Camping is an American tradition. For many people, heading to a natural setting is a way to recharge their spiritual and mental batteries, and reconnect with family and friends. As a way to encourage people to soak up the outdoors, everyone is invited to be part of the Great American Campout sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation.
The Campout is held on the fourth Saturday in June, and participants are encouraged to sign the camping pledge on the National Wildlife Federation website to be part of this enormous group effort. The date in 2017 is Saturday, June 24th.
David Mizejewski, of the NWF, says that for each person who signs up, private donors will give the organization a dollar, up to $100,000, that they can use for educational and conservation projects. And while the event kicks off in June, the event lasts all the way until Labor Day.
Why Get Outdoors?
The primary goal of the NWF is to encourage people to return to nature since we’re becoming increasingly disconnected. “The average school age kid spends a little over 7 ½ hours a day indoors. That’s a little bit out of balance,” he says. “And research looks at the negative impact on the child’s health.”
Studies indicate that children who spend time outdoors are more physically fit, and the increased level of Vitamin D from sunshine improves overall health. It’s also emotionally and mentally beneficial, as being involved in this type of unstructured activity enhances social skills, creativity, and critical thinking.
And you really don’t have to go far to enjoy the benefits, Mizejewski says. “The fact is, nature is all around us, sometimes literally out your back door. You don’t have to skip off the Yellowstone to have the experience.”
No Need To Rough It!
There’s also no rule that you have to rough it. Erin Doyon and her husband Greg of Great Falls, Montana, make it a point to take their 4 children out in their camper to enjoy the beauty that’s practically in their backyard, from early summer well into the autumn. Doyon says when they first started camping as a family, they tried the tent option. But between having to haul around a tent large enough for all 6 people, and being crowded when they were inside of it, it wasn’t that fun. “We decided we’re going to buy a used camper,” she says.
Now they have more space and sleep in comfort. Plus, Doyon prepares all of their food ahead of time so she’s not the camp cook for their entire outing. “I cook for 3 days before we head out. Everything is prepped and ready to go,” she says. When they’re out, she can relax and enjoy the time with the family.
The benefit of being out as a family is invaluable. “We can totally detach ourselves from responsibility,” she says. “We wake up in the morning and play games or ride bikes. We just really enjoy family time and doing nothing.”
When you’re camping, whether you’re roughing it in the backcountry in a tent, or stepping outside of your RV with the smell of breakfast cooking on the stove, the point is to experience the natural world.
It’s OK To Stay Connected
And while many cherish the thought of no cell service or WiFi, for others, staying connected is just part of who they are, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Mizejewski says, “Technology can be your friend.” He points out, there are apps for star gazing, frog songs, bird identification, and practically any natural history topic you can imagine. Spending time outdoors, even with a smart phone in hand, is a way to integrate the knowledge into real world experience.
Take the time to have fun. Play games the entire family enjoys, read, go for a hike, catch fireflies, or simply stare into the fire. Use a guidebook, or app, to see who can identify the most flowers in your area. There are limitless ways to open your eyes to the wonders all around you.
Many families use this time to gather together for an impromptu reunion with siblings and cousins. It’s a terrific way to build memories.
The ultimate goal of being outside is to gain an appreciation for nature. We should all work together to preserve it so that future generations can enjoy the benefits.