Another kind of fun for our nation’s youth outdoors

Story by Michael Pearce
The Wichita Eagle
June 2, 2011
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WICHITA, Kan. — Brian Hutchinson got himself coated in mud, dug deep holes in the yard and had fun with fire this spring.

The mother of the 7-year-old boy was thrilled.

“Those are the kinds of things we always wanted him to learn to do outdoors,” said Melanie Hutchinson.

The Hutchinsons were participating in the WildLifer Challenge. The outdoors challenges sponsored by Kansas Wildscape urges kids to try up to 20 events ranging from playing in the mud to building a campfire.

“We’re trying to get parents motivated to get their kids outside and we’re not talking outside and playing sports,” said Charlie Black, Wildscape director. “We’re talking about trying some new things in the outdoors. We want them to learn it’s not only OK to go out and get dirty it can be downright fun.”

Black said he got the concept by watching kids involved in Wildscape’s annual O.K. Kids events. Many had most kids trying things for the first time — kids in Black’s generation took for granted.

“Kids these days aren’t playing in the woods or building forts like we used to,” Black said. “They’re not playing in the mud or jumping into piles of leaves like we used to do.”

Families begin the program by registering at www.kansaswildlifer.com.

With a password, they unlock an online challenge tree that holds 20 challenges that include making a first aid kit, swimming in a pond or lake, fishing, pitching a tent, climbing and planting trees.

Each challenge comes with advice and descriptions of the task. Black said few challenges require special equipment.

“If the family doesn’t have a tent they can go the old fashioned way and string a rope between trees in the backyard and toss a blanket over it,” Black said. “We’ve had some families with almost no outdoor experience complete their challenges and have a great time.”

Photos of the child with each completed challenge are taken and logged online. Certificates of completion can be printed.

The first 500 kids to complete 15 challenges receive a stocked Coleman outdoor gear bag. All participants who complete 15 challenges receive a T-shirt and poster.

Barbara Mullen, of Lawrence, said many activities worked well with the studies of her three home-schooled children.

“It was fun and it got us outside with our kids while we were learning,” Mullen said. “We’d done things like catch lightning bugs and had picnics, but it was our first time our kids had ever been in kayaks.”

“Brian’s become a very avid angler and he’d never really caught fish before the whole wildlife challenge,” Barbara Hutchinson said. “Now he asks to go all the time and we try to take him. It’s a fun family trip.”

(c) 2011, The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.).

Visit the Eagle on the World Wide Web at http://www.kansas.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Michael Pearce

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OGDEN NATURE CENTER

The Ogden Nature Center is located at 966 W. 12th St. in Ogden. For more information, visit www.ogdennaturecenter.org or call 801-621-7595.

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