Unplug and Be Outside program gets children off the couch
By SHANE RICHARD BELL/Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press
Instead of playing a golf video game, kids are learning the sport on a golf course. Instead of playing tennis on the Wii in a dark living room, kids are running across an open court in the sunshine. Instead of an app, device, or screen showing them how to do something, kids are doing it for themselves.
Get outside. Learn something new. Enjoy being a kid and being around other kids. This is the formula for the second Unplug and Be Outside program, taking place in Kootenai County today through Saturday.
Children and their families can choose from almost 60 free activities – including Yoga, broomball, Zumba, ice-skating and fly tying classes – during what is spring break for many students.
“We all work together to offer these free activities for one week to our community,” said Josh Oakes, Recreation Coordinator of the Post Falls Parks and Recreation Department.
Blue Cross of Idaho sponsors the statewide program, which relies on local organizations to provide many of the resources that fuel program activities. In North Idaho, the program is collaborating with more than a dozen organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Kootenai County, Peak Health and Wellness Center, the Kroc Center and the Frontier Ice Arena.
The program aims to “empower all Idahoans to lead healthy lives by developing a sense of place in the Idaho outdoors.” Oakes, who discovered the Unplug and Be Outside program at a recreational conference in West Yellowstone, sees the impact technology is making on children, citing that children are spending an average of 30 hours per week watching television or playing a video game.
Growing up in southeastern Idaho, Josh Oakes experienced that sense of place for himself.
“As a father, I am really passionate about this program. I want my kids to have the same experiences I had as a kid,” Oakes said. “We were always camping, biking, hiking and cross-country skiing.”
He wants other families to find that place, too.
“There’s a lot of people in our community that do not have the means to do all of these activities. Many can’t just sign up for martial arts or broomball. Many don’t even know these services are available. So people can experience those things for free,” Oakes said.
And if that person ends up loving martial arts, that’s an open door for them, Oakes said.
Last Saturday, the first day of the Unplug and Be Outside program in North Idaho this year, was a launch pad for this week’s events.
Aiden Meyers, 9, of Coeur d’Alene, helped teach the “Archery Instruction with CDA Bowmen” with his father and sister. More than 70 people showed up to the free event.
“I kind of felt responsible,” Aiden said. “I taught them how to hold the bow still and don’t put your arm way in so the string will hit it. I have been shooting for four years now. When I hit the target, I give everybody high fives and I feel like I am getting better every time.”
“He’s doing really good,” said Aiden’s dad, Mark Myers. “He’s probably going to trophy this year in his winter league. His sister is a deadeye, too. Shortly after the kids were leaving, Aiden put up a balloon to shoot but before he could shoot it, his sister shot the balloon from clear across the room,” Meyers said.
Mark’s marksmen were among six other “range masters” who aided in teaching participants archery skills.
“The kids and parents were really excited,” Meyers said. “You could hear the parents in the background, saying, ‘Good job, honey, great shot.’ It was great. When the kids would hit the targets, their faces would just light up.”
“The CDA Bowmen did a really good job with them. There were a lot of smiles,” Oakes said. “And at the exact same time Real Life Ministries was having a huge Easter egg hunt. People were parking down the road by Ziggy’s (Building Materials).”
Of all the benefits the program offers to others, Oakes can pinpoint the program’s greatest reward to him.
“I would say the most rewarding part of my job is when you spend two to three months putting together a week of events like this – all of the details, the meetings, teams, locations – and then, there’s this moment on opening day when all of a sudden the activities start, and all of the kids are playing and running around, and you realize you were instrumental in putting all of that together.”
For a complete schedule of this week’s Unplug and Be Outside events, visit www.UnplugAndBeOutside.com.