Nothing But the Facts

By Maureen Hannan | Posted on March 25, 2011

Every month it is my responsibility to compile the “factoids” that appear in the magazine. The idea of having a regular compilation of numbers-based facts relating to a particular theme stems from the famous Harper’s Index—and I tend to approach the task as a writing warm-up of sorts each month. A way to bridge the gap from editing final proofs to delving into the interviews and features that require a bit more planning and thought. And every month, as I go about assembling my statistical tidbits, I get a surprise. Sharp, unadorned facts, when they run like jutting vertebrae along the spine of a theme, are nearly always provocative. And sometimes…they are downright convicting.

In the March issue of Parks & Recreation, the facts all come from the 2010 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, the only detailed study of its kind tracking Americans’ participation in outdoor activities. (I’d love to take credit, by the way, for knowing all about this fascinating report as part of my regular reading and news-aggregating practices. But, as often happens, our resident NRPA research specialist, Bill Beckner, shouted this one out to me in response to a plea for help.)

I began reading the report, and one in particular grabbed my attention: 75% of children between the ages of 6 and 12 say their participation in outdoor activities was influenced by an adult.

Some might say this is just pure common sense. Of course adults influence kids’ decision to get outdoors and play. But I was a kid in the 70s, and in my experience of growing up, the influence wielded by adults in that department felt more like a straight command: “Hey, g’awn outside. Don’t expect to see you back in the house until dinner time!”

My kids have had a rather different experience: coaches who volunteer their time to develop their sports skills from a young age, planned hikes, ski weekends, 5K runs, and a neighborhood summer swim league. Their outdoor time is much more structured and goal-driven than mine ever was. And I often think about what vastly different philosophies about parenting my peers and I have from my parents’ generation.

But in reading that fact, I realized there is a big, important commonality. When kids are getting outside a lot for their recreation, there is usually an adult (or group of adults) helping to make sure that happens. Whether by command or by structured play opportunities.

Fact is, my best times growing up were spent outdoors with friends—though I recall it took the parental mandate (usually with arms folded) to get me away from the TV. My kids’ best times are (they would readily tell you) also spent outdoors with friends—though it takes planning and prodding to get them away from the Wii and the Kinect. Adults who command or who plan and prod make for healthy childhoods with treasure chests full of outdoor memories.

And a single bare fact tells that story pretty well.

Maureen Hannan is the Senior Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.