Are our kids out of the woods? Help them go 'screen-free.'

© Philmont Scout Ranch, High Adventure, New Mexico

For today’s kids, reaching the next level of an online game can seem much more natural and important than taking a hike in the forest. But this lack of outdoor activity is taking a toll on the health of the next generation.

Just sitting around in front of a screen has gotten a lot more serious. Childhood obesity has doubled in the United States and Canada over the past 30 years. Obesity in children increases their risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and lifelong health problems, not to mention the toll on our society as a whole. Physical activity is critical to reversing this trend, and it can begin as simply as putting down the smart phone and picking up some leaves and twigs in the front yard.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is an independent, non-profit organization that aims to make the world a better place by promoting sustainable forest management through standards, research, conservation partnerships, and community building. One of SFI’s key priorities is getting more kids away from their screens and into the great outdoors by fostering partnerships with and awarding grants to nature-based community programs across the US and Canada.

In addition to getting them interested in nature today, these programs teach our kids how forests touch our daily lives and the importance of conserving it for the future, too.

Take a look at these five examples of kids doing good — and feeling good — in the great outdoors.

1. Girl Guides of Canada get their ducks in a row

With support from SFI and Ducks Unlimited Canada, 23 Girl Guides pitched in to improve local duck habitats. They built 60 duck nest boxes out of wood certified to the SFI Standard in order to provide nesting sites for ducks that nest in tree cavities. These ducks have evolved to use cavities that help protect the nests from harsh weather and predators. The Girl Guides also installed the boxes themselves, hiking through forests and wading through knee-deep water to hang them on trees and posts near marshes and streams.

“This outdoor experience not only gets these young girls outside to enjoy nature but to also learn about the importance of forests and the multiple values that forests provide to society and wildlife,” said Greg Siekaniec, CEO of Ducks Unlimited Canada.

2. Project Learning Tree makes the connection

To help spread the word about the link between environmental health and kids’ health, SFI awarded a grant to Project Learning Tree (PLT), an environmental education program of the American Forest Foundation. The funding supported the development of an environmental education curriculum that was integrated into lesson plans for all ages and subject areas throughout the country. Students who participated in the PLT project were included in the exchange, sharing their experiences, journals and artwork.

3. Boy Scouts of America seek high adventure

Philmont Scout Ranch, High Adventure, New Mexico© Philmont Scout Ranch, High Adventure, New Mexico
More than 950,000 Boy Scouts, Venturers, and leaders have experienced the adventure of the Philmont Scout Ranch since 1939. It is the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) largest, national High Adventure Base with 34 staffed camps and 55 trail camps that provide an unforgettable adventure in the high country along hundreds of miles of rugged, rocky trail. Philmont Ranch is also certified to the SFI Standard. In addition to the good work at Philmont Ranch, BSA and SFI agreed to establish, strengthen and expand their relationship in support of mutually beneficial programs for youth through a Memorandum of Mutual Support signed in 2012.

4. Scouts Canada puts down roots

Through its annual Scoutrees program, sponsored in part by SFI, Scouts Canada has planted over 80 million trees across Canada since 1972. By planting trees, Scouts not only get vigorous outdoor exercise, they also get hands-on learning about how trees protect the environment. The trees are planted as windbreaks to help reduce soil erosion from wind and rain, provide habitats for birds and other wildlife and offer green space for people to enjoy.

5. 4-H inspires future forest leaders

The National 4-H Forestry Invitational, of which SFI is a regular sponsor, has taken place every year since 1980. Aspiring foresters come from across the US to compete for their state in forestry skills and knowledge. The competition includes tree measurement, insect and disease identification, compass orienteering and topographical map use.

To find out more about the nature-based youth programs that SFI supports, visit

To learn about 'Screen-Free' Week (May 4-10), visit

Are our kids out of the woods? Help them go 'screen-free.'
For today’s kids, reaching the next level of an online game can seem much more natural and important than taking a hike in the forest.

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