This week, Toys R Us began airing the commercial below, shaking the leaves right off the trees of a few groups and individuals who advocate for children spending more time in nature. The message the toy giant sends is clear: kids are going to have far more fun dragging toys out of their stores than they'll ever have being drug through a forest by some nature crazed adult. See for yourselves.
I consider myself one of the advocates mentioned above, but the commercial didn't upset me. I concluded years ago advertisers are all about making commercials that trick you into believing you can't live without their products, which would be nearly impossible to do if they included truth or concern for the well being of anything more than their bottom line.
When it comes to getting my kids outside, I know there is no more influential commercial than me.
I spent yesterday morning raking the leaves in our front yard. Elliott was eager to help. Partly because he grows more independent by the day and loves to prove he can be helpful with big guy chores, like yard work, but mostly because with the rake in his own hands he could be sure the leaves got directed to a single pile. A pile he clearly had big plans for. So together we raked until we had a gathering of leaves a couple of feet high, and then my helper was gone.
I went on raking and adding leaves to our collection until Elliott reappeared. With his brother. Who had shown little of the same interest manning a rake that Elliott had, but was now marching toward me at Elliott's side looking full of interest in something. The two of them sped by me and jumped into the pile. Leaves flew into the air and floated away in the hands of an unfriendly breeze. It wasn't long before our pile was reduced to something more likely to be used by one of the neighborhood cats for a bed.
But the boys were having a blast. There wasn't a Toy R Us commercial in the world that was going to convince them the funnest spot in the world was anywhere other than buried beneath a pile of leaves. All for about 0% of the cost of the average video game.
Elliott and Ian both play video games. They watch TV and occasionally bury their noses in a computer screen. And they no doubt enjoy all of those things. But I've never seen the kind of energy and excitement and imagination that comes out of them when they're taking a hike in the woods or throwing rocks in a river - or scattering leaves in the yard as quick as I can gather them. They are the commercial no toy store wants a kid or their parents to see.