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Getting Kids Out
Want to save the world tomorrow? Take a child hiking today.
by Dennis Lewon

Making the case for getting kids outdoors is like telling people to floss their teeth: Everyone agrees itís the right thing to do, but still it doesnít always get done.

To avoid sounding like a dentist, Iíll skip the litany of benefits youíve already heard about, and go straight to the clincher: A California Department of Education study released earlier this year offers surprising evidence that kids who spend time outdoors become smarter than those who donít. And thatís just for starters. Not only did the sixth graders in the study who attended a 5-day outdoor program raise their science scores by an average of 27 percent, but teachers also rated them higher than their indoor classmates in the following categories: self-esteem, conflict resolution, relationship with peers, problem solving, motivation to learn and behavior in class. Itís no hyperbole to say that for all kids Ė but especially for the urban, at-risk youth the study targeted Ė an outdoor experience can change a life forever.

But this isnít some guilt trip. Unlike dental hygiene, taking a kid hiking is no chore. And you never know what youíll learn yourself. Iíve had a 12-year-old teach me how to let a bumblebee tickle my palm. And I never would have discovered the thrills of snowball tag if not for a gang of restless adolescents. Imagine that: A kidís future gets brighter Ė plus, his mind gets sharper Ė while you act a bit younger outdoors.


Backpacker
August, 2005

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