By Sarah McGowan
Remember the “good old days”? When school was out and the sun was shining, playing outdoors and hanging out with friends during the long, lazy days of summer was the best part of the year. As we all know, American kids now spend an alarming amount of time indoors – usually focused on some sort of electronic device. Groups ranging from the American Diabetes Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics say this is detrimental to the health and well-being of our kids – and there are plenty of studies to back them up.
But this is a tough problem to overcome. Not every kid is interested in traipsing out into the woods, and what parent hasn’t spent a Friday evening with Lester Holt as he walks us through a chilling, child abduction case on Dateline NBC? Despite these hurdles, we CAN do things to make it easier for our kids to get outdoors. The following are a few structured and unstructured ideas to entice the young ones away from their gadgets this summer:
1. Play frisbee. A Frisbee is a simple, inexpensive toy to throw around the yard or park…it is also becoming a very popular sport! Want to learn how to play? The Washington Area Frisbee Club (WAFC) is one of the most active Frisbee clubs in the U.S. and has programs for every skill level. There is a special league for kids ages 10 – 13, and kids of all ages can play and learn with their parents in WAFC’s “Recreational League.” For more information, check out the WAFC website at wafc.org.
2. Build a fort. My 5-year old built a fort made of bark and tree limbs in the woods behind our house. Recently, her friends in the neighborhood have joined in the fun – it is their favorite spot and their enthusiasm for using the fort warms my heart. Yes, there is a danger of ticks, but I check her every night for them. Don’t feel up to checking for ticks? No judgment coming from over here. Give your kids some old blankets and they can be thrown over a picnic table, an old card table, or stretched over two chairs – let the fun begin!
3. Swim at a pool. Nothing feels better on a hot, humid Virginia summer day than a dip in the pool! There are many opportunities in northern Virginia to cool off this summer – from summer-long pool memberships, to a one-day pool pass, there is something for every budget. For a listing of indoor and outdoor pools and pricing, please visit Northern Virginia Magazine’s list-ing for northern Virginia pools: northernvirginiamag.com/guides/public-pools.
4. Rent a kayak or a canoe. As a former camp counselor, I noticed that our canoe trip was the highlight of camp for most kids. Why? Because going out on the open water in a boat is exciting and different! A trip in a canoe or kayak is quiet and serene – and, if you are lucky, you will be treated to views of all kinds of wildlife. There are a number of places where you can rent canoes and kayaks on the Potomac, as well as on some of the area’s small lakes. https://familycanoeingdc.wordpress.
5. Try an outdoor summer camp. From learning about insects, to riding horses, to understanding how Native Americans lived long ago, there is something for every interest. Not all camps are held outdoors, so if that is your goal, do some calling ahead to see where your child will be spending his/her time. For some good outdoor bets, look for the camps listed at your County’s nature centers:
Fairfax County: fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/camps/
Loudoun County: loudoun.gov/camps
Prince William County: pwcgov.org/government/dept/park/summercamp/Pages/default.aspx
Audubon Naturalist Society: audubonnaturalist.org
The Eastern Ridge School: http://easternridgeschool.org/programs/summer-camp/
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing: wilderness-adventure.com/summer-camp/
6. Go to an outdoor farmer’s market. Taking a nice walk outdoors surrounded by delicious local food, flowers, baked goods and music – what’s not to love? Be sure to go hungry – most stands offer samples and prepared foods are usually for sale as well. During the summer, there are multiple farmer’s markets going on every day of the week. For a comprehensive listing of markets in DC and northern Virginia, please visit: http://dc.about.com/od/farmersmarkets/a/FarmersMktVA.htm.
7. Camp in the backyard. Packing the kids up and heading out to Shenandoah for the weekend is truly a memorable event, but it is not always realistic nor is it possible for everyone, every weekend. Some of the key elements of camping can be duplicated right in your own backyard or local park – a fire pit for cooking marshmallows, a grill, picnic food, fireflies, scary stories and staying up a little later than normal. If you have a tent and some space, you could also try spending the night out in the backyard – it is almost as exciting as camping in the woods.
8. Try your hand at geocaching. This is one activity that is enhanced by electronics and might just get that kid who is glued to the computer out of the house! Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt that is done using a GPS-enabled tracking device (cell phone). Individuals navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then work to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location – there are many locations here in northern Virginia, as well as all over the world! For geocaching 101: geocaching.com/guide.
9. Map out a trail to school. In many communities, parents are getting their kids to school in walking or biking pools. Essentially, parents take turns chaperoning groups of kids as they walk or bike to school. This gives kids more outside time and exercise each day, as well as teaching them about pedestrian safety. Have your child map a safe route to school and invite some friends to test the route. Safe Routes to School has a great site: http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org/walking_school_bus/index.cfm.
DC Commuter Connections has a site called School Pools, which helps parents within the same school to connect for transportation purposes (carpooling, walking pools and biking pools): https://tdm.commuterconnections.org/schoolpool.
10. Set up a lemonade stand. It never hurts to have a little walking around money for that ice cream cone or special treat at the farmer’s market. Lemons, water, sugar and some great marketing skills are all your kids need to start up a lemonade stand – it is a classic.