NITRO, W.Va. — This past weekend was free fishing weekend in West Virginia. Once again I had the privilege of getting to join a couple hundred kids and in many cases their parents along the banks of Nitro’s Ridenour Lake for a “Take a Kid Fishing” event put on by our MetroNews flagship station 580 WCHS Radio in Charleston and our sister country station 96.1 KWS.

There are few experiences in life that are as exhilarating as seeing a child catch their first fish. It is intoxicating, there is nothing else like feeling the tug on the other end of your fishing pole. You can actually see the shock and excitement in a child’s face when that bobber goes under and the feel the undeniably unique pull of a fish on the other end. Heck, you can even see that on the face of an adult who has never caught a fish.

Teaching our kids about the outdoors is a critical task. It used to be a given that everybody taught their youngsters about the outdoors. Not only were we taught to hunt and fish, but also how to plant and raise a garden, groom the grass in our yard, cut firewood, or just hike and recognize various things in the woods. A few weeks ago I saw a picture of a ground breaking ceremony for a facility which would provide recreation for youth. The organizers appropriately allowed children to wield the shovels to turn the first dirt. I was shocked at the picture. It looked like none of those kids had ever touched a shovel. They seemed to have no idea how it worked. I thought it was ironic just a generation before, my dad had me working on the farm by the time I was in Kindergarten.

We have a duty as parents and adults. We need to teach children about the outdoors. For many years there has been a concern children aren’t being recruited into the ranks of hunters and anglers. Truly that’s sad and they’re going to miss out on a lot of wonderful experiences. But I fear it’s worse than I suspected. The groundbreaking picture spoke volumes.

It’s becoming increasingly rare to see a kid cutting the grass. We don’t see enough youngsters learning to hoe a garden, picking beans, cutting brush, running a string trimmer, helping to build a porch or tear down a dilapidated tool shed. This fall, I doubt you’ll see to many middle schoolers with calloused hands from raking leaves.

Before you grill me, I realize not everybody has the opportunity to learn to do those things for a variety of reasons. It’s true, not everybody lives on a farm or has a yard to provide chores. I also realize there are some kids who are already performing those tasks regularly. They are fortunate, they’ll reap the benefits.

Yard work and gardening along with hunting and fishing are activities which build character. Getting outside helps young people learn basic biology, woodsmanship skills, and the value of hard work. It all works together to make them better at whatever they do for a living when they become adults.

I’m not knocking the smart phone or the computer, frankly you wouldn’t be reading this if they didn’t exist. But youngsters spend a LOT of time on those which cuts into time they could be outside doing the previously mentioned activities. Hopefully parents and adults are able to convince or require youngsters to put those down–even for a while–and spend some quality time outside either playing or working. Both activities are critical to their future and ours.

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