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.
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.
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.)
Christmas break and other holidays can leave kids bored or blue. Beat cabin fever with these low-cost family-fun activities that kids of all ages enjoy.
By Jennifer Moore
The holidays are one of the best times of year to promote family bonding, and doing activities as a group can help strengthen those ties even more. Keeping your kids’ brains and hands busy also makes for fonder memories, since boredom and cabin fever are sure-fire triggers for sibling squabbles. The following are a few activities that cost little or nothing and can be enjoyed by children of all ages. With each one, think about your own favorite holiday activities from childhood, and use those fond memories to add your own special touch.
Start making holiday crafts, tree ornaments, wall ornaments, and frames. You’ll get keepsakes you can bring out every Christmas, and your kids will get a kick out of seeing their crafts on display for years to come. (Be sure to have your child add their name and date to each item.) Even if Christmas is over, creating decorations is a great way to keep kids busy during the break. Plus, you can see what areas of the house could use some extra adornment next year, then make items just for those spots. This is also a great time to do minor repairs and touch-ups on decorations from years-gone-by.
Stir Up Some Fun
Kids of all ages love to cook, and the holidays are the perfect time for parents and kids to bond while baking. Get out the cookie cutters, icing, and edible decorations (such as sprinkles and candy letters), and create unique cookies, cupcakes, and candies. If you’re not much of a baker, purchase a gingerbread house kit and have fun decorating it. Clean-up tip: If you’re not planning on nibbling on the gingerbread house later, you can adorn it with old candies that are left over from Halloween or school goodie bags.
Don’t forget family movie night! A dreary or cold day is the perfect time to pull out all of those must-see holiday classics. Or break out the new DVDs that the kids recently received as presents. This is especially great when siblings are tiring of each other or when they don’t like to play the same games. Having the “shared experience” of watching a movie will provide siblings with an enjoyable interaction. Plus, they’ll have something to discuss later, such as favorite scenes, lines, and characters from the film. If they tend to bug each other, be sure to have them be bookends, with you sandwiched between them as a buffer.
The best way to get rid of extra Christmas cookies is to invite some of your kids’ friends over. This may seem like a lot of work when you’re already trying to amuse your own children all day during break, but it actually may give you time to regroup while the kids show friends their new toys and games. You and your spouse can take turns supervising the play date, while the other does chores … or relaxes with a good book.
It’s easier to get rid of cabin fever if you don’t spend the whole break in your “cabin.” If you live in a place that gets winter weather, then go out and enjoy the snow. Building snowmen, making snow angels, having snowball fights, and even constructing snow forts or igloos are all classic family activities because they just never stop being fun. But if you live in sunny California or Florida, winter is also the perfect season for a family walk in the neighborhood, a sing-along with the local kids, a hike in a local wildlife refuge, or a sight-seeing trip to a local tourist spot. Check out local travel guides and newspapers to see what family-friendly events are coming up.
Boost Kids’ Brainpower
School’s out, but that doesn’t mean your children have to stop learning. For kids who love tech, sit down together and check out interactive games on websites like ABCya.com, PBSKids.com and DiscoveryKids.com. Or plan an educational family outing to a nearby planetarium, zoo, children’s museum, or state park. Many such locations offer free talks from experts, guides, or rangers. (Kids don’t need to know that they’re educational!) You can also document the visit with photos, then research fun facts on wildlife or relevant subject matter when you return home.
When you ask adults what they remember most from their childhood, many will place “family game nights” among the “best nights of their lives.” Though kids will love playing against you on some of their video games, they’ll also get a kick out of playing those “old-fashioned” games from your childhood. Get out the Monopoly board or play Clue. Even a game of Scrabble can be fun when you divide the family into teams — particularly if your teens are obsessed with Words with Friends.
Burn Off Some Kid Energy
Many public parks set up ice-skating rinks for the winter, complete with cheerful Christmas lights and skate rentals. Or simply grab some hot cocoa, soak up the holiday music, and sit and watch the skaters twirl by. Not a fan of ice? Hit the roller rink or ski slopes instead. Or try a physical activity that requires less athletic talent, such as bouncing at a trampoline park, or a different kind of skill, such as playing laser tag. These latter options may be less holiday-oriented, but they’re just as good at burning off holiday-cookie calories and kids’ excess energy.
Jennifer Moore is a mother of three, juggling work, kids, and family time. Promoting family time is usually a job that falls on Mom’s shoulders, but the benefits are long-lasting, keeping a family united over generations.