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
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
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.
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
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.