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Published on June 02, 2017

two teens studying nature

Creative Ideas to Keep Kids Active – and off screens – this Summer

Well before you expect it this summer, you might hear the dreaded words of an uninterested child – “I’m bored!”

Fear not: Doniese Wilcox, Certified Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, has many great ideas, and she reminds everyone caring for kids to avoid over-thinking it.

“I’d recommend two things: let kids take the lead and get outside more,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a parent out there who doesn’t want their kids doing more and spending less time in front of a screen, be it smart phone, tablet or TV.”

Developing new habits isn’t hard – it just takes a little initiative and a tiny bit of creativity. Here are a few general guidelines and some neat ideas that can get all kids outdoors and having fun.

Walks – with whimsy

Stretching the legs and getting out of the house, even for a few minutes, is not only good fun, it’s good for you. Wilcox suggests a number of ways to jazz up the mundane, including:

Make simple scavenger hunts part of your walk, seeing how many different leaves, sticks or stones you and your child can find.

Seek a certain number of colors – see if you can walk until you spot something that has each shade.

Bring crayons stripped of their paper wrappers and some paper and see how many rubbings you can collect from various surfaces in the playground, park or neighborhood.

Bring on the ice

Kids love science and treasure hunts, so you can try a method Wilcox uses with her grandchildren. (They love it!)

Take a large plastic dish, roughly 16 inches square and about 8 inches deep. Fill it half-way with water and freeze it, and then place small toys on the frozen surface and fill the container up with water and freeze again.

Once completely frozen, kids can have fun wearing safety glasses or goggles and using small tools to “chop the treasures” free from the ice or experiment with warm water to loosen their finds. It teaches safety, science and is lots of fun, especially for younger kids.

Build a world

Using flat wide plastic clothing-storage bins, you can give each child this platform on which to build a “world.” They can gather sand from the sandbox, leaves, grass and twigs and you can provide a collection of dinosaurs, farm animals or other small toys.

You even can add a “glacier” into this creative world, just freeze a milk jug or carton filled with water and then carefully cut away the container. Kids can imagine their world has a giant, chilly icy mountain among the other features – and the water running off it just adds more features.

Kids can spend hours working on their little environments and when they’re done, they can discard the organic material and clean out the bin and start again.

Wet, Wash and Fun

There are few things children enjoy more than a little mud, so get a pair of older bowls and in one, combine some soil and a bit of water. In the second, prepare some soapy water. Have kids bring their toy cars, small animals or any other tiny toy and then let them play with the muddy stuff, then have them wash the toys off and set them out to dry.

Toddlers love this game and do not even realize they’re learning about cleaning and how the sun and breeze can help dry things out.

The Tracker Game

Bringing mud into the mix always entertains. In this one, Wilcox suggests finding a patch of thinned grass or a shallow tub that can be filled with soil and a little water. Kids will enjoy seeing what their footprints look like in the mud. They also may enjoy making imprints with their hands or their shoes. If you have a puddle in the yard, you’re already set to make this game come to life.

All these activities are simple and while they might not entertain every child for hours, they can be a starting point to create your own fun, and also lessen time swiping videos on the iPad.

“Another fun activity is a driveway sidewalk chalk challenge, where kids devise mazes and hopscotch-like jumping games – there’s no limit to what they can come up with,” said Wilcox. “The key is guiding them outside and letting them take the lead.”

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