Friday, April 8, 2016

Competing with Technology and Getting More Kids Outside

By Tee Clarkson, ACA level I kayak instructor currently working with the ACA to expand youth programming.


Like most parents with kids in elementary school, I spend a large portion of my “free” time shuttling them to and from games, birthday parties, and friends’ houses. It’s the nature of the job.

After recently collecting my daughter from a friend’s house, I posed the usual line of questioning as to what they had done and whether she had fun.

I found myself more than pleasantly surprised to hear that she and her friend (a sixth grade girl who is a couple years older) had gone for a walk in the neighborhood and taken a few fishing rods along with them to a little pond tucked back in the woods.

My daughter relayed how they had dug up their own worms, and that she had caught a little bluegill. I couldn’t help but smile, picturing the two of them taking the fish off the hook and releasing it back to the water.

As a parent of a 4th and a 3rd grader, I often feel like I am constantly at odds with screens, and I know darn well that I am not alone.

When it comes to technology, however, I am equally concerned with the effect it has on adults as with its impact today’s youth. 

In reading what has become the bible for getting kids outside, Richard Louv’s, Last Child in the Woods, I was happy to see that he addressed an issue that has spurred many a conversation amongst fellow parents and friends, the lack of kids running around in the neighborhoods and exploring the wild places around them.

Louv notes that the reason is generally due to the parents’ fear, which has been brought on more by technology and the ever present flow of information than by anything else.

Like most people my age with children in elementary school, I remember a rich outdoor life as a child. My two brothers and I came home from school and went exploring nearly every afternoon. We fished, rode our bikes, built forts, caught salamanders and frogs, and generally had a good ole time outside. We were free, and we relished in it.

The afternoon my daughter described took me fondly back to those days. Unfortunately where I currently live in the city doesn’t offer the same opportunities I had as a kid. There are simply too many roads to cross and cars to dodge to get to the closest wild space. 

That leaves it up to my wife and I to get the kids outside, something we make a conscious effort to do every chance we get.

Like many outdoor families, we fish, we bike, we hike, and we paddle. Fortunately we live in a great outdoor city, Richmond, VA, that has all of these options only a few miles down the road in any number of parks and public spaces. We are equally fortunate to have the James River running right through town.

While technology allows us, for better or worse, to share information in an almost constant global live stream, and while this can certainly create fear, rather than complain, I try and use it as a motivator to get the next generation outdoors as much as possible.

If there is any undeniable truth out there, it is that the world is and will continue to be a better place the more people spend recreating in its wild places. 

Having spent the last 12 years introducing children to the outdoors through our fishing, mountain bike, and kayak summer camps, I am constantly reminded about the importance of getting kids outside.

I was that kid at camp who brought his own fishing rod and had to be pried away from the pond to take part in other activities. I strive to create activities for my kids and our campers that I loved or would have loved as a kid. Funny…I probably love them even more as an adult.

A kayak, a paddle, and a fishing rod are an ideal way to start…It’s really that simple.

Tee Clarkson started running youth summer camps in 2005 at what has now morphed into Virginia Outside and Paddle Fish. They currently get over 600 kids a summer on the water and the trails in their fishing, mountain bike,, kayaking, and hiking programs. Tee is an ACA level I kayak instructor and is currently working with the ACA to expand youth programming. Additionally Tee writes the Outdoors Column for the Richmond Times Dispatch and does some freelance writing for national publications like The DRAKE, The Flyfish Journal, and others.

Photo credit: Kyle LaFerriere

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