It’s summertime, and the living is easy…well, not necessarily for parents. Each summer, many parents struggle to find entertaining and constructive things for their kids to do. Sure, it’s tempting just to let kids immerse themselves in electronic devices for entertainment. But parents know that kids are healthier physically and emotionally when they can spend some time spent outside. During the summer months, it’s important to help children strike the right balance of time indoors and outdoors.
Luckily, with a little planning and inspiration, you can encourage your children to stay active during the summer and have a great family experience while doing it. To help you jumpstart your summer fun, here are 10 ways to get kids off their screens and into the great outdoors.
1. Plant a Garden
Whether you have a big yard or a cozy apartment terrace, you can empower your kids by allowing them to be the master of their own garden. Tending to a garden not only gets them outside, but it also teaches them about plant lifecycles and helps them understand where their food comes from. It’s quite satisfying to send your child out to water the plants and then, later in the summer, enjoy the fruits of their labor.
2. Get Artsy in the Outdoors
If you parent a creative spirit, the natural world can be a fantastic place to unleash that inner artist. There are loads of arts and crafts you can do using natural materials like leaves, flowers, acorns, and sticks. If you live near a creek, or if you’ll be near one during summer vacation, try building a village of fairy houses using river rocks, moss, and other treasures you find near the water. Have fun with it!
3. Play on Your Public Lands
Alabama boasts hundreds of thousands of acres of public land for recreational use, including six beautiful state parks, four national forests, several wildlife management areas and more. These areas are there for you to enjoy hiking, boating, fishing, and camping. Visit OutdoorAlabama.com for more information.
4. Listen to the Birds
Learning how to birdwatch is an activity that children of all ages can enjoy, and you can do it pretty much anywhere, from your backyard to a city park to a remote campsite. Download the Audubon Bird Guide App (free on iPhone and Android devices) to help you and the kids recognize bird calls and make positive IDs.
5. Discover a Swimming Hole
Pools are great, but there’s something special about a natural swimming hole. Some spots like Little River Canyon’s Hippie Hole are well known, while others are hidden gems that you’ll find by talking with locals. Pack a picnic and make a day of it. Besides swimming, you can search for crayfish, find a nearby waterfall, or just find a spot to watch the clouds float by.
6. Savor Summer Fruits & Berries
Roll up your sleeves at a pick-your-own farm and gather sun-ripened summer foods like strawberries, peaches, and blueberries. Bring them back home and make a pie as a family or preserve them into jam. Visit pickyourown.org for a list of farms in your area that allow picking.
7. Try Your Hand at Disc Golf
Disc golf basically combines frisbee throwing with hiking, making it a favorite activity for kids and adults alike. Unlike traditional golf, the financial barrier to entry is low, and if your family ends up liking it, you can spend the summer having family tournaments at all the disc golf courses in your area.
8. Participate in Citizen Science
Do your kids enjoy scavenger hunts? Then put their sleuthing to good use by helping scientists collect critical ecological data. Alabama scientists collaborate with the public on various efforts to gain a greater understanding of population dynamics throughout the region. A good example is the Alabama Herp Atlas Project, which enlists scientists, teachers, and students to learn more about the status of amphibians and reptiles in the state.
9. Go Geocaching
If traditional treasure is more your style, then try your hand at geocaching. Geocaching uses GPS data to guide you to the location of geocache containers that have a log sheet and various items inside for hunters. Usually, these treasures are small—like tokens or toy cars—but, on Green Mountain and Huntsville Mountain in northern Alabama, you can follow the trail of the Jolly Green Giant and his oversized possessions.
10. Pair Up for a Paddle
There are so many self-propelled ways to enjoy your local creek, reservoir, or lake. Teach your kids (or have them teach you) how to canoe or tandem kayak while enjoying the water. Stand-up paddleboarding is another leisurely way to spend a day, and sometimes you can find demo days if you don’t want to commit to renting or buying first.
11. Bike a Rail Trail
Increasingly, former rail lines are being converted to family-friendly bike trails perfect for cruising. More mellow than mountain biking and less nerve-wracking than sharing a cycle route with cars, rail trails are the ideal choice for an active family’s bike day. Check out TrailLink for info on Alabama’s Chief Ladiga Trail and other rail trails near you.
When summer starts, it feels like it’s going to last forever. Then, before you know it, it’s back to school! Sit down with your family and have a conversation about which types of activities everyone would like to do. Create a list of options near home and short day-trips. A little bit of preparation will go a long way to making sure you make the most of this time of year, and that your kids get ample outdoor time.
Oh—and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Written by Julia Rogers for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.