14 June 2010

PSAs featuring Shrek encourage kids to get outside and connect with nature

To encourage children to get out and enjoy nature the USDA Forest Service and the Ad Council have teamed up with DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. to launch a new series of Public Service Announcements (PSA) featuring characters from the Shrek movies.

The PSA “Discover The Forest” starts out in a creepy cute manner with two children making their way through a dark foggy forest…. alone. Soon the boy and girl take off in a mad dash as if something was chasing them—maybe they had their German translator handy and figured out that the name “Shrek” means “something scary or frightening.” A piece of wood laying on the forest floor catches the youth’s interest and they stop to see what kind of creepy-crawlies are housed underneath. Fascinated with their findings, just as intended by the USDA Forest Service and Ad Council ads they watched earlier that morning, the kids display an obvious connection with nature. Unfortunately the party ends just as quickly as it begun when they are interrupted by the beast that was possibly chasing them before they stopped.

In a perfect display of what is wrong with our society Shrek shows up with a hankering for green crunchy beetles. Unable to fight his hunger, he sucks an unsuspecting bug through a straw and swallows it down. Thankfully the cameras turn away before viewers are able to see the horrified reactions of the children who, just a moment before, were picking out their favorite bugs as they explored nature. It is understandable if those children forever damn the day when they turned over that log only to have a giant green ogre eat one of their discoveries.

Overlooking the fact that the children were exploring the backwoods without parental supervision and forgetting that Shrek obviously needs to learn to control himself, the message in the ads is a good one.

Taking a look into my own neighborhood, I can attest to the need for kids to get outside and connect with nature. In my day—yes I really said that—summertime meant streets filled with kids riding bikes and trikes, playing ball, jumping rope, and digging holes to China. Fast forward to 2010, I look out into my ‘hood and rarely see kids outside—besides my own, of course.

My observation about the lack of children outdoors these days is backed by the researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan who found that children in the U.S. spend 50% less time outdoors than they did twenty years ago. Rather than interacting with the outdoors, children are inside hooked up to computers and game consoles. Parents should take note that, according to the Ad Council/Forest Service release, “Research shows that children who play outside have lower stress levels and more active imaginations, become fitter and leaner, develop stronger immune systems and are more likely to become environmentally conscious in the future.”

Mother Nature has given us an endless supply of entertainment in the great outdoors. Taking a lead from the PSAs, children should be taught the physical and mental benefits of connecting with nature. In doing so, they will grow to be healthier, happier adults who respect the true wonders of our world.

Visit the Re-connecting Kids with Nature campaign website.

Watch the "Discover The Forest" PSA:

Photo Credit: USDA Forest Service/The Ad Council