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Instilling outdoor appreciation

Involving children in outdoor activities increases the chances that they will make environmentally-sensitive choices later in life.

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Mindful of Mother Nature. Involving children in outdoor activities early and often increases the chance that as adults they will pursue outdoor-oriented careers and make environmentally-sensitive choices, such as choosing to recycle or buying fuel-efficient vehicles. Doug Knapp, associate professor in Indiana University's Department of Recreation and Park Administration, said the outdoor experience does not need to be rough and rugged -- just fun. His research consistently finds that visitors enjoy their park experiences more when the park has features tied to their interests and hobbies, such as museums, petroglyphs, special demonstrations or family-oriented educational programs geared toward helping kids get involved in park exploration.

Knapp offers his suggestions for planting the seeds of environmental appreciation:

  • Make it comfortable so the kids -- and adults -- want to do it again. Growing up, Knapp and his family frequently vacationed at national parks. They always stayed in a hotel because his father did not enjoy camping. The enjoyment of the outdoors stuck with Knapp, now an avid hiker and camper. "The kids need to see that the mom or dad is comfortable in what they're doing," he said.
  • Think off the rugged trail. Outdoor experiences can include a variety of activities, such as hiking, swimming and picnicking, and venues, such as national, state and neighborhood parks and zoos.
  • Family involvement in outdoor recreational activities has a stronger impact on children's growing appreciation for nature and the environment than educational and recreational programs held by schools, parks and other organizations.
  • If you just don't like to get outside, Knapp described participation in Girl Scouts and the upper ranks of Boy Scouts of America as excellent ways to develop an outdoor appreciation in youth.