Not sure how to get your kids outside during the summer—especially when you’re on vacation? Sometimes getting your kids to put down the electronic gadgets and go outside to play can be a challenge. Contributing writer Margot Black shares her tips for getting her son outside—and how to spend quality travel time as a family.
I’m on a constant mission to tear my kid away from Minecraft (sometimes it feels like the iPad has become surgically attached to his body) and have him connect more with nature. While it’s not always popular in the moment, he appreciates it when I do. The wonder of our planet is that there is so much to enjoy that doesn’t cost a fortune.
On a recent trip to Laguna Beach, California, I made a concerted effort to make sure my kid had lots of outdoor playtime. So if you’re also scratching your head trying to think of ways to disconnect your children from technology this summer, here are a few of my tried and tested tips.
We have invested in two kites (small ones start at under $10 and it’s around $30 for larger models). We love our kites so much we named them. My personal favorite is called “Albert” after my son’s uncle. Our conversation goes like this: “Who shall we take out today? Albert or Gladys?”
Best of all, kite-flying teaches children about weather conditions, caring for an item (they tangle easily), and the responsibility of looking after things.
Kick A Ball
It’s the all-time favorite in our house, as my husband is Argentinian and a huge soccer fan. My kid has been kicking a soccer ball since he could stand, so he loves it. Balls are easy and cheap to buy—soccer is the Kraft Mac & Cheese of sports in our house—and just a 30-minute kick outside the house is always an enjoyable pastime. We travel with an inflatable plastic ball and blow it up wherever we go. We often buy cheap balls on holiday and then pass them on to other kids before we leave.
Teach Your Kid A New Sport
So they have a soccer ball, but why not step it up and look at what other sports are out there? If they fall in love with it, they will happily spend hours practicing and playing outside. On our recent trip to Laguna, my husband and son spent hours on the beach learning how to hit a ball—and it was the highlight of the trip! We spent $14 on plastic bats and whiffle balls, and they were worth every penny. Sports teach children to concentrate, be observant, be patient while learning new things, and to be aware of other people.
You’ve never been there before, but why not? It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s free! Make it a fun expedition and let your kid explore the activities and interact with other children. Win-win. Mom tip: take a mom friend who also has a kid the same age as yours so they can play while you catch up on adult conversation.
Plan A Picnic
My kid loves a picnic. Who doesn’t?! It’s outdoors and it doesn’t have to be fancy, but the beauty is that it’s on the floor—and you eat with your hands (something that mom never usually allows at home). Oh, and it’s usually half the price of eating at a restaurant. If you want to get your kids more involved, ask them to fill their own lunch box and pick out snacks or sandwich fillings. Just head to a local supermarket, which is always cheaper than eating at restaurants.
All kids love an adventure. Take a look at your nearest kid-friendly trail, and then dish out maps, compasses, and all things outdoorsy. Allow your kids to take responsibility for the map and compass, and let them be in charge of where they’re headed. If they’re enthusiastic, make a trail for the return journey to keep them interested.
This takes some imagination on the part of the parent, but it’s worth it. Line up five to ten things to find in outdoor places. It doesn’t have to be a big deal: a bird feather, a sea shell, a small toy, a scrap of material. Invite a friend or two to join in the fun, and then organize prizes at the end of day (a good prize is letting them pick a place for dinner—always a huge incentive).
Outdoor Art Project
I love this kind of day with my son. Once we get involved in an art project it swallows up the hours, and all ages can contribute. An art project can be anything from foraging rocks in the desert for a sculpture to heading to the beach and building a sandcastle to constructing a beach fort. My husband and son spent a happy afternoon by the ocean doing just that, and it was a great bonding experience for the two of them.
I’m not suggesting you send your child into the forest to pick out potentially dangerous plants, but rather something simpler that will enable them to learn about agriculture and the seasons. There are plenty of farmers who allow the public to visit their farms or orchards where you can pick as much fruit as you can carry. Look online to see what might be near you—anything that kids can gather and eat, such as apples, pumpkins, and strawberries.
Find Unusual Forms of Transportation
We spent a day in Marina del Rey enjoying rides on the water taxis for $1 each way. Throw in some ice cream, and it became the most blissful afternoon. We also rented kayaks and jet skis. During our recent trip to Laguna, we also took a trolley ride one afternoon.
Anything will work as long as it’s novel to your kids—or at least something you don’t do very often.
For more family-friendly travel ideas, check out:
- 25 Summer Family Activities Beyond Going to the Beach
- Swap Expensive Destinations For These Affordable Ones
- The Top 10 Family Travel Trends for 2015
Text and Images by Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com