Our plan that gets the kids outside
When we were kids...
In the 80s a typical Saturday found kids watching cartoons in the morning until the educational programs would come on. He-Man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Care Bears, Duck Tales - just a few of our favorites. Mothers would swoop through and turn off the tv and sweep the kids out the door saying things like "Go outside. Find something to do." And out we would go - and not come back until we were hungry.
My kids have a "kid cave"
I watch my own kids and see how comfortable their "kid cave" is - full of gaming systems, comfy chairs, big TVs, tablets, computers, and cell phones. I understand why they don't want to leave the "kid cave." When I compare where they are and what they are doing to have fun with what I did as a kid - I want to hear overlap. I want to hear that they are moving and that they are experiencing nature.
When it dawned on me that the fun overlap was getting smaller, I talked with my wife about it. We live in a suburban setting - bike riding next to a car traveling at 45 mph doesn't fit. We both work full time if not more than full time. Where do we start? Here are a few ideas we put in place, and years later are still working for us.
- Our kids know it is okay to get messy, dirty, and wet. We have weekend clothes and school clothes - and they can tell which are which.
- We encourage them to invite their friends over to ride around the farm. It is amazing to find how many other parents want their kids outside too. If your house or work isn't ideal, invite folks to join you at the beach. Hammonasset is free and has miles of bike-friendly trails (and the beach to add to the fun).
- We encourage our kids to plant a garden - and we are farmers! I have flowers and veggies galore - and I want to watch the kids in their garden. I set aside an area for them to grow whatever they want. We spend time together talking about automatic watering, weeding, plant selection, and what happens if the dog eats all the cucumbers before we get any.
- We keep chickens. It is a family activity. They need to be given food and water every day. They have personalities and are engaged in their caretakers. We collect the eggs. It only took a week of working alongside my boys to get them both comfortable enough to take over the daily routine. My youngest may prefer his Xbox - but he doesn't miss a Saturday morning visit with his favorite chicken, Trooper. My wife ensures the chickens are healthy and sociable. The boys have the routine, and we trust them to take care of the animals.
We decided to spend more time with our kids and to provide alternatives that overlap with our hopes of increasing movement, imagination, and interaction with nature. The kids don't act deprived, and they have a lot more to talk about at the dinner table.