It’s important for kids to spend time playing outdoors, but sometimes it’s challenging to come up with new and exciting to keep them in motion. To help you out with this we have compiled lots of fun and engaging activities that your little one can enjoy outside . From hiking, to gardening, to backpacking and birthday parties…we’ve got you covered!
Here are some simple tips to help your kids from experiencing brain drain during summer break.
Summer vacation is traditionally known as a time for kids to pause academic studies and just have fun. So while taking a break is important, preventing the Summer Slide is also a priority worth considering. In 1996, the first studies of the Summer Slide showed us that kids lose large amounts of knowledge in reading and math over summer break, which can contribute to an escalation of future skills lost.
Younger kids are more at-risk of experiencing learning loss. “In general, kids learn a lot more in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade than kids in middle school or high school, because learning follows a curve where it’s accelerated early in life and then plateaus,” says James Kim, Ed.D., an assistant professor of education at Harvard University.1
Summer Learning Loss Facts2
1 month (equivalent) of overall learning is lost after summer vacation
3 months of math skills + 2 months of reading are lost over the summer
6 weeks is spent re-learning old material in the fall to make up for summer learning loss
Yes, these numbers sound scary, but don’t worry! Being informed is the first step and knowing that we’ve got you covered with solutions is the other key part of this process. This summer, keep your kids engaged with these teacher-approved brain-building activities.
60% of kids ages 6 to 17 say they love or like reading books for fun a lot.1 Kids gain more from reading when they actually enjoy it. Let them choose.
“Learning through play is about continuity; bringing together children’s spheres of life – home, school, and the wider world, and doing so over time.” Susan MacKay, Director of Teaching and Learning at Portland Children’s Museum.3 Kids’ math and vocabulary skills extend beyond worksheets and can be found in hobbies related to board games, S.T.E.A.M., sharing stories, and more.
Chess Camp by New York Chess Academy (2021 ActivityHero Best of Winner!)
Paul Harris, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who studies imagination. “The imagination is absolutely vital for contemplating reality, not just those things we take to be mere fantasy.”4 Through imagination, kids expand their cognitive abilities to think, know, remember and experiment with new concepts. Even though it may not seem like it, they are learning! Familiar skills are being used to develop new ones.
Through exploration, curiosity is encouraged. With that, more experiences and interests for your kids emerge. Studies show that exploration also supports social-emotional development by allowing kids to build confidence for both independent and collaborative interactions with others. Try something new today.
Rediscover the joys of summer by planning an outdoor youth camp adventure!
After a year of change and disruption, let’s make 2021 the best year yet! Start planning your child’s spring & summer adventures with some of our top trending outdoor youth camps on ActivityHero. Small group, outdoor, in-person camps are selling fast – from horseback riding to survival skills camps!
From the beginner camper to advanced equestrians, find a camp for your horse-loving kids! Learn about horse care: grooming, feeding, bathing and even horse first aid. Saddle a horse, learn about tack, and even explore different styles of riding.
Youth campers will also learn interesting facts about the history, evolution and anatomy of the horse while picking up some horse lingo (did you know that horses are measured in hands?). When not riding, kids will play games, make new friends, and get crafty!
Outdoors, active, educational, and exciting – create lifelong memories kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, and more. With a wide variety of water sports camps available, there is something fun for every kid!
Campers at Shoreline Lake start on sit-on-top kayaks and learn the skills they need to explore the lake and beyond. Techniques include skills such as the draw, pry, figure-eight and “C” strokes. Campers are also taught safety skills to carry them through wherever they go. These include weather and tides, paddle signals, capsize assisting and self-rescue techniques.
Technical Skills: Campers learn how to properly fit a helmet and bike, practice basic bike commands and get comfortable with technical skills including bunny hops, track stands, braking and shifting, becoming more proficient riders as they take on incremental challenges.
Trail Riding: Campers are introduced to a wide range of trails — where they practice good trail etiquette as they learn to ride on rolling single and double track terrain, descending and ascending trail sections and narrow and winding trails.
Bike Maintenance: When they’re not riding, campers get familiar with the nuts and bolts of bike maintenance, learning to safety check their bikes, solve gear problems and change flat tires.
This “Thrill Capital of the World” features over 100 rides and attractions that will satisfy the whole family! Within this 260-acre theme park, Six Flags contains 19 thrilling and exhilarating roller coasters that your kids will greatly enjoy. From smaller toddlers to thrill-seeking teenagers, Six Flags offers a number of rides to everyone’s liking. (See discounted price.)
At the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, your kids can enjoy the characters and environments from their favorite childhood stories. They can meet their favorite princesses and villains, go on adventures with the stars of their most-watched movies, and explore fascinating attractions like “It’s a Small World” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Children of all ages will be entertained at the “Happiest Place on Earth!” (See discounted price.)
With tickets to watch the splendid Los Angeles Dodgers, your kids can cheer for their favorite team in an exciting and electrifying atmosphere! Fans of all ages can enjoy the perks at this magnificent Dodger Stadium that features great outdoors seating and delicious food to enjoy during the game. This spirited venue brings people to their feet and gives them gripping games and exhilarating plays. (See discounted price.)
At the Angel Stadium of Anaheim, fans can enjoy thrilling games, delicious concessions, and great merchandise from their favorite team! This exhilarating game is a great experience for fans of all ages as they get a chance to make wonderful memories with their family. The modern Angel Stadium has splendid outdoor seating where your kids can watch the game they love in an exciting environment. (See discounted price.)
At the Aquarium of the Pacific, get a chance to view the wonders of the largest ocean in the world. With over 100 exhibits, you and your family can explore the fascinating underwater world with the animals and creatures you love! Featured exhibitions include the June Keyes Penguin Habitat, the Shark Lagoon, the Lorikeet Forest, and more. (See discounted price.)
This exciting water park is the perfect place for adventure-loving kids! Six Flags Hurricane Harbor features exciting and heart-pumping water slides for your thrill-seeking kids and calmer lazy rivers and family-friendly rides for you and your toddlers. Kids of all ages can enjoy the several rides here as well as the delicious food while making wonderful memories with their family. (See discounted price.)
Discover over 1,400 animals at the immersive and lush habitats at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens! Your kids can learn about the fascinating wonders of wildlife by visiting the wide variety of animals at this zoo. Los Angeles Zoo also features exhibits like Elephants of Asia, Rainforest of the Americas, and the Lair. (See discounted price.)
This small family farm has now grown into a world famous theme park and is the perfect place to visit with your family! With several rides and attractions, everyone can find an activity for them at Knott’s Berry Farm. From water rides and thrilling roller coasters to family-friendly activities, Knott’s Berry Farm has something for every member of your family. (See discounted price.)
This scavenger hunt that takes you through LA is perfect for puzzle and adventure-loving families! Starting at the Los Angeles Public Library, this adventure helps you discover and learn about the historic downtown Los Angeles. This walking tour of the city is a great way to experience the outdoor life of LA! (See discounted price.)
Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood gets you closer to the entertainment you love. The Studio Tour gives guests a revealing look behind the camera at how Hollywood magic is made. From Friends to Harry Potter and Wonder Woman, fans get to see the real sets and soundstages where the greatest names in entertainment made history as they touch, tour and explore the iconic 110-acre studio. (See discounted price.)
Whether you love a leisurely ride or a real off-road adventure, find a type of biking that appeals to your family. Here are 6 practical tips to get kids started with family-friendly biking.
By the ActivityHero Team with Guest Amanda Wilks
Kids are often tempted to spend hours of their unstructured play time glued to electronic devices. Instead, why not encourage them to go out for a ride? With many benefits for the body and mind, biking is a healthy outdoor activity that can be done at almost any age. Looking to try it out? Here’s expert advice on sizing, types, gear, classes, and specialized activities like mountain biking.
1. Get Fitted
The most important step is to measure your child’s Inseam. A bicycle inseam (or leg length) is not the same as a clothing inseam.
To measure, grab a book and a tape measurer. The child should stand with her back against a wall, spreading her feet about 6 inches apart, either barefoot or in socks. Place a book between her legs, close to the crotch to mimic the bike seat.
Measure from the top of the book (that is, the spine) down to the floor. Choosing a slightly larger bike is fine in order to leave a little room to grow into. Avoid choosing a size which is too far off the mark for your child, which would impede his ability to learn correct riding habits and even expose him to greater danger.
2. Choose the Right Bike
Depending on your interests, there are three main styles of bike: road, mountain, and “hybrid” (a blend between the two), depending on your interests.
If you’re interested in mountain biking, according to MountainBikeReviewed, you can easily find and buy sturdy bikes for less than $300, like the Mongoose Statis Comp, the Villano Blackjack 2.0 or the Schwinn High Timber. Other great mountain bike brands which are geared towards kids are Spawn, Cleary, Early Rider, Pello and Stampede. Many mountain bikes are, contrary to opinion, quite cost-effective.
For road bikes, your local bike shop should have recommendations. Online retailers like Amazon will often have many customer reviews posted. There are also online outfits like BikeExchange if you prefer doing research online.
No matter what style you go with, when the child stands over the bike, there should be a 1-2 “ space between the crotch and the top bar of the bike. Also, “a beginner should be able to plant both feet flat on the ground when getting off the bike, which ensures safety and helps with confidence,” recommends Nick Pavlakis of Pedalheads, a learn-to-ride bike camp based in Seattle, Portland, Denver and Chicago.
Ideally, the right bike choice should be made based on the wheel size, not the frame size. Use the chart below:
Wheel Size 12″ —> Age 2 -3 —> Height 2’10 – 3’4
Wheel Size 14″ —> Age 3 -4 —> Height 3’1 – 3’7
Wheel Size 16″ —> Age 4-5 —> Height 3’7 – 4’0
Wheel Size 20’ —> Age 5-8 —> Height 4’0 – 4’5
Wheel Size 24′ —> Age 8-11 —> Height 4’5 – 4’9
Wheel Size 26′ —> Age 11+ —> Height 4’9
These are rough approximations and, since every child is unique, you should use these numbers only as a guide.
3. Get Essential Gear
A good helmet which protects the brain is the single most important safety feature you must have. Make sure it fits, covers the entirety of the forehead and is properly ventilated. According to Pavlakis of Pedalheads, “research shows that up to 90% of fatal bicycle crashes result from head trauma,” so using a properly fitted and certified helmet will protect the head and brain from damage, which might save your child’s life. Note that helmets are mandatory for children under the age of 16 in most areas. “Check that there is no more than a two-finger gap between your eyebrows and the front part of the helmet,” advises Pavlakis.
Layer up with season-appropriate clothing. In summer, light clothing with good arm and leg coverage will protect from sun, and in cooler temperatures, don’t forget gloves, warm socks, and a wind-proof shell.
For urban and suburban biking, invest in a solid bicycle lock.
If you want to take the whole family along but have younger children who aren’t yet able to pedal on their own steam, the most common options are: Trailers (a wheeled carriage which attaches in back of a bicycle), Pedal-less Bikes (also called Balance Bikes, where kids push off the ground to move forward), and Trail-a-Bikes (a seat plus single-wheel that attaches to a bicycle, allowing pedaling without steering capabilities).
4. Find Classes or Camps
Classes and camps will generally cover the four basic rules of bike riding:
Riding in a straight line without deviating from it;
Looking back without losing balance or swerving;
Stopping the bike using the brakes, taking into account the surroundings;
Good speed control and adapting it in accordance with the terrain.
After mastering these basics, group classes are a great way for kids to learn important skills like giving hand signals, negotiating hilly terrain, understanding road signs and dangers, following traffic flow, and practicing proper spacing between riders.
As a side note, older kids will benefit from learning some everyday maintenance routines, like checking the bike tire’s air pressure, putting the chain back together, and testing the brakes, often covered in more advanced classes or camps.
More inclined to teach on your own? Here’s a helpful guide. Remember to read up on safety do’s and don’ts. If you get to the stage where a child is nearly ready to remove the training wheels, Pavlakis advises parents to take their time: “Don’t rush the process. Taking the training wheels off too early can become a negative experience for the child and may lead to resistance in learning.”
5. Mountain Biking
Mountain biking is a sport that is growing rapidly in popularity by offering excitement, challenge, and unique outdoor settings. To get kids started with mountain biking, you should remember that at the outset, your child might not have the physical endurance or the attention span needed to finish a certain route. Try increasing trip difficulty and length gradually to make the learning process smoother.
First, make sure your child is very capable and comfortable traversing flat, easy terrain. Then transition to doubletrack dirt trails with varying degrees of difficulty and topography. Plan ahead to reduce the chance of accidents. Initially choose short, fun routes that you know well and that you feel your kid can completewith relative ease. Have fun increasing the level of difficulty over time!
6. Find Focus, Stay Safe
Pavlakis recommends that beginning bikers “maintain focus and awareness at all times,” of the conditions on their road or trail to reinforce safe habits. Biking is a perfect way to leave behind the distractedness of everyday life and be more fully engaged in the present. Have fun!
On a roll? Check updated schedules and reviews of popular biking camps and classes in your area on ActivityHero.
About the author
Amanda Wilks is a writer, veteran MTB rider and sports advocate. Her passion for mountain biking dates back to her childhood, when she would join her dad every weekend for a quick ride uphill. She is now addicted to the sport and she never misses a trail. Learn more about Amanda on Twitter.
This summer camp guide will help you find camps that fit your kids interests and provide some tips on how to make it easier to plan your summer with the greatest ease.
Bay Area kids benefit from a large variety of summer camps — sports, art, coding, outdoor and specialty camps! Many parents describe the camp planning process as a jigsaw puzzle as they try to fit together multiple kids, friends, and camp schedules.
At ActivityHero, our mission is to make finding and booking summer camps easier for parents. We’ve put together this summer camp guide to provide an overview of all the top camp categories.
Sports camps are popular with kids of all ages. Summer is a great time for kids to further explore a sport that they love or try something new. Besides keeping kids active, sports camps help kids learn teamwork and perseverance. Sports camps also tend to be less expensive than other camps.
Boys and girls love soccer camps, and even in the summer, it’s not too hot in the Bay Area to be on the soccer field. The youngest campers have fun playing games and running off all that extra summer energy. Experienced players benefit from extra instruction during the off season.
Family favorites: Coach Ken Soccer Camps: “Great staff and great experience for my son and daughter! This was our first year and my daughter who is 6 was interested in playing sports like her 8 year old brother. They both had a great time, learned a lot, and it was a great learning environment for the kids. Can’t wait to go back!”
Basketball camps are great for coordination, exercise and team-building. Campers learn the fundamentals of basketball through games and fun drills. Coaches group children by age and skill level, making it a suitable choice for beginner or advanced basketball players.
Family favorites: Legarza Sports “My son loved his week at Basketball camp. Good instructors who care about the kids. Drop off and pick up were very easy. He’s excited to return next year.
Dance camps are a great way for artistic children to explore their creativity through a variety of different dance disciplines such as modern, jazz, ballet, hip hop, salsa or even aerial dance.
Family favorites: Grrrl Brigade “A terrific empowering experience that exposes and teaches your child a wide range of dances, music, positive approaches to thinking and expressing themselves. The “show” at the end of the week is very inspiring and the staff is thoughtful, patient and kind in leading the girls through an impressive array of choreography.”
Multi-sport camps are a good way to give kids a variety of several different sports and outdoor games. Bald Eagle Sports Camp proudly says their multi-sport camp is “known for getting even the laziest kids up and moving…and loving it!”
Family favorites: Growfit “The staff at GrowFit are simply amazing. I sent both my kids here during the school break and they had an awesome time. The staff went above and beyond when my son was being called names. I really can’t say enough good things about them.”
Coding, Science, and Robotics Camps
Parents know how kids can consume technology for hours at a time on video games, YouTube videos, and social media. So it’s not a surprise that many parents are interested in directing this interest into creating video games, making movies, or coding the next social media app like TikTok.
Summer is a great time to explore coding for kids because most schools don’t offer coding during the school year. Many coding camps use video camps as the subject matter for teaching kids how to use Scratch or Python to create their own game or learn Minecraft or Roblox mods. Teens may choose Java programming camps to prepare for high school computer science courses or App development camps to explore new app ideas.
Science camps and STEM camps are popular for girls and boys who are naturally inquisitive. Camps that focus on science, technology, engineering and math challenges are engaging for curious children who like to explore the how and why. For middle and high school students, STEM camps can showcase a wide variety of potential career opportunities.
Robot summer camps are like coding camps with an extra element of competition. TV shows like BattleBots have introduced more families to the thrill of designing and battling robots. Many introductory robotics summer camps use LEGO Mindstorms, which is also used by the First Lego League in nationwide competitions for kids.
Creative kids can grow their skills and express themselves in any number of art camps and maker camps. From learning to draw to learning to build, art and other maker camps can bring out the creator in every kid.
At a LEGO camp, kids build LEGO animals, spacecraft, and other creations.
For budding master chefs, a cooking camp like Sprouts Cooking Club or Culinary Dude offers hands-on cooking experience and a daily menu. On-demand activities include recipes and video walkthroughs for meals and desserts.
Kids and teens who want to learn to sew will find some creative sewing camps such as Camp Couture in San Mateo, owned by Project Runway finalist Alexandria von Brommson. Sewing camps like this let kids design their own fashions, accessories, and even soft toys.
Woodworking camp is very popular, even in the high-tech age, but harder to find due to the specialized equipment and instructors. Maker Nexus in Sunnyvale has sewing camps as well as woodworking and industrial arts for kids and adults. You’ll also find woodworking at Tinkering School in San Francisco and Young Builders in Palo Alto.
Outdoor and Nature Camps
For both boys and girls, outdoor camps are a top interest with kids ages 5-13. This is great news for parents who want their kids to spend less time with screens and more time connecting with nature and playing outside.
The Bay Area is the perfect place for kids to enjoy both water sports and mountain adventures. Kids can take a hike along creeks or try rock climbing, mountain biking, or canoeing.
Academic camps are a top interest for kids ages 7-10 who would like to explore a subject beyond the typical classroom curriculum in an exciting and engaging way.
Family favorites: “My daughter loves math circle. She tells me that she’s not doing math like at school, rather she says she’s doing puzzles and games and that it’s really fun. I love that she’s having fun learning and that math circle helps her develop a positive attitude about math.”
Girls-only camps are a chance for girls to connect with other girls and get a unique perspective on topics such as leadership, teamwork and goal setting. A single gender camp can boost confidence and help girls find their voice while making friends.
Summer Planning Made Easy
Are you juggling a summer camp schedule with multiple children? Or, are you trying to coordinate camps and carpool with friends? ActivityHero has launched a new tool to make inviting friends and teammates even easier. You can now add your favorite summer camps to a saved list, invite friends and share as a group. Parents are able to RSVP that they are interested, registered or unavailable for that camp all in one convenient location. Save time and plan the ultimate summer experience with your child’s classmates, teammates, neighbors and more!
How many camps should my child attend?
It really depends on your child. Some kids can be single-minded and want to enjoy one camp for the summer and focus on their favorite activity, other kids want to take several classes in different areas throughout the season.
wants to come out and pick up trash in our neighborhood Saturday morning?” a
bright and eager teacher asked a class of 9th graders. While a few dedicated
students might show up, most probably won’t. Saturday morning is prime time for
middle and high school students to sleep in, not volunteer.
But, counselors, teachers, and parents know that kids who take advantage of volunteer opportunities can bolster their college applications, learn new skills, find friendship, and a sense of purpose. So, how can you motivate students of all ages to get out there and volunteer, even on a Saturday morning?
are 3 tips to help boost student interest in volunteering (no nagging
Finding volunteer opportunities that coincide perfectly with student interests is a game-changer. For example, younger students who are animal lovers might enjoy playing with rescue cats. You can explain that the kitties need people-time to learn to trust strangers and are friendly for their future families. Lakes, rivers, and oceans are beloved by children of all ages. So what better way to teach young students about the delicate ecosystem than saving the fish and other sea creatures with a beach clean-up?
school students who express interest in a career in healthcare can volunteer at a local hospital. Baseball stars can mentor
special needs players offering one-on-one coaching. There are also opportunities for
teens who delight in having fun with kids and want to volunteer at a summer camp.
When there’s interest, there’s motivation. So, the goal should be to find volunteer opportunities for students that are relevant, exciting and interesting for them!
the Benefits of Volunteering
many, community service is something kids slog through to meet school requirements
or appease parents. All the while,
they’re wondering, “What’s in it for me?”
After all, their brains are wired to be a bit
at this point in their development. Take advantage and think of some appealing
ideas about how volunteering benefits your child both now, and later. Try some
You’ll get the opportunity
to meet new friends who care about making sure homeless people have warm socks,
just like you do.
Volunteering can be fun
with your besties! Afterward, let’s go out for ice cream.
You’re really great with
animals. Think about what a great home
the kittens will find because you teach them to love kids.
Hey, we’re going to the
beach today. You’ll get to swim with the
fish and help take care of them too!
Someday you’ll apply to
college. Volunteer experience will show schools that you’re more than just
smart. They’ll see what’s important to
Volunteering will give
you the chance to learn real-world skills they’ll never teach you in a
Little kids will love
the one-on-one attention you give them when you teach them how to hold a bat. You’ll
be the rock-star coach.
zero tests and no homework. It’s all about doing cool things with friends.
You know that retail job
you want at Zumiez this summer? Why not
volunteer in a thrift store until then so you get to know fashion trends. You’ll have a real advantage when you apply.
it relatable, up-beat, and actionable. Find
fun YouTube videos showing elementary age students volunteering. Google sample high school resumes or college
application essays that show inspiring volunteer experience. Sharing other
students’ successes can be powerful persuasion for increasing interest in
like what their friends like. In a survey, 25% of students who invited their
friends to volunteer with them sparked their friend’s interest in volunteering!
So, use the power of influence and friendship.
out to families that are already volunteering and ask them to share their
experiences with other students. Share stories and images that highlight
volunteering friendships and the fun, feel-good aspects of helping others. Better yet, ask when they are volunteering
next and offer to carpool.
students to volunteer enthusiastically requires that we make it fun. It also
helps if we can include a small, but perceptible self-esteem boost in their
experience with volunteering. With the right framing, enough support, and the
opportunity to create some memorable moments with friends, students will be
lining up to volunteer!
About the Author
Amy von Kaenel, CEO of VolunteerCrowd Volunteering is one of the best growth opportunities on the path to college and career readiness. VolunteerCrowd gives all middle school, high school, and college students access to meaningful volunteer projects to build a volunteer portfolio.
The best summertime activities help your kids beat the heat while having a blast. Here are 7 fun ideas to try out!
By Madison Lee
Everyone loves summer: clear blue skies, long days, and the sun shining brightly. But sometimes the heat is just too strong, and what would’ve been a beautiful day to go to the park turns out to be a sweaty, sitting-on-the-couch, blasting-the-air-conditioner kind of day.
On days like these, what’s better than keeping everyone cool and entertaining your kids at the same time? We found 7 fun ways to keep kids cool when summer heats up.
1. Make Creative, Wacky Popsicles
There’s nothing better than a cold popsicle on a super hot day. Instead of just freezing juice, test out these cool DIY popsicle recipes! This one from One Little Project is made of gummy bears and Sprite, and this ice cream popsicle bar from Jacquelyn Clark is perfect if you love cookies & cream. If you don’t have a popsicle mold, try out Got Chocolate’s chocolate covered frozen banana – it’ll be fun for kids to pick out their favorite toppings!
2. Play Water Balloon Baseball
If your kids want a game to play with their friends, this water balloon baseball from Overstuffed is the perfect solution. Fill up water balloons, grab a wiffle bat, and let the game begin! Kids will get splashed and have fun competing to see who can hit the most balloons. A modified version of this, if your kids aren’t baseball fans, would be to hang balloons with string and have the kids play piñata with water balloons.
3. Paint the Fence/Ground With Water
This is a mess free, cost free activity for the artist in your kids. You might have some old paint brushes and rollers lying around, and then all you need is a bucket of water! Happy Hooligans’ version suggests that kids try covering the entire fence before it all evaporates, or they can take a more creative approach with some pictures/words.
4. Cool Off in a Homemade Backyard “Kidwash”
Bless My Weed’s take on a traditional carwash might take a little more setup, but the result will be well worth it. Her backyard kidwash requires PVC pipes, sponges, and tarps. There’s room to be creative with setting it up, and your kids can help build it. This will definitely keep everyone cool!
5. Engineer a Water Wall
If your kids are crafty and like to design/build, this is the perfect summer activity!. Basically, you use zip ties to secure different items to a peg board, and pour water down your path. Teaching Mama made a pool noodle water wall, which is cool because you can race marbles down the noodles. You can also take inspiration from Things to Share and Remember’s recycled-objects water wall. Hers is made of tons of random old plastic containers you might have lying around. It’s totally hands on and there are no rules — just have fun with it!
6. Set Up Water Gun Races
This Grandma is Fun reinvents the classic squirt gun carnival game in her own backyard with these squirt gun races. All you have to do is hang 2 cups from string around your backyard; across the pool makes the race more challenging, and makes kids jump in the cold water. Kids can race each other pushing the cups all the way to the end of the course using only a water gun.
7. Play Angry Birds With Water Balloons
Kids love this popular app, and now they can play it in real life! No Time for Flashcards created this water balloon Angry Birds game with her son. It couldn’t be simpler: draw out some pigs in chalk, fill water balloons, use a sharpie to draw on angry bird faces, and fire away! This game will be entertaining and beat the heat for sure.
Need ideas for indoor summer camps to keep kids busy and cool? Shop ActivityHero to find camps near you now.
Getting outside is healthy for the body and the mind. This Earth Day, why not get the whole family outdoors for some memorable adventures?
By Wendy Chou
Research has shown that getting outside keeps kids moving, lowering the risk of childhood obesity. Another health benefit from being out and about: added Vitamin D, which strengthens bones and is thought to help the immune system fight off infection. Some health experts say that spending time outdoors also relieves some symptoms of hyperactivity, including short attention span.
Every year since 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22. It was originally created to bring attention to environmental goals like cleaner air and water. Today Earth Day reminds us to step out into nature. Try these kid-approved outdoor activities highlighting science, crafts, sports, and helping the community. Find these activities and many more in The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, an excellent user-friendly guide for kindling the adventurous spirit in all of us.
Go outside at an unusual time: nighttime! Go stargazing or take a walk to admire the moon. Visit kidsastronomy.com for tips.
Start a compost pile from kitchen scraps and yard trimmings. If your family has a garden, generating your own rich compost (so-called “black gold”) is not only fun, but also useful. It’s also a great tool for teaching kids about nature’s version of recycling. Tips for beginners.
Watch a sunset. Watching colors change can inspire a lifelong appreciation for the environment. Find details on specific sunrise and sunset times at timeanddate.com
Arts and Crafts Lovers
Paint a birdhouse. Using a more natural palette such as gray, dull green, brown, or tan will help keep birds safe from eagle-eyed predators. And steer clear of metallic, iridescent, lead-based, or neon-colored paints which contain additives that are unsafe for wildlife.
Play “Nature bingo”. This game is a variation on a scavenger hunt. Create a bingo card for each player on sturdy paper or cardboard. You’ll need 16 assorted images arranged in a 4 x 4 grid: either paste on stickers, or draw/clip out pictures from magazines. Some examples are ladybug, leaf, flower, bird. After you design the bingo cards, have a blast exploring nature and looking for your items.
Make a nature mosaic. For this textured craft, first gather small items of roughly the same shape and size, like small pebbles, dried flower petals, or seeds. Take a paper plate and draw your desired shape with pen or pencil (for instance, outline your handprint). Working with one small section at a time, add a thin layer of glue and press the objects down to secure them. (If you apply glue over too large an area at once, it will dry before you’ve finished pasting.) Let dry and it’s done!
Roll down a grassy hill. Who doesn’t love doing this on a sunny day?
Go for a bike ride. There’s nothing quite like coasting along on the open road. Safety first: study the biker’s checklist before you head out!
Make homemade trail mix and take it on a hike.
Try geocaching, a modern take on treasure hunting. This activity relies on GPS technology to hide or find caches. To get started, check out geocaching.com.
Join a volunteer event. Find an organization near you (check your city or county listings) that is sponsoring an Earth Day event, such as a river cleanup or tree planting.
Visit a farmers’ market. You’ll find fresher fruits and vegetables here with less wasteful plastic packaging. People selling their wares often enjoy telling you where and how they grew their food –and sometimes let you try a sample for free.
Beautify your neighborhood. Clean up trash, prune or weed a garden, or do some other type of community service to show your appreciation for Mother Earth.
Find summer camps featuring the outdoors. Camp is a great way to spend time outside. Emily Moeschler has over ten years of experience in adventure education and the outdoor industries. She is currently a leader at Avid4Adventure Camp in Boulder, CO. Her top tip: “Give your kids permission to get dirty!”
Be inspired. Have your own brainstorming session to come up with even more outdoor activities. There’s really no “right” way to explore, just get outside and have fun!
Sidewalk chalk was a childhood favorite of mine, and it seems to be a timeless pastime, as every child I know loves it. Instead of just grabbing a box of chalk at the local store, create a new family memory by making your own.
To create chalk: Cut a paper towel tube into 3- or 5-inch pieces, and use waxed paper to line the inside and cover one of the ends. (Hold the paper it in place with masking tape.) Mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of tempera paint, ¾ cup of plaster of Paris, and ½ cup of water. Pour the mixture inside the tubes and let sit for a few hours, until solidified. Peel off the waxed paper and cardboard tube, and you have your own homemade chalk for hours of decorating your sidewalk.
Dabble in Finger Paints
I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t love finger painting, and rarely do I meet a child who doesn’t “accidentally” get a little paint in their mouth. Most finger paints are labeled “nontoxic,” but I still like to make my own paint because I know exactly what is in it. Plus, helping you make the paint can be a fun activity for a child.
To make finger paint: Use a ratio of 1 part flour to 2 parts water. For one child and a few colors, I typically start with ½ cup of flour and 1 cup of cold water. Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and heat it on the stove, stirring until it becomes a smooth mixture and the lumps are gone. Then remove the flour mixture from the heat and divide it into bowls, one for each color you’d like to make. Slowly add cold water until the paint is at the desired consistency, and stir in food coloring. Add a pinch of salt, which helps to stop the paint from spoiling, and you can store it in the fridge indefinitely.
Whip Up Some Homemade Bubble Mix
Bubbles are another springtime favorite. While it’s easy to run to the store to grab a bottle of bubbles, making your own is super easy. And witnessing a child’s excitement when they see the bubbles they’ve made themselves is far better than grabbing a bottle at the store. However, I do recommend picking up some bubble wands to get the most fun out of this activity.
To make bubbles: Combine 12 cups of water, 1 cup of dish soap, 1 cup of cornstarch, and 2 tablespoons of baking powder. You can also add 1 tablespoon of glycerin, but the recipe works fine without it. Combine all ingredients, taking care not to create bubbles as you stir. Let sit for 1 hour, then enjoy an afternoon of bubble fun!
Go on a Scavenger Hunt
Take a walk with your child and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Head through your neighborhood to the local park or, if you’re lucky enough to have access, walk along a creek bed. Encourage your child to explore and search for butterflies, salamanders, worms, frogs, birds, and other small animals. Ask them to count how many different types of flowers they see. Seeing nature “waking up” is the perfect introduction to spring.
Sensory bins are a great thing to have around throughout the year. Essentially they are plastic bins, boxes, or similar containers filled with objects of various sizes, shapes, and textures. They are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers who are fascinated simply by the way things feel, and they are a great way to introduce children to new things. Sensory bins are particularly helpful during rainy days when the kids can’t get outside to play.
To create a spring sensory bin: Fill a plastic bin about halfway with dirt, sand, or pebbles. Then add things like flowers from the yard, miniature flower pots, kid-safe indoor gardening tools, plastic bugs or worms, and any other fun additions that you find around the house.
Craft a Few Bird Feeders
Making bird feeders each spring was a favorite tradition of mine and something I love doing with my children. All you need is a toilet paper roll and some peanut butter, birdseed, and string.
To create a bird feeder: First, put the string through the center of the toilet paper roll and leave at least 6 inches of string on either side of the roll before tying the ends together in a knot. This is how you will hang the feeder in a tree. Next, cover the outside of the toilet paper roll with peanut butter and roll it in birdseed. Make sure to cover the entire surface. Head out to your yard, select a tree, and hang it up. It’s fun to choose a tree that’s visible from the house so you and your kids can watch as the birds come to eat.
Mix Up Some Spring Goo
“Goo” is another great sensory activity — especially since this fun substance acts like a liquid and a solid.
To create Spring Goo: Mix 1 part water with 2 parts cornstarch. Stir in flowers, glitter, or anything else you think might be a good addition. Goo can also be turned into a fun science experiment: It’s a solid when cupped in your hands or resting in a bowl, but it behaves like a liquid when you pour it from your hand.
Spring is planting season. Why not allow your child the chance to have his or her own kid-size garden? If you already have a garden, dedicate a small corner to your child. If not, choose a sunny spot and create a new garden bed together. Allow your child to choose the seeds, help plant them, and then tend the garden as one of their daily responsibilities. It’s an educational experience that also gives children an opportunity to connect with nature … while getting a little dirty!
Considering exploring overnight camps for your children this summer? Two directors share tips to prepare kids for the positive experience of a lifetime.
By Laura Quaglio
If your kids haven’t tried sleepaway camp, you’re entering uncharted territory for your family. That, however, is not actually a bad thing. “Doing something outside of your comfort zone burns memories that last forever because it won’t blend into the background of life,” says Michael Richards, founder and executive director of Science Camps of America based in Pahala, Hawaii. When kids spread their wings, they can grow as a person — and become more the person they really are, not limited by the perceptions and history of their classmates or even their own family.
“Campers all enter on this totally equal basis, and they can express their personality without the backdrop of their whole life, their whole history,” says Richards, whose camps are for teens aged 13 to 17 who are interested in exploring volcanoes, rocks, forests, oceans, and skies of Hawaii to learn about related sciences like geology, climate, and astronomy. “You can’t come to school and reinvent yourself — or even be yourself,” he adds. “In the camp, kids can express their personality and no one is going to judge them or say, ‘Why did you suddenly change?’ I think that gives kids tremendous empowerment.”
Being in a camp environment also helps prepare kids to function as positive and productive members of society during adulthood. At Camp Chrysalis, where kids aged 8 to 17 explore various outdoor environments in California, director Lee Tempkin takes pride in showing campers how “shared leadership” works. “Everyone calls me Lee, though it’s clear I’m the leader,” he says of his management style. “The staff and I have camp huddles, talk around the campfire, and discuss who would like to give the next camp talk,” he says. “Kids see that we are all part of an adult community. That we respect and work with each other and with them.” Being in a tight-knit group 24/7, even for a short time, helps kids build stronger teamwork skills and independence, all of which will serve them well when they eventually leave home as a young adult entering the workforce or college.
Still a bit hesitant? Worried if your kid will thrive and if you will survive? Here are some ways to tell whether you and your child are ready … and how to prepare them for a transformative, positive experience.
Think About Their Personality
Richards says that “the vast majority of kids love [overnight camp], even if it is their first time doing it.” The kids who do best, says Tempkin, are those who are open, flexible, and positive about new experiences. His camps expose kids to a variety of outdoor activities while living among redwoods, tide pools, marshes, and mountains and learning about ecology and our responsibility for our planet. Kids will get dirty and wet. They’ll sleep in tents with other campers and learn outdoor skills. Kids who are accustomed to spending most of their time in an urban area, indoors, or in solo activities may have a tougher time adapting. For them, as well as kids younger than age 8, he says it’s better to start with overnights or a weekend getaway at a friend or family member’s house. “Summer camp is not the time to have a kid be away from mom and dad for the first time,” he says.
Kindness, too, is key. “Kids who are mean to other kids may have a hard time,” says Tempkin. Campers will be interacting with each other in close proximity all day (and night) without breaks. Kids don’t have to like everything or everyone new, he notes, but they need to appreciate different experiences and different kinds of people.
In a way, this is good news, because it means that bullying is not generally a problem at either of these overnight camps, and probably many others. “Kids are amazingly open about it, and they won’t let anyone get away with the slightest bit of it,” Richards says. “Maybe because they’re not with their usual peer group. They think, ‘Let’s stop this before it starts.’ It’s really something to see.”
Let Your Child Choose the Camp
Richards says that telling a kid, “you’re going here” is one of the biggest mistakes parents make. Of course you won’t want to let your child have the only say-so: Sometimes kids don’t have the same concerns that you do. And if you aren’t comfortable with their pick, your child will sense that, and it might affect their stay. On the other hand, kids will be more invested in having a good time if they are allowed to select a program that excites them.
Some camps offer a range of activities that can include athletics, crafts, survival skills, and so on. Others center on a particular theme, such as a single sport, academic subject, or interest (like soccer, science, or computer coding). “Kids find us because they’re interested in science,” says Richards. “So they’re going to be in a group of like-minded kids. All of a sudden, these kids have that shared enthusiasm, and that makes it a very good social experience.” On the other hand, kids who don’t have a specific interest may prefer to dabble in a variety of activities, which can help them find a new hobby they’ll love. Either way, discuss these different options and be sure your child knows what “their” camp offers.
Encourage Their Independence
At Camp Chrysalis, kids learn to keep track of their gear, their toothbrush, their fork, and so on. They will spend 8 to 12 days at Big Sur, Mendocino, or Sierra. They will hike, swim, and hang out. They also learn camping skills like “how not to damage a tent,” “how to sterilize drinking water,” and “how to whittle safely.” You can help set them up for success by encouraging them to take more responsibility for such items and actions at home. Let them start packing their sports bag or packing their lunch for school. When preparing for camp, have them help you pack their labeled camp gear, too, so they know where everything is located.
At Science Camps of America, Richards likes to give kids as much choice as possible throughout the day, such as which bed to sleep in, which van to ride in, and what topic to debate that evening. If you don’t already do so, start encouraging your kids to make more of their own choices when it’s feasible.
Another tip: Once they’re at camp, leave them be. Both camp directors agree that kids will have a better experience if their parents aren’t checking in all the time. In fact, many camps take away tech, though they’ll certainly allow phone calls if a child is particularly homesick.
If you miss texting your kids, remember this: Taking that away will free them up to interact with the kids at camp. Richards says he gathers up the cell phones after each camp’s orientation. “The kids know that it’s going to happen and they’re all horrified by the prospect of it, but within a few hours, you’ve got 20 strangers who are best friends. It’s amazing to see how fast they socialize and connect without cell phones to distract them.” You can both get accustomed to the idea by easing up on the tech connections at home a bit, too. And if they do phone home, Richards says make sure to tell them you’re excited and happy for them. You may feel like you should tell them how much you miss them, but both camp directors agree that this often makes kids feel guilty about having fun, which can inhibit their ability to immerse themselves in the experience.
Fear of the unknown can be powerful, but it’s easy enough to dispel some of it. Richards, for one, believes in finding information that helps kids and parents “envision the environment” and understand what a typical day or week will hold.
“I encourage parents to look at the camp’s website with their kids,” says Tempkin. “We also have a family night in June, where we show slides. I think it’s reassuring to have some of the basic information so it’s not so scary for them to go off on their own.”
If you like, call the camp and see if a director or staff member can answer your questions. What do the facilities look like? What food will be provided? What will the campers learn? Work with your kids to create a list of things you want to ask.
If you learn something you think the kids won’t love, don’t withhold the information from them, advises Tempkin. “I’m a believer that kids are people who need to be respected to handle information, especially regarding an experience that is going to be their experience.” The more a child knows, the better they can picture themselves there, having a great time.
Talking to other parents can be helpful, too. Ask the camp director for references. Also look for written reviews such as the ones on ActivityHero or on the camp’s website.
Ask About Staff Numbers, Age, and Experience
For parents who are worried about their kid getting lost in the shuffle, it’s important to look at the size of the camp, says Tempkin. “We divide our campers into four small groups of 8 or 9 kids with 2 staff members, and they eat together and doactivities together on a daily basis, so the staff gets to know the campers really, really well.” Richards, too, has a smaller camp, with just 20 kids and 5 staff members per session. “We try to develop a relationship with each kid, one-on-one,” he says. “Our motto is: Don’t treat them as a group. Treat them as individuals.”
Maturity of the staff is important too, says Tempkin. Half of his staff members are adults, not college or high school students. “The maturity of the staff is reassuring for families who have never done camp before,” he says. Younger staffers can serve as great role models or mentors, but there must be enough adults available to deal with larger concerns and keep campers on track.
It’s also a good sign if some staffers are former campers, since they will know the culture, and they obviously enjoyed their stay when they were kids. Tempkin says that most of his staff grew up attending his camp, and he has known them since they were 8 or 10 years old. “They act as mature mentors who can be a positive factor in the kid’s life,” he says. “Kids need adults in their lives who are not their parents, especially as they become teens. A good camp can provide those mentors.”
Last, ask how long staffers have been with the camp. A low turnover rate means staffers know what they’re doing — and they enjoy it enough to return summer after summer.
Talk About How Kids Can Share Their Experiences With You
Kids love to teach their parents, and attending a summer camp offers them a chance to learn new things and then pass them on. Your child can do this by keeping a journal. Kids at Camp Chrysalis write in a “Bear Book.” In fact, Tempkin says that this can also help dispel some homesickness because kids know they can always write a letter to home and share it later. They also send a postcard to parents midway through the trip. This is fun for kids, most of whom have never written out a postcard before, and for parents who feel better when they receive even a brief communication.
Another option might be to revisit the locations your child explored and ask them to serve as your tour guide. Richards says that one mom and her son spent a few days in Hawaii after his camp ended, and she phoned a few days later to share how much her son enjoyed showing her around the island. Richards adds, “It gave that boy an opportunity to take what he had learned and teach it to his mother. And as we know, when we teach something, that’s when we really learn it.” Tempkin has similar stories of campers who became “great tour guides of the areas they’ve learned about.”
As for parents, knowing that our children have surpassed us, even in a small area of expertise, is tremendously rewarding. So when they share, listen closely and ask questions.
In the meantime, go ahead and start making your own list of what you want to do — or where you’d like to go — when your kids are at sleepaway camp. Who knows? Their getaway might be a transformative experience for you, too.
Overnight camp can be an exciting adventure; however, going for the first time can cause some jitters for parents and kids alike. Soothe the nerves of your camper by sharing these interesting camp experiences — some completely silly, some true to life. In the media choices below, we explore nontraditional camps like spy camp and roller derby camp, as well as the more common sleepaway camp in the woods. Share them with your soon-to-be campers and see their excitement grow!
Books for Kids Going to Overnight Camp
This terrific graphic novel tells the story of a young teen learning to work hard and become a good teammate at roller derby camp one summer. Her ideas of friendship are tested outside of camp, but she comes through strong and inspired to do her best.
This sequel to Spy School reports on spy summer camp. A thrilling adventure awaits the main character as he heads to camp for high-stakes survival training camp, but encounters much more. Please note that while there is violence in this book, it is cartoon violence.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
Supernatural creatures run the show in the wacky summer camp portrayed in this comic book series. Five girlfriends band together and have a great time dealing with strange critters and a tough camp counselor. Ultimately, they empower each other to have a summer full of adventure.
Bless the Beasts & Children
This classic novel tells the difficult but poignant story of boys sent away to camp because of challenging home lives. Set in the West, it shares how the boys unite and defy authority to do what is right. Beautifully written, this story will be best for enthusiastic teen readers.
The Parent Trap (1961)
Whether you prefer the 1961 original or the remake, the story is funny and engaging. Twins are separated by their parent’s divorce and raised as singletons. They rediscover each other at summer camp, scheme to reunite their warring parents, and chaos ensues. Quaint and old-fashioned, the actors in the original will charm you.
Girl power is the message in this documentary set at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon. Several girls from differing backgrounds are featured as they learn to play an instrument and build confidence through their performances. These girls share their feelings and their creativity. It’s an empowering movie, at times infuriating and sad, but with a powerhouse of a message.
This movie shows a stylized world like no other. It’s a quirky movie with laughter, sadness, and hilarity. The pair of runaway tweens are decent and devoted. Not your usual camp experience, but entertaining and lovely.
Great love for the theater supersedes any differences that this group of campers discovers about each other. Every two weeks, campers put on a Broadway show. Personalities are strong but, always, the show must go on! Be aware that there is strong language and situations in this PG-13 rated movie.
A spin-off from the popular Disney series Jessie, this fictitious camp experience is full of pranks, silliness, and friends.
Completely imaginary, this camp is run by monsters, with very few rules and regulations for the campers. Bathroom humor is popular and frequent. Obviously, this is not what overnight camp will be like, but it’s funny to imagine.
Get the family outside for some fun and fresh air with these hiking tips from an ActivityHero expert.
By Laura Quaglio
Getting out for a hike is a great way to spend a weekend or evening with your family. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the average American kid spends as little as half an hour in outdoor “free play” each day … and more than seven hours staring at a computer screen. That’s a shame, since playing outside has been linked to a wide array of health and wellness perks for kids, including some surprises such as better in distance vision, improved test performance at school, and healthier social interactions.
ActivityHero provider Kurt Gantert, Founder and Director of Wanderers*, is thrilled that science has proven some of the things that “outdoorsy people” have long known. “My parents took me hiking at an early age, so I grew up just kind of loving it,” says Kurt, who has fond memories of exploring the Adirondacks with his folks, siblings, and friends. Drawing on those early outdoor experiences, Kurt has built a career in the field of outdoor education/adventure travel, working as a wilderness guide and educator for more than 20 years. Today, he likes nothing better than leading kids in Northern California (including his own two children) on outdoor explorations throughout the year. “What I notice is that kids have a sense of freedom outdoors that they don’t often have in our very scheduled world,” adds Kurt. “Nature has a very calming effect.”
Of course, nature also offers plenty of challenges that indoor and at-home activities do not. That’s why Kurt favors being well-prepared before setting out with your brood. (Plus, if kids wind up hungry, hurt, or over-tired, they won’t want to hit the trail ever again.) To help ensure a positive adventure, Kurt offers these tips to consider before hitting the trail.
1. Let Kids Bring a Buddy
“Always try to invite another family along on your hike,” suggests Kurt. Taking some of your kids’ friends on your excursion can prevent them from complaining throughout the trip. When children are around their peers, explains Kurt, they’re distracted and less likely to be bored — and they won’t want to “look bad” in front of their friends, so they’re more likely to grin and bear it when the going gets a little tough.
2. Check the Conditions
Look up what the weather will be in the area you’re planning to hike. It may be very different from the weather at your house, even if you’ll be fairly close by. You can check the websites for The Weather Channel or NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to find out what’s brewing.
Kurt also suggests researching the terrain. Are there any big hills? Is it likely to be muddy? Kids will enjoy themselves more if there aren’t too many obstacles to overcome. If you’re not sure where to go, check American Trails to search more than 1,100 recreation trails in the U.S., or use the Web to search for family-friendly trails in your area. You may also prefer to stick to trails that offer bathroom facilities, guides, and other amenities, especially if you’re not an avid outdoors person or you have little ones in tow. “Sometimes national parks have guide posts and offer special ranger talks,” says Kurt. “These are often volunteers who are trained in certain subjects. For instance, guides at Point Reyes National Seashore just north of San Francisco share interesting information about Tule elk during the rut season. Listening to ranger talks can make the experience more fun for the group,” says Kurt.
3. Don’t Pack Light
When Kurt hikes in national or state parks throughout the country, he often notices how under-prepared people are for hiking. “You should bring a backpack filled with a lot of stuff,” says Kurt. “Don’t feel it’s a burden, as some of the items you bring could be crucial to a more enjoyable hike.” Some of his suggestions include healthy snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, binoculars, a camera, and a simple first-aid kit. “Kids fall down and skin their elbows all the time,” says Kurt. If your children have allergies, also bring their EpiPen and some Benadryl. And, of course, carry plenty of water. “Pack more water than you think you’ll need,” he says. “At least two pretty-good-sized bottles per person for a full-day hike.” For little kids — or if you’ll be near a lake, stream, or pond — bring towels and a change of clothes, too, including fresh socks.
4. Get a Few Guidebooks
Kurt loves to tote a few such books along on his hikes so kids can look up birds, animals, and plants they see along the way. If you’re taking tweens or teens on the hike, consider downloading an app that allows kids to take a photo of a plant or animal and automatically IDs what they see. Kids in these age groups can also serve as the family videographer/photographer, documenting special moments on the trail.
One caveat: Turn off the tech if it starts detracting from the experience instead of enhancing it. Kurt’s camps don’t allow any use of technology by kids because they often will go from taking a photo to checking Instagram. For that reason, Kurt sticks to paper guidebooks for use in Wanderers programs. Two of his favorites: The Sibley Guide to Birds and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to California.
5. Plan Some Play Time
Choose a destination that the kids will really enjoy — such as a beach or a stream where they can splash around. In fact, if your kids are young, Kurt suggests keeping the actual hiking portion of the adventure fairly short, ending up at a kid-friendly spot and spending as long as they like in “free-play” mode. As kids get older (and their legs and attention spans lengthen), you can increase the distance of your family hikes.
Kids seem to instinctively love playing in nature, but if yours aren’t sure what to do, get into the act with them and build with rocks or sticks, skip stones across a pond, search for animal habitats, do rubbings of tree bark with a crayon and paper, and even sketch what you see in a notebook. “Free play is very important for kids, and there’s less and less of it in this day and age,” says Kurt.
6. Dress for Success
Even in the warmer months in California, Kurt doesn’t generally hike in shorts because of ticks and poison oak. He prefers comfortable hiking pants, some “sturdy hiking socks” (not low athletic-style socks), and several layers on top so he can make adjustments when the temperature changes. Regardless of the forecast, Kurt recommends including options that will be appropriate for all types of weather. “In the mountainous regions of the West Coast, you can get snow even in the summertime,” he says. “Always bring an extra warm layer.” He also advises heading out early so you won’t be at a higher elevation later in the day. “In mountain ranges, such as the Sierra Nevada in California, thunderstorms can roll in during the afternoon,” he says. You don’t want to get caught out in one of those.
As for footwear, don’t wear brand-new hiking shoes or boots on a long hike. “That’s a good recipe for a blister,” says Kurt. Break in new hiking boots gradually over time before taking them on a long trek. Usually, he notes, sneakers are fine for a day hike on a well-maintained and not-too-rocky trail.
7. Plan an After-Hike Activity
When you hike with your family, you’re creating lasting memories. To ensure that kids really lock in the things they’ve seen and learned, take some time after the hike to swap stories and reminisce about the experience. For instance, you might want to find a nearby family-friendly restaurant where you can take your hungry hikers for a follow-up chat at the adventure’s end.
Kurt holds such a session at the end of each week of camp at Wanderers. “We get the kids to talk about what was special to them and what they learned,” he says. “It’s interesting. What they say is not always what you’d think of.” The trick here? Don’t just ask, “What was your favorite thing?” Most of the time, after one kid speaks up, everyone agrees that they loved that part of the day, too. Instead, mentally walk your whole family through the journey again. Mention each stop you made or each plant or animal you identified. Ask what each person saw and what surprised them. Share what surprised you, too. You might even want to video what your kids say — and make some notes about whatever you learned from the trip. What items did you wish you’d brought? Which ones should have been left at home? What would you never do again? What would you like to do more of? Keep this list with your hiking gear, so you can reference it before your next family excursion.
Consider Enrolling Kids in an Outdoor Adventure Camp
While hiking as a family offers certain perks, exploring the outdoors with trained professionals provides kids with another level of experience that can be valuable for any child, says Kurt. For one thing, Kurt’s programs focus on “experiential education.” “We’re not just sitting in a classroom learning about where our tap water comes from,” says Kurt. “We hike to the reservoirs and/or watersheds that provide our water, and we have discussions about what they are and the natural and human history behind each one.” Each day begins with an instructor giving a short talk to prep kids for the day, and then they head out and put those concepts and vocab words to use. Each trek is mapped out carefully, with rest stops along the trail where instructors stop to point out special features while giving kids a water break and rest.
If you’d like to find a great outdoor adventure camp in your area, Kurt suggests you ask a few questions about the staff and their safety practices. Find out:
Who is the director and how involved are they in the day-to-day operations?
How long has the camp been around?
What is the camp’s safety record?
What is the staff-to-camper ratio? (Wanderers usually offer a 1:5 ratio, but 1:7 is also very good for hiking or camping, particularly with older kids.)
What training does the staff have? (Wanderers staffers are at least 21 years old and have a minimum of 2 years’ experience leading outdoor activities. They are also certified in wilderness first aid and CPR, and many have their Wilderness First Responder certification. Wanderers also provides staff with a week-long training session and other training as needed.)
Headed off to the woods with a tent and some sleeping bags? Take along these creative ideas to make family camping extra fun.
By Ashley Winters
Nature makes room for your child to explore, learn, and create. It’s easy to transform a regular campsite into the “summer camp” of a lifetime. Oftentimes family campgrounds have activities to keep kids busy, but in case yours is off the beaten path, I have compiled 10 unique and fun activities for family camping that will keep your kid’s imagination inspired. Whether you do something as simple as taking a walk through the woods or as extravagant as creating and overnight adventure, your kids will love outdoor activities like these … and they’ll love spending quality time with you.
Think about what a spy needs: paper, pencil, periscope, magnifying glass, rope, etc. To create the ultimate spy camp, start by making spy gear such as:
A periscope: Using 2 mirrors (2″ by 1″), a piece of cardboard carton (6.5″ by 8″), scissors, glue and paint, you can help your child to create a periscope. Use the periscope to peer over walls and around corners.
A book safe: Using a hardcover book, sharp craft knife, ruler, and pencil, you can help your child create a place to hide his or her secrets in plain view.
Fingerprint Powder: Using starch powder, a candle, two porcelain dishes and a knife, you can show kids how to lift fingerprints and track clues.
Next, give them some detective work. Maybe they have to sneak into another campsite to grab a clue from the fire pit (make sure you talk to other campers first) or swing through an obstacle course to capture the clue. A good old-fashioned game of Capture the Flag is another way to use their sneaky minds creatively. Use real-life activities that you think your child would enjoy to enhance their spy skills.
2. Bring Along Lego Bricks
The great thing about Lego toys is that they can be taken anywhere; even into the campgrounds. Have your child use trees, birds, flowers, and all the nature around them to get ideas for their creations.You could talk to other campers in the area and see if any other children would like to get involved in a Lego competition. Go hiking to find venues of creativity and have your child design them using Lego bricks. Nothing can bring out creativity quite like a campsite.
3. Create All-Natural Fashions
If your child is really into fashion, encourage them to use only their surroundings to create something stylish. Back before sewing machines, TV and Internet, creativity and style came from what was on hand. For instance, flowers and berries would add spice to a plain cowhide dress. Go back to the ways of the land and show your child how to create fashion from what is around such as:
Flower hair accessories
Leaf dresses or outfits
Necklaces woven from stems and wood pieces
Woven purses or baskets
Using the Earth and nature to create fashionable necklaces or adornments is a lot better for the environment, and there are so many different ways to do it. So, encourage your child to be creative and see the beauty not only on TV, but in the Earth as well.
4. Make Family Camping an Adventure
Okay, let’s face it: Camp in and of itself is an adventure. However, you can make it that much more of an adventure for your child just by using some of the following ideas:
Cross a shallow river or creek without a bridge. (Safety first, of course.)
Climb the tallest tree and take pictures together (using safety harnesses).
For older children, take them into the woods and have them use a compass and map to find their way back to camp. You can be their guide. (Be sure you know where you’re going first.)
5. Give Mother Nature a Makeover
In some cultures, people celebrate May Day by weaving a tree with vibrant ribbon. This is usually done at festivals and with music. Encourage your child to learn a new culture and engage in an activity such as weaving ribbons of color around a tree at your campsite. Attach ribbons to the top of the tree and let them hang down. It is important to have an even number. Each person who is participating can grab one strand of ribbon. Partners will face each other and move around the tree going over then under the next person. This dance creates a beautiful weaved display and also teaches children different cultural rituals and history.
6. Whittle Some Magic Wands
Sticks make great wands. Simply use a pocket knife to smooth the stick. Carve in magic symbols or use paint to decorate it. The Earth gives us everything we need to create, explore, and design.
7. Try Tic Tac Toe: The Mother Nature Edition
A game played through the years is always fun, whether drawn in the dirt or made with the nature around us. Gather sticks for your playing board and use acorns or rocks for your playing pieces. Remember: Three in a row wins it.
8. Build a Raft
This generation of kids has probably never made a homemade raft. Just find pieces of wood in the forest and tie them together using twine or vines (make sure they’re not poison ivy!). You could even make miniature rafts and race them on the river. See who can create the fastest raft using the materials they have. Maybe you want to add a flag made of a twig and leaves or a scrap of fabric. Be creative and have fun.
Bring your kids back to the days before GPS, and create a compass using a bowl of water, a magnet, a needle, and a foam circle. They will learn about magnetism, direction, and what to do if…God forbid…the internet ever crashes. Kids won’t realize they’re learning, and parents will enjoy teaching their children a valuable skill. Encourage your kids to figure out how to use the compass to make their way back to camp.
10. Craft Jewelry From Nature
Braid together vines or stems to make “rope” for a bracelet or necklace. To decorate the rope, gather flowers, leaves, or rocks with holes to use as beads. With nature at your doorstep, there is no telling the creativity that can be enjoyed.
What kid doesn’t dream about becoming a pirate and digging up buried treasure to fill their chest? You may not be able to sail the bounding seas on your summer vacation, but you and your kids can enjoy nature while digging for buried treasure across the U.S. From gold and gems to actual dinosaur fossils, if it fascinates your kids, there’s a spot where they can discover it. These top-notch treasure spots are guaranteed to give your kids a great time and might even provide a valuable piece of treasure for a souvenir.
Hiddenite, North Carolina
Nestled in the hills of North Carolina, the Emerald Hollow Mine is the destination for thousands of gems seekers each year. Set in one of the most interesting geological areas in the country, Emerald Hollow Mine has produced dozens of types of gems, including amethyst, topaz, sapphires and valuable green emeralds. Your little treasure hunters might happen upon one of the 63 different types of gems that have been found here and they can turn any of their finds into cut stones or jewelry with the onsite lapidary shop.
In Crater of Diamonds State Park, diamonds can be found literally sitting on top of the soil, ready for treasure hunting kids to pick up. Sitting on top of an ancient volcano field, this diamond field produces already-smoothed stones in white, brown, and yellow colors. There are three different diamond-searching methods used here:
Walk the fields and, using a sharp eye, find stones laying on top of the soil
Dig shallow areas and sift the soil, digging through resulting gravel by hand
Dig deep holes, concentrating the resulting soil into a likely gravel mix
The first method is obviously the simplest, and has actually produced gemstone-sized diamonds for lucky visitors. Bring your own tools or rent them at the park. Rangers are prepared to identify diamonds from your pile of rocks, but leave the valuation up to your local jeweler.
Deming, New Mexico
In the desert lands of Rock Hound State Park, thousands of people have found geodes, also known as thunder eggs. These stones just look like plain rocks when you pick them up, but once you crack them open the insides show off lovely crystals in amethyst, hematite, or rose quartz. Make this treasure hunting outing a part of your camping or RV trip in the Western part of the country. Geodes can be found in washed-out piles of rocks or lying against wind-swept hills. Bring along small hammers to tap the rocks open to discover what’s inside the best of them.
Devil Hills, South Dakota
The Badlands region of South Dakota is prime dinosaur-fossil hunting land. Kids who are dino-lovers will eagerly spend their days sifting through piles of rock and soil just to find a hint of dinosaur history. Gigantic pieces of bone from over 145 million years ago have been discovered here, and young hunters have had as much luck as older, more experienced explorers. If you find fossils in this area you have to report them to the authorities and leave them where you found them, but pictures with the fossil make a great souvenir. Besides, how many kids can brag about personally discovering their own dinosaur and have the pictures to prove it?
Central Florida Coast
Photo by Flickr user David Dawson Photography
11 Spanish galleons sunk off the Florida coast in 1715, dropping tons of gold coins, jewels, and other relics into the sea. The ocean waves have been washing this treasure up for the past 300 years onto the beaches between Cape Canaveral and Stuart. People have been finding treasure almost daily, even today, and the finds are so simple they’re great for kids to work on. Look on the high tide line, especially after a thunderstorm creates big waves and on the sand that’s still damp from the tide going out. Treasure has been found by looking with the naked eye but you may want to invest in a simple metal detector to find treasure buried in the sand. The entire eastern coast of central Florida provides abundant lodging for visitors so pick a small town for your best bet and look for your very own pirate treasure.
When you go treasure hunting with your kids, you’ll build memories and give them experiences none of their friends will ever have.