The Outdoor Foundation (OF) reports that youth participation in outdoor recreation, from surfing and skateboarding to camping and fishing, dropped nearly 17 percent over the past three years as “the American childhood rapidly moved indoors,” says Christine Fanning, OF’s executive director. One result: Nearly a third of America’s children ages 6 to 19 now are overweight or obese, and 60 percent of those already have a risk factor for heart disease. Here’s how to get your kids moving in a healthier direction.

Be playful

According to the Outdoor Foundation, having fun is the most important motivation for kids to get outdoors, so go out of your way to make it that way. While walking or hiking, sing favorite tunes; play hide-and-seek behind signs, trees, and rocks (with a safe-distance limit); host a contest identifying flowers and leaves; or play Hansel and Gretel with a trail of pebbles.

Have a goal

Make walking, biking, or hiking the means to a different end, such as swimming in a nearby pool, catching frogs in a bog, or climbing a special boulder or hill. Take cell-phone photos of the accomplishment.

Embrace the bribe

For my kids, it’s the promised visit to a local ice-cream counter that’s the motivating reward for outdoor adventures. Notice which activity catches your child’s imagination and do it often; before long, it may become the reward.

Practice what you preach

Most youth are introduced to outdoor activities by their parents, friends, and relatives. Literally walk the walk if you want your kids to follow.

By the numbers
60 Minutes of moderate physical activity children should get daily
9 Percent that outdoor activity has fallen since 2007 among kids ages 6 to 12
10 Age at which youth participation in outdoor recreation peaks
90 Percent of today’s active adults who say they were introduced to their favorite outdoor sport before age 18
35 Percent of youth ages 6–17 who bicycle, making it the most popular outdoor youth activity tracked
33/44 Percent of males and females, respectively, who participate in outdoor recreation less than twice per month
60 Percent of youth ages 6 to 24 who participate in outdoor recreation (46.4 million) 60 minutes of moderate physical activity children should get daily, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Learn more >> Eugene Buchanan’s second book, Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids, was released by The Heliconia Press in April 2010. Find out more at outdoorkidsbook.com