In 2015, the leaders of the retail outdoor equipment Co-op REI made a big decision. They closed their doors on Black Friday, the biggest day in the global retail calendar. Instead, they encouraged their 12,000 employees to Opt Outside (#OptOutside), to reconnect with family and friends outdoors. Thousands of companies, as well as the national and state parks, followed REI’s lead. Millions of Americans took the day off to #OptOutside. The day was a great success.
To help promote #OptOutside, I wrote a piece for C&NN and the Huffington Post offering seven suggestions for connecting with nature — and suggesting that we go the next step, and #OptOutside all year long.
This year, REI is suggesting just that. On Black Friday, Nov. 25, REI is closing its stores again, paying its employees to head outdoors. To promote the day, REI is partnering with nonprofit organizations, government agencies and a short list of companies who care deeply for the outdoors. The Children & Nature Network is proud to be one of those supporting partners. Already over 1.2 million people around the world have declared that they have plans to #OptOutside on November 25.
Okay, taking every day off from work isn’t an option. But here’s what we can do: pledge to connect our kids and ourselves (and even our companies) to work throughout the year to give children, adults and communities the gifts of nature — to encourage them to take care of the natural world and themselves by experiencing its wonders as often as possible, a few minutes a day, a few hours a week, or even a few weeks a year. Throughout the year, I hope you’ll check out the Children & Nature Network website for new ideas. My newest book Vitamin N: The Complete Guide to a Nature Rich Life offers 500 other ideas for opting outside all year. And here are seven suggestions drawn from Vitamin N:
1. Explore the universe together.
In your child’s first months and years, and beyond, go to a park together, spread out a blanket, lie side by side for an hour or more; look up through moving leaves and branches at clouds or moon or stars. Bring water and milk. You may be there a long time.
2. Pick a “sit spot.”Jon Young, preeminent nature educator and co-author of Coyote’s Guide, advises children and adults to find a special place, whether it’s under a tree at the end of the yard, a hidden bend of a creek, or a rooftop garden. “Know it by day; know it by night,” he writes. “Know the birds that live there, know the trees they live in. Get to know these things as if they were your relatives…That is the most important thing you can do in order to excel at any skill in nature.” While finding a sit spot may seem most appropriate for small children, everyone can use a special place in nature away from daily pressures and digital demands.
3. Put together a family G.O. Bag.
Stuff a duffel bag with daypacks, a compass, binoculars, nature guides, and maybe a topo-map of your bioregion. Add granola bars, hats, gloves, fleece vests, sunglasses, collapsible hiking poles, some old hiking shoes or other comfortable footwear, and water bottles. Wrap your G.O. Bag. Stash it in your car trunk. Now your family can Go Outside on a moment’s notice.
4. Make the “green hour” a new family tradition.
The National Wildlife Federation recommends that parents give their kids a daily green hour for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. Can’t spare a green hour? Fifteen minutes is a good start. “Imagine a map with your home in the center. Draw ever-widening circles around it, each representing a successively older child’s realm of experience,” NWF suggests. “Whenever possible, encourage some independent exploration as your child develops new skills and greater confidence.”
5. Purchase a family park pass.
National parks, national monuments, and some wildlife refuges and regional parks exist in urban as well as wilderness areas. Many parks charge for admission, but as Forbes magazine points out, they aren’t a bad deal when compared to other forms of recreation: “Going to a movie for a family of four can cost around $80. Bowling for four for two hours on a Saturday can cost around $90, not including food.” In comparison, an unlimited annual family pass to the national parks costs $80; it’s free for members of the military and those with permanent disabilities. (Beginning in September 2015, all fourth graders in the United States — and their families — became eligible for a free annual pass to the national parks and other federal natural lands through the program, Every Kid in a Park.)
6. Start or Join a Family Nature Club.
Download a free toolkit (available in multiple languages) from C&NN.Here’s a way to create a community of support for parents and children: join an existing family nature club, or form a new one. It’s a great way to create a community of support for families. This same concept can be adopted by teens or adults without children of their own, in the form of friendship nature clubs.
7. Practice “friluftsliv.”
“Friluftsliv” is a Norwegian term, introduced in 1859, that roughly translates as “free air life.” It’s a general lifestyle idea that promotes outdoor activity as good for all aspects of human health. The protocol is pretty straightforward — just be outside as much as possible. Work it into your schedule by committing to being in nature for a minimum amount of time every day, or a certain number of days a month – and #OptOutside all year long.
Richard Louv’s newest book, VITAMIN N, offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life in urban, suburban and rural communities. His other books include: LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age. He is co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. Follow Richard Louv on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter.
More Reading and Resources
CREATING BRIDGES TO THE OUTDOORS
2015: SEVEN SUGGESTIONS FOR OPTING OUTSIDE ALL YEAR LONG
THE BOND OF SHARED SOLITUDE: How do we stay connected to our children and spouses in the age of wall-to-wall media? Here’s one way.
HERE’S TO THE MOMS — and Dads — who teach the love of nature by example, despite certain phobias
VITAMIN N IN THE CITY: Rekindling a Relationship with Nature in the City
“OPTING IN” TO OUTDOOR EQUITY AND ENGAGEMENT: A Conversation with REI’s Jerry Stritzke
TELLING STORIES: One Night in a Cabin a Long Time Ago
Photo Credits: REI, 20Twenty, C&NN