When former Outward Bound instructor and avid outdoorsman Thom Schuchaskie began taking daughter Bella, then age 2, on nature walks in Central Park near their Manhattan home in 2005, he was just enjoying flipping rocks and identifying trees with his kid. Soon, though, Bella’s schedule was full of playdates—mostly kids wanting to tag along with the dad-daughter duo on their adventures. Encouraged by parents to create a program for a local preschool, and inspired by a book on kids and nature, Schuchaskie founded a series of afterschool classes, called Urban Kid Adventurers (urbankidadventurers.com) in 2006.
“I want to get as many children outside as I can,” says Thom, 41, whose wife, Food Network star and dietitian Ellie Krieger, shares his passion for healthy living. “I basically let the kids lead me—we’ll identify birds or tie knots or build our own bows and arrows. However they show an interest in nature, that’s what we’ll do.”
And since those first impromptu classes, hundreds of kids and parents from all over the city have taken notice of Urban Kid Adventurers. In fact, says Thom, “There’s such a demand for the class that parents want to hold a lottery to fill the spots.”
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You don’t have to be an expert on flora and fauna to help kids enjoy the great outdoors, Thom says. “Just get the kids outside. Take walks in the local park; look at the trees in your backyard. You don’t have to memorize every species—learning with your kids and teaching them how to use resources like guidebooks and even iPhone apps is really valuable,” he says.
Thom is continuing to expand, offering summer camps and anti-bullying classes combining Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and storytelling.
“Being outside helps children use their imaginations and start to understand the joy of discovery,” Thom says. “Jumping in leaves, playing in the dirt—sometimes it’s good to just let kids be kids. ”