Toys R Us Should Support, Not Bash, Kids’ Trips To The Woods

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by Posted on November 7, 2013

Written by: Barbara Tulipane, President and CEO, NRPA

You may have seen the ad on TV.  A school bus load of kids think they are headed out on a field trip to visit the “forest.”  They look bored and can barely respond to the teacher standing in the front who asks them to identify a leaf.  Suddenly, the teacher tears off his outer shirt, reveals his red Toys R Us logo wear and announces that the kids are really headed to the toy store for their pick of a free toy. They go nuts with joy and the rest of the ad is about all the fun they have at the store picking out their gift.

For anyone with kids, there is no doubt they love trips to the toy store.  But, what about that forest and the otherwise “boring” field trip from which they were saved?  What if the bus had, indeed, taken them to the woods?

To begin with, they would have a ton of fun.  Park and recreation professionals, parents and teachers know that children come alive when they step out into nature.  It may not be loaded with bright and shiny electronic toys that whir and buzz, but the forest has its own sparkling magic and children feel it instantly. The bus to the woods would have caused an explosion of excitement and delight (and noise) when the doors popped open and the kids’ feet hit the ground.  Even the most challenged children light up in nature’s embrace. Educators have discovered, for example, that children with autism can change when they spend time outdoors.  When they are outdoors they begin to smile, they begin to run and play and they better relate to others and learn.  The National Wildlife Federation produced an eye-opening video of children playing (with toys) in nature and having a wonderful time – a great proof of point. 

 Blog-Kids-Love-Nature

Kids in the woods get other benefits too.  They breathe in fresh, clean air and get more oxygen. They can run and play and burn more calories while getting stronger bones and improved muscle tone.  Their internal sleep clocks are reset by the bright daylight and they can count on a better night’s rest.  And, nested in those woods, is nature’s own unique “toy store.”  It has birds, chipmunks, deer, butterflies, crayfish and all kinds of creatures to provide endless fascination.  There are rafts of bright flowers, looming tree canopies, branches to climb, stones to kick and brooks to splash through.  And, there are trails to exlore and hills to climb accompanied by all the wonderful sounds and smells of forest and field.   

When the trip is over and they get back to school having been in these mysterious and wonderful green surroundings they are calmer, happier and more able to do their school work.  Some will remember and talk about their time in the woods days, even years, later; long after the Toys R Us outing is a lost retail memory.  

Toys R Us is in the business of selling toys.  We get that. But, in the school field trip ad, they did not need to send the message that trips to the woods are boring.  Toys R Us should put more emphasis on what a child needs to be healthy and happy and instill the important life-lesson of striking balance.  The truth is that our kids these days actually need that trip to the forest. 

Park and recreation professionals out there, if this message from Toys R Us infuriated you as much as it did us, get involved. Sign your agency up to participate in the 10 Million Kids Outdoors campaign.  Just as Toys R Us is in the business of selling toys, we are in the business of promoting and preserving the value of nature for all people.  The message and perception promulgated by this ad is exactly what we are combatting and can change no matter the size or type of park and recreation agency.  When we connect more children to nature and instill the lifetime bond to the natural world around them, we prove the nature naysayers wrong.  We can and will breakdown the stereotype that nature is “boring.”  

If you see this ad on TV, and the kids looking at all the toys in the store, imagine them instead holding a leaf, or a butterfly, or squealing as a chipmunk takes off with a stolen peanut.  Toys and toy stores may be a childhood reality, but you have every right to boycott the unsettling idea that a trip to forest and field is neither as much fun nor as important as a shopping trip.   

What do you think about the message the Toys R Us ad sends to children? What are some ways you are helping to connect people to nature? What would you tell Toys R Us about the importance of nature for children?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion with us on Facebook and Twitter.  Oh and for some fun check out what Colbert has to say about the ad.

Editor’s Note: Your agency can get involved in the 10 Million Kids Outdoors campaign by registering.  When you do, you will have access to resources, programs, exclusive webinars and more to help you implement programs to connect the children in your community to nature.   

Comments (5)


The ad is sad: https://www.facebook.com/boycotttoysrusplayoutside by Michael on 11/18/2013


I've heard children scream "I love this place" many times as they run threw the woods at our nature center. How many parents can say they heard their child scream those words at the sight of a toy? Children need nature for so many good reasons! by Cindy Perski on 11/26/2013


Yet another reason to NEVER go to a Toy's R Us!!! How disgusting! by Kathy on 11/27/2013


I am all for taking kids outside. I think you are over reacting to the commercial. For starters, the guy with the leaves was super boring. I would have fallen asleep myself. by David Anthony on 11/27/2013


I love the comments on this website. This blog makes some fantastic points relating to the importance of children playing in the great outdoors and enjoying nature where possible. During my childhood I lived in a new neighbourhood which still had access to plenty of grassy paddocks and creeks and other interesting natural terrain and wildlife. In the 1990s, I took up bushwalking as an adult; every Sunday, when I walked, became an adventure in a national park that featured plenty of bush bashing through thick vegetation, trekking up and down hills, and crossing creeks and rivers, and observing birds, animals and reptiles (e.g. snakes and lizards) in their natural environment.In my 50s, as a graphic artist/illustrator, I started to re-create the great outdoors by designing and making illustrated cardboard models - specifically trees. These were based on styles of forests I had hiked through. I designed the trees specifically for use with toy soldiers, and I now run a business bringing the tree sets (portraying forests/wilderness) together with toy soldiers. As most of the toy soldiers are designed in the USA these days, American themes are very relevant, particularly relating to North East America which was the cradle for North American history, from events such as the French and Indian Wars, the War of Independence and the American Civil War. All of these events took place in some of the most stunningly forested landscapes in America. This part of America also features some fascinating heritage sites relating to these famous events. For today's generation of children, going into these wilderness areas, they can gain some real insights into how the native Americans existed with nature, as well as frontier settlements. They can also gain insights into how Britain opened up the country for the American colonies with some brilliant examples of engineering in what was then a hostile environment. This can bring modern children back to the realities of what people confronted in the past to create the environment of today, which is now largely cleared of trees and covered with roads that make once-daunting journeys a 'walk in the park'.If you would like to see my illustrated cardboard tree models set up, you can visit my website at www.boldfrontiers.com.au. While our products are essentially made for playing with indoors, they have been specifically designed to celebrate the scale and adventure of being outdoors. As much as anything, it is my own way of remembering the wonderful times I have spent and enjoyed with friends in the great outdoors. Kids should be actively encouraged by adults to take an interest in, and develop an awareness of the natural world around them because it gets back to the spirituality of who we are as human beings. by Chris Lynch, Melbourne, Australia. on 06/17/2014


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