National Park and Recreation Month: ‘Out is In’

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) established in 1985 that July is National Park and Recreation Month. Every year parks and recreation departments across the United States promote activities or host special programming during this special month.

Since July is the heart of summer, it makes sense to celebrate recreation, parks and trails at a time when participation is at its height. The annual observance came before childhood obesity moved from a rarity to an all-too-common occurrence. By 2004, the Center for Disease Control estimated that 15.21 percent of children were obese. Rates were higher among Hispanic/Latino and African American children. Today, obesity remains highest among low-income populations.

These rates decreased once public awareness was raised, and last year the rate had decreased slightly to 14.94 percent. The obesity epidemic has coincided with another nationwide trend—parents more and more have restricted children’s play to indoor activities and staying close to home. The baby boomer era of children playing unsupervised outdoors has been transformed into helicopter parenting and video games.

The NRPA sent out a questionnaire to professionals and advocates across the country, seeking suggestions for this summer’s Parks and Recreation month. There was a clear consensus among respondents that the best theme would be to make playing outside “cool” again.

So, this year’s month-long observance has been promoted under the slogan “OUT IS IN”. The concept of playing outside is something kids should want to do and their parents should encourage. It’s more than an abstract concept.

There are serious studies regarding outside versus indoor play related to health and well-being. It turns out that playing outside or even walking in nature has very discernable health benefits for people of all ages. Other studies show that active parents produce active children, and when parents play outdoors or explore nature in a variety of ways—especially hiking, walking, running or cycling—their kids follow suit.

Being outside and active is imperative, and something to be coveted by parents who are concerned about their children. Children’s health advocates will continue along this vein for years to come. Getting young people outside, especially those from low-income households outside, and getting them to run, jump, hike, walk and play is vital to the overall health of every community.

If you are a parent, take your kids outside to play. Set the example by engaging in activities yourself. You may just change your child’s life in a big way.

James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.

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