Hiking with Kids

April 21, 2016

It’s a battle many parents know well: getting their kids off the iPad and into the great outdoors during summer break.

The solution, according to researchers and outdoor advocates? Take a hike — even one close to home. Getting the most out of the outdoors doesn’t require a weeklong backpacking trip. And for many families, this summer will be the perfect time to launch an outdoor adventure: The White House’s Every Kid in a Park initiative is offering every family of a fourth-grader free access to national parks, forests and wildlife refuges this year.

The initiative comes at a time when kids are less outdoorsy than ever. A 2011 study commissioned by The Nature Conservancy of 602 13- to 18-year-olds — chosen to be representative of the U.S. population by age, gender, geography and race — found that only 10 percent reported spending time in a natural outdoor area, like a park, each day. Less than 40 percent said they spent time in a natural outdoor area even once a week. [Find Out What’s the Best Hiking Backpack for You]

In a national study, researchers from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service found that although a majority of kids ages 6 to 9 spend time outdoors every day, much of that time includes sports or non-nature-based activities.

The third-most-common outdoor activity mentioned by respondents, after playing with friends and engaging in physical activity, was using electronic devices outside, according to the study presented in 2011. Only about 30 percent of kids reported hiking, camping, fishing, wildlife watching or other outdoorsy pastimes. Race and class play huge roles in who gets time in nature, the researchers found:

About 34 percent of white children and 28 percent of Hispanic children said they hiked, camped or fished, but only 12 percent of African-American children had those opportunities.

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