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Toys 'R' Us messes with Mother Nature: trees vs. toys [+video]

Toys "R" Us commercial pokes fun at nature – suggesting toys are more fun. It's a troubling ad setup for a mom who worries about the millions of American children who rarely get outside or have a chance to interact with nature.

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The percentage of children who live close to school and walk or bike there has declined 25 percent in the past 30 years, and only 20 percent of kids live within a half-mile of parks or playgrounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Children have fewer hours of unstructured play, are often not allowed to play outside due to safety concerns or neighborhood association restrictions, and are consuming more electronic media than they used to

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Staff writer

Amanda Paulson is a staff writer based in Boulder, Colo.

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Poor and urban kids – the same kids that Toys "R" Us is targeting in its ad – are even less likely to have access to green space or to a truly natural area.

And yet, research consistently shows how vital that time outdoors is, and time engaging with the natural world, whether in a tiny green patch in the midst of a city or an unspoiled and protected forest. Time outdoors reduces obesity, improves academic learning and behavior, and helps gets kids excited about learning. The Children & Nature Network catalogues a convincing amount of research showing myriad ways in which connecting with nature can help children.

Our society teaches young people to avoid direct experience with nature,” writes Mr. Louv in his book. “Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature – in positive ways.”

I’m fortunate to live in Colorado, with beautiful open space a short walk from our front door, and a plethora of green space and mountains. My kids – aged 4 and 6 – regularly hike, play in fallen leaves, hunt for roly-poly bugs, and get excited when they spot a Cooper’s hawk or a Stellar’s jay. I can think of few times I’ve seen them more genuinely joyful than when they’re playing outside. I know how fortunate we are.

But I worry about the many children growing up totally divorced from nature – whether they live in a city or suburb – and who have never experienced the joy of being in a forest. Field trips of all sorts – including to natural places – seem to be decreasing, pushed out by the pressures of testing.

It was generous of Toys "R" Us to give toys to a group of needy kids, and possibly savvy of them (despite the negative comments that have been appearing in response to the ad in their Facebook feed) to film the experience and document their generosity.

But if they really want to make a difference in the lives of those kids, perhaps they should have taken them on that promised field trip to the forest.

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