As the warm weather approaches, we – desperate to feel sun and warm air after months of winter hibernation – run for the parks and paths like long caged animals.
Kids have endless energy and there is no more freeing, boundless play for them then being outdoors. Luckily, young kids still love to hang out with their parents and that’s where example is the best rule: you lead, they follow. Outside.
But when your kids approach tween/teen years, getting outside is not as simple as “let’s go to the park”. Few 12+ year olds want to “hang-out” with their parents in public (unless you are traveling, eating out or in line to pay for their purchase at the Apple Store) and so…. you need to get creative. Even though play styles change with age, it is still vital to tweens, teens and yes, even adults.
According to countless studies as summarized by Business Insider, Outdoor play has been known to improve memory, restore mental energy, reduce stress, improve eyesight, sharpen your creative thinking and analytical abilities. What teen doesn’t need that? The problem is, how can we do to get at it?
For most modern-day tweens, technology is king. In fact, many would argue outdoor play has died at the expense of technology. Here are some fun ways to get young tweens and teens outside (and in some cases, technology is the impetus).
Geocaching (if you’re one of the few that has not yet tried it) is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices (your phone). Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. To sign up you register for an account , turn on your location services giving you access to hidden treasure in your immediate area. You’ll be amazed at how many on in your neighbourhood – on your street even. As a group you hunt until the treasure is found, marked and returned.
2. Digital Scavenger Hunt
Take only pictures – leave only footprints is what nature enthusiasts preach. This is the theme of a digital scavenger hunt. Great for a larger group of mixed ages (we do this at family get togethers) this activity suits all abilities. And hey, you can even take your phone (photos only).
a | Write a list of items ranging from the ordinary to ornate (ie: a bird, a dog, a mailbox, uncle Steve, a footprint, a feather, a lily flower, a wild bull). Give each team of participants a copy of this list.
b | Participants must find and photograph on ONE DEVICE (a phone, IPOD, tablet) all of the items. Make sure to include places and spaces that are far apart and get creative (ie: a photo of 6 team members by the corner store). Tweens will have a blast trying to find all of the items and will have to communicate and collaborate to get them.
c | The first team back with all (or the most) items on the list photographed wins.
Oh and have a prize. Tweens don’t go for a high five anymore but “first choice of dessert” or “getting served food at the table by others” usually works well.
3. Nature Mandala Contest
Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle”. Mandalas generally have one identifiable centre point, from which emanates an array of symbols, shapes and forms. If you want inspiration, check out Motte’s blog and the insanely beautiful photos of nature mandalas. We owe them the above photo credit.
Hand out baskets and bags and send teens through various terrain looking for natural materials. Remind them that rocks, sticks, feathers and seeds make great content – not just flowers. After a good 30 minutes of gathering, teens return to your home patio, deck or picnic table where everyone arranges their mandalas.
Allow participants to photograph them and save them…shoot …they can even post them on Instagram (they will be so happy for such content!). See above for prizing.
4. Train for something together
There are so many great Canadian charities to support why not support one with a physical commitment? Find one that motivates your teen by referring to the Canadian Race Guide. Set a goal and train outside together. Invite friends.
One of the happiest runs ever is the Colour Run. a 5k that runs in major cities across Canada. A reasonable distance (5k takes the average runner 35-40 minutes to complete) and a rip-roaring feast of colour and happiness.
Outdoor activities – such as these listed – teach the values of team activities: cooperation and leadership. Tweens & teens are reminded of the rules of play and the joy of being outdoors. They learn to communicate and make REAL connections.
Eventually, they will use these experiences to initiate their own activities. Through example and experience they will learn that there are ways to entertain themselves outside of technology and social media.
Whatever the strategy, a connection with the natural world is a key part to establishing a sense of self and happiness. It might take a little more effort to get them off of their screens and outside, but it’s worth it. So make a plan. And get outside with your teens.