“Go outside and play!”

It was the mantra of most mothers and fathers a few years back. But somewhere along the line, being outdoors became too scary. Not safe. Moms and dads encouraged their kids to stay indoors and play under a watchful eye and parental protection. That’s where today’s parents have learned: it just doesn’t work.

Sure, it’s a little dangerous sending your kids outside. But not more dangerous than playing indoors. Statistics from my friends in the Wisconsin Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) program show that the more time a child spends outdoors, the less likely they will become cigarette smokers or drug users. Most of us don’t really need official research to validate our fundamental understanding that raising up kids who enjoy fishing and hunting generally turns out darn good kids.

Flying around Facebook the last few days, a meme showing kids out on a fishing excursion and calling on family to take their young ones outdoors connected on a number of levels—that’s why its shares are running rampant. Mike has a passion for teaching kids about the outdoors through an Evansville, Indiana Youth Ministry.

“We take kids outdoors—mostly fishing or archery—and get them away from video games. It’s a place you can talk to them, and share that we care about them. They need to hear that today.” The groups he hosts range in size from 20 to 70.

I do two things that help kids get outdoors. My books embrace a positive message about fishing, camping, and hunting. The kids in the fictional setting don’t have “helicopter” parents and enjoy a ton of freedom to drive small fishing boats by themselves and solve their own problems. Yes, even shotguns are birthday presents in the fictional world of Gus Roberts. And I serve on the board of the Future Angler Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization along with a great list of outdoorsmen: Al Lindner, Pat Neu, Robert Blosser, Greg Karch, Phil Moy, and Jeff Marble. It is an honor to help provide programs that bring fishing tackle (and fishing knowledge and experiences) to a whole host of kids.

The thing is…you don’t have to do a ton. You just have to do something. One plus two equals three. If one person shared fishing, archery, or shooting sports with two others, that’s all it would take to make a sound future for outdoors sports. All the better if at least one of the two is 14 or younger. That’s the key age at which we form lifelong outdoor skills.

Corey Studer of Eagan, Minnesota shows off a nice Lake Mille Lacs walleye with his twin daughters Ruby and Rose.

But you don’t have to start a foundation or publish books. Just do one thing.

  • Marianne Huskey of Shawano, Wisconsin has coordinated the National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA) Youth and Family Fishing Clinics with AIM tournaments. She’ll do more in 2013 with the Cabela’s National Walleye Trail.
  • Kolt Ringer started an ice fishing competition on Saturdays for a select number of weekends on Lake Minnetonka for Minneapolis-area kids and their families.
  • FM Walleyes Inc is a sportsman’s club in the Fargo-Moorhead area that hosts great youth-oriented activities, including an Angler Young Angler tournament annually on Devils Lake. All the positive attention and great prizes make a kid feel like a king (or a queen) for a day in North Dakota.
  • Don Dingman of Jacksonville runs youth programs in Florida tirelessly—and has for many years.
  • Greg Karch of Oshkosh, Wisconsin gives presentations at schools to thousands of kids over the course of a year that focus on safety, equipment, casting, fishing identification, knots, bait, and parts of a fish. They also cover essential items to have in a tackle box and get “hands-on” whenever possible.
  • Mike Kurre runs youth programs (both fishing and hunting) in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
  • Nancy Koep runs a bait shop in the resort area of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. She organizes youth hunts and ice fishing events and p-l-e-n-t-y of good things for getting the kids in her area outdoors.
  • Corey Studer of Eagan, Minnesota takes his twin girls Ruby and Rose fishing a lot. That’s two!
  • Professional anglers Curt Lopau of Land O Lakes, Wisconsin and Dale Gilbert of Ulm, Montana bought books (okay…my books!) and donated them to their local schools.

Just scrolling through the activities of my own Facebook friends it was easy to see the list is long on folks taking kids fishing or hunting–either their own kids, their nieces or nephews or grandkids, or kids in various communities.

But most of all—if you are the parents of kids aged 14 or less—be the parents that send your kids outside to play. And no complaints when their clothes are filthy dirty and worms or frogs accompany pockets on the laundry room floor. Deal?

K.J. Houtman is author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for 8-12 year olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.

First image courtesy Dean Lundblad, second image by Maura Studer

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