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Wild at heart: 100 ideas for kids to do outside

State program aims to get kids outdoors for free, unstructured play


In an age when tablets, video games and fidget spinners consume the minds and habits of children nationwide, some experts are concerned children are spending too little time outdoors. And they warn of health and emotional problems when children aren’t given the opportunity to go outside for free, unstructured play.

“Many kids today are overscheduled, over-screened and overprotected,” said Chris Castilian, executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado. “I see it all the time with my friends who have kids. They go to school, to their homework, to soccer practice, to bed and then back to school the next day.”

To break that cycle, Great Outdoors, a state organization funded by lottery proceeds, recently launched “Generation Wild,” a four-year, $4.3 million campaign to inspire children to put down their devices and calendars and simply go outside to play.

The first tool employed by the initiative is a list, “100 things to do before you’re 12,” featuring low-cost, curiosity-inspiring activities children can do in the woods, at a playground, or in their own backyards.

“These aren’t things you’d have to spend $1,000 doing,” Castilian said. “It could be something as simple as opening the door, pushing the kids outside and blowing the seeds off a dandelion.”

The campaign employs animated television and web-based commercials scheduled to run on television and social media networks with slogans like “Kids Grow Better Outside” and listing some of the activities from the “100 things” list, like making a bow and arrow from twigs and string.

Copies of the list will be available at nine state parks, recreation centers in the Denver Parks and Recreation network, libraries across the state and distributed by 40 chapters of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Colorado. It can also be downloaded from the campaign’s website: GenerationWild.com.

Researchers are tracking the initiative’s progress using a focus group of 479 mothers. In the fall and subsequently throughout the next two years, the researchers will gather data and monitor changes in the children’s health and behavior.

Other benefits of the campaign, Castilian said, may take a little while longer to measure.

Just as exposing young Coloradans to the great outdoors improves their health, he said it can instill a love for the environment that lasts throughout their lives.

“The most direct route for caring about the environment as an adult is to spend time outside as a kid,” he said. “We want to just set that seed down and watch it grow.”


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