This Earth Day, Take Your Kids Outside to Play

©. Earth Day Canada

Outdoor, child-directed play is critical in the fight against climate change.

As Earth Day approaches, my inbox fills up with ridiculous pitches from companies and PR reps that all sound the same to my ears: "In honor of Earth Day, buy all this stuff you don't need!" I delete most of them because shopping to celebrate Earth Day makes me uncomfortable.

But one email stood out among the others this year – a press release from Earth Day Canada describing a radically different approach that is meant to connect people to the planet. Instead of selling stuff, Earth Day Canada (EDC) is telling kids to play outside.

The campaign, titled #FreeYourPlay, is a partnership between EDC and Quebec-based footwear company Kamik. It asks tough questions:

"What kind of children are we raising to protect our planet? Are they resilient, confident, socially inclusive and connected to nature? According to UN research, children and youth in Canada aren’t any of these things, and it’s largely due to a sharp decrease in the amount of time they spend outside, engaged in unstructured play."

As children's lives are increasingly scheduled with extracurricular activities, they have less and less time to spend goofing off outside with friends. Partly, this is due to the allure of handheld devices and video games, but parents are responsible, too. They're the ones who create (or agree to) the inane schedules and can insist that children go outside.

During this Earth Month, EDC wants children to head for the parks, forests, hills, and beaches in droves. They should be building tree forts, digging holes, making mud pies, and racing bikes. Pop-up adventure playgrounds will be hosted in Toronto this weekend and in Ottawa, Montreal, and Calgary throughout 2019.

This isn't just a campaign for 2019; it's a new priority for the organization that is now focusing more on promoting outdoor play for kids and youth. The move is described as risky, as the next generation's level of connectedness to nature is hard to measure and quantify, but EDC's president believes that outdoor, child-directed play is critical in solving climate change.

It's a daring, brilliant stance, and I wholeheartedly support it. After all, who's going to fight to protect nature if no one knows what they're fighting for?