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REI program offers tips to help kids get outside

"Passport to Adventure" program to connect youth to local kid-sized, family-friendly hikes and bike rides .

From Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)

"Being a kid should include running around outside, riding a bike, climbing trees and exploring the woods."

—Sally Jewell, REI president and CEO"

With parents everywhere looking for ideas to get their kids outside and active, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) has just the solution. Its free "Passport to Adventure" program, launched in May 2007, is designed to introduce a new generation to the fun of outdoor recreation.

REI's Passport to Adventure program invites kids aged five to 12, and their parents to participate in kid-sized, family-friendly hikes and bike rides recommended by local REI employees who want to share their passion for the outdoors. Information for parents describing each of the hikes and bike rides— none of which are too difficult for families new to these activities— along with driving directions and helpful tips are available at REI stores nationally beginning this week.

While in the store, kids can pick up their own special passport-style adventure journal to jot down field notes, attach photos, create drawings, play games such as "Once Upon a Bike" and "Hiking Haiku!" and capture their thoughts about each hike and bike ride.

In addition to the keepsake journal, children who successfully complete any combination of three hikes and bike rides can have their "passport" stamped and will receive a free Passport to Adventure water bottle, as well as a certificate commemorating their accomplishment. At the program's conclusion, several REI stores across the country will be planning parties for children to celebrate their completion of their summer adventures with other participants.

For many parents, the program— now in its second year— provides a welcome and healthy diversion for kids this spring and summer. While the aim is to get kids outside, a large-scale Cornell University study indicates that such activities before age 11 provide a particularly potent pathway toward shaping both environmental attitudes and behaviors in adulthood, according to Nancy Wells, one of two Cornell faculty researchers who authored the study.

"Being a kid should include running around outside, riding a bike, climbing trees and exploring the woods, unfortunately today's youth are spending less time outdoors than any previous generation," said Sally Jewell, REI president and CEO. "It's our hope that this program provides a helpful tool for parents to introduce their children to a fun experience in the outdoors— and in the process instill an appreciation of nature."

REI member Richard Louv, author of the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, said that some kids may be more interested in reaching the next level of a video game, than completing a hike. "But parental persistence, taking the long view, will pay off soon, in better mental and physical health for your children, and later, when your kids come to you as young adults and say, 'Remember that time we went hiking? That was the best summer ever.'"

"We hear from parents that they want to introduce their children to outdoor recreation and help them experience nature, but that they don't know about places to go or how to get started. Hopefully our hike and bike route suggestions and tips for parents offered through this program will remove that barrier," added Jewell. "Because each hike and bike ride is minimal in distance, and all are considered either easy or moderate, the program is well-suited for families of all abilities."

For parents of children participating in the program, Steve Wood, a father of four who leads introductory classes for the REI Outdoor School offers the following tips:

Distance - Start small and see how it goes before attempting a longer hike or bike ride. For hiking, the maximum is a half-mile per year of your child's age, but may be much less; whereas cycling distance varies, depending on how much bike riding your child has done previously.

Degree of Difficulty - Be sure to set the difficulty based on your youngest child, or you risk turning your kids off to the activity, and they'll never trust you as an outdoor guide again. Keep in mind that the trip is for your kids! If you are an avid hiker or cyclist, satisfy your personal goals separately.

Trail/Route Selection - Choose trails and bike routes that offer a wide range of visual and interactive stimulation, such as waterfalls and bridges, meadows and picnic areas, huge trees and rocks. Variety is the key, with new surprises around every bend such as a loop trail rather than a repetitive out-and-back trail. Also be prepared with alternate plans if conditions warrant, such as a shorter alternate route in case things don't work out as well as expected.

Sell the Outing - How you sell the outing to children can be one of the most important aspects of your planning. Instill a sense of anticipation that leaves your kids anxious to get moving. Start by printing out a map and tracing the route together, identify special features of the hike or bike route beforehand, and include your kids in shopping for gear or supplies.

Age-Specific Goal Setting - Older kids may enjoy learning a new skill, such as navigating with a compass or fixing a flat tire; while younger children may enjoy finding the most types of flowers or bugs along the way.

Clothing - Hiking and bike riding may require some small changes to your child's usual wardrobe. Dress them in layers, so they can warm up or cool down easily; avoid open-toed shoes, and cotton socks which may lead to uncomfortable feet and blisters; and dress them in bright colors so they are easily seen. Also, when riding a bike, always be sure to wear a helmet.

Food & Water - Carry lots of dried fruits, energy bars (they don't need to know it's not candy), and let them create their own trail mix. Also be sure to bring along lots of water and to teach your kids about the importance of drinking water, as well as a new vocabulary word, "hydration." Let them carry their own, and try freezing water in a sports bottle or let them use a hydration pack— it makes drinking water fun!

Safety Kit - Teach kids to be safe and give each child their own personal safety kit. Include a whistle (for kids over 4; three blows means "I'm lost") to wear around their neck; in a plastic bag include an extra snack and water, sunscreen, extra layer of clothes and a bright-colored rain poncho. Finally, for older kids (depending on age and maturity), include a watch, some rope (for use in making a shelter from the poncho), matches (if they've been taught how to start a campfire) and a pocket knife.

Extras - Bring a camera for kids to use and paste pictures in their adventure journal, or to start a scrapbook to remember your adventures. When hiking it's a good idea to bring a compass, nature guide and a flashlight; and when cycling be sure to bring along a tire pump and patch kit, as well as a bike lock.

Nature Lesson - Remember that a walk in the woods or a scenic bike ride is a teachable moment. Use the opportunity to talk about why the park/trail is there; point out snakes and bugs, fungi and interesting rocks and plant species; and review the seven principles of Leave No Trace listed on the back cover of the adventure journal.

REI is an outdoor retail co-op dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its more than 3 million active members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure. Founded in 1938 by a group of Pacific Northwest mountaineers seeking quality equipment, REI operates retail stores nationwide, two online stores - REI.com and REI-OUTLET.com - and an adventure travel company, REI Adventures. REI offers products from all of the top brands for camping, climbing, cycling, hiking, outdoor fitness, paddling, snow sports and travel, including its own line of award-winning gear and apparel. While anyone may join or shop at REI, members pay a one-time $15 fee and receive a share in the company's profits through an annual member refund based on their purchases. As an active supporter of the communities in which it does business, REI is committed to promoting environmental stewardship and increasing access to outdoor recreation through education, volunteerism, gear donations and financial contributions.

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