's View: The Value of Camping

Going back to basics and getting outdoors can help kids and adults connect to nature

  • Collin O’Mara, President & Chief Executive Officer
  • Conservation
  • Jun 01, 2015

SPENDING TIME OUTDOORS has the power to heal and nourish the human spirit. That’s why I spend so much time camping, hiking and fishing with my daughter Riley—to share the rejuvenating conservation values that my parents instilled in me.

Our children need nature more than ever. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), today’s kids are spending an average of seven hours a day (nearly 50 hours a week) watching TV and using computers, video games and other electronic media—more time than they would spend in school or at a full-time job. This deluge of electronic stimuli is a key factor in childhood ills such as attention problems and obesity. According to the Institute of Medicine, childhood obesity alone has doubled during the past 30 years for preschoolers and adolescents and more than tripled for children aged 6 to 11.

A Natural Cure

The good news is there’s an easy fix: Go outside and play. “Playing in nature can positively impact children’s health and well-being,” writes the National Environmental Education Foundation. The AAP, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other groups affirm this idea, noting that time in nature can reduce stress, asthma, high blood pressure and anxiety and improve general mental and physical health.

The National Wildlife Federation takes this message to heart—and has for a long time. This year marks the 11th anniversary of our Great American Campout™, a program designed to get people outdoors to connect with nature. We know that the only way to really appreciate the value of the natural world is to experience it on a personal level. By digging in the dirt, hunting or gazing through binoculars to identify a bird, people begin to sense their place in nature and their duty to protect it.

NWF’s state affiliates understand this profoundly and have been leading the way to connect kids with nature through No Child Left Inside programs and other efforts. During this June’s Great Outdoors Month™, for instance, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation will host its annual Katfishin’ Kids day and the Connecticut Forest and Park Association will hold its annual Connecticut Trails Weekend. These and many other affiliate efforts bring thousands of people outdoors.

Conservation Education

This is essential work. As society has become more techno-centric it has become less conservation literate. Given the threats natural resources face, we can’t afford this disconnect. Conservation education and outdoor experiences are the answer. That’s why NWF offers programs like Eco-Schools USA and Garden for Wildlife™ and suggests outdoor activities in Ranger Rick® magazine, which has inspired generations of kids to enjoy the natural world.

Such efforts support three simple but profound goals: to help folks experience the wonders of nature firsthand, to show the benefits of conserving natural resources such as clean water and healthy wildlife populations, and to build an army of committed conservationists who will ensure that future generations enjoy our rich outdoor heritage.

If conservation is cerebral—if people care only because they think they should—it’s an academic exercise rather than rooted in values. We need conservation to be visceral, a human passion. Camping can help make that happen. It’s as close to a cure for what ails us as any prescription. So grab your tent and join Riley and me outdoors!

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Join NWF’s Campout
Participate in the National Wildlife Federation’s annual Great American Campout this summer.

More from National Wildlife magazine and NWF

Read More NWF Views 
Read More About NWF President and CEO Collin O'Mara
National Wildlife's News of the Wild: Camping Can Reset Biological Clocks 
NWF Connecting Kids & Nature: Green Time Better for Sleep Time

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