To get youngsters excited about the outdoors, you are better off getting them to play a game morphed from capture the flag than thinking you can teach them to fly-fish with a Prince Nymph on a trout stream.
It's the X Factor. For many in the still-growing generation, the outdoors is largely a platform for social events with friends. Not a portal to the wilderness where crowds, cell phones and all things electronic are left at home. They like to turn a trip into a game, a campout into a party.
Recognizing this fundamental shift - yes to electronic social networks, no to Boy Scouts - can keep you connected to youngsters as they grow up. Here are a few ways to plug into one another's worlds:
Capture the flag
Start by heading to the local park. If they get to play an updated version of capture the flag, they will be excited to go and might even announce the event via text message. Tell them to round up some friends and bring their Nerf guns, the kind that fire the reusable foam missiles, or long-distance squirt guns, the 30-footers, and you're on your way to getting kids outdoors, away from the television.
Divide the group into two teams, each with its own territory and a boundary line between them.
Bring two hiking staffs, each with a bandana tied to it, or something similar, which simulates the prize. That staff is driven into the ground in the opponent's territory, with a 30-foot safety zone designated around it. Each side also designates a rock or tree as a jail, which those captured must touch until rescued.
The goal is simple. Sneak into the opponent's territory, shoot as many of the opposite team members as possible, free your captives, and then grab the prize and get it back into your own territory.
With Nerf guns, it's a wild affair. If a player gets shot, it's off to jail. But a team member can break into jail, touch his teammate, and both get free passage across the boundary line to their own territory.
The ideal park for this game has a meadow, woodlands and picnic area, so there's plenty of hiding spots mixed with view corridors. I'm thinking Tilden Regional Park above Berkeley, Huddart Park near Woodside, the Five Brooks Trailhead at Point Reyes in Marin County, and many others.
I learned this game in the Boy Scouts, and by any name, it is still a winner. Identify a boundary area in which the game is played, then split the kids into two groups. As darkness falls, the fun begins.
At night, equipped with Aluminum LED Flashlights, members of one group get a head start and then hide, sneak around and try to avoid capture. The other group, working as a team to search and capture, often in an ambush, must try to find the hidden opponents. The catch for both sides, of course, is that the flashlight beam gives away your position, so you find yourself learning stealth, stalking and working as a team. If you shine your light beam on an opponent and flash it with a few clicks, you get to capture them.
Kids can come up with many variations on this. In my favorite version, one person will hide in the dark while the rest of the group searches for him. If a member of the search party finds the person hiding with a Cell LED Flashlight beam, the find-ee becomes the hide-ee and takes off with a 40-second head start.
Kick the can
In the old days, we called this "kick the can." Kids might prefer a new name - how about "Charlie Sheen"?
An object, like an empty coffee can, is placed in plain sight, but with many hiding places nearby for the players. One person is designated as "It" or "Charlie" (let's pretend). He covers his eyes, counts to 50 and all the other kids then hide.
"Charlie" then tries to find the other kids who are hiding. When one is discovered, "Charlie" shouts the player's name, runs back to the coffee can, kicks it to activate its powers, and the person who was found then goes to a waiting area, like a jail, at a designated area like a large tree.
One catch is, once a player has been spotted, he can try to run and kick the can first, and if successful is free to hide again. The big twist is that if a player who has not been spotted eludes sighting and kicks the can, all the prisoners are freed and that person becomes the "Charlie."
When all the players are in jail, the game is over and the winner is declared "It" or in some cases, "Charlie Sheen."