What Do We Do As a Family?

family funDear Mr. Dad: I hear people talking about how important it is to spend “quality time” with the family. I’ve got a couple of teenagers and a precocious 12-year old and it’s practically impossible to find an activity that everyone in the family will enjoy. Plus, with two adults and three children all on different schedules, it’s even more impossible to find a time when we’re all in the same place at the same time. Do you have any suggestions?

One of the great ironies of modern life is that smartphones and other devices that are supposed to save us time and effort and keep us connected, actually eat up even more time and disconnect us from each other. The fact that you’re craving quality time with your family is great, and we’ll get to what that looks like in a minute. However, you first need to get the rest of your family on board. With your hectic schedules, having a leisurely family dinner every night isn’t in the cards. But there are 168 hours in a week, and making a family commitment to spend even one or two of them together is really important. Here are some ideas.
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Family Camping Never Loses Its Magic

Camping is one of those great family activities that requires everyone to sacrifice a bit of their time to open a window of opportunity for some real family bonding. Often times, parents take cell phones and keep them somewhere safe on camping trips, so that the members of the family can communicate and bond without outside interference.

So why doesn’t every family go camping? Well, depending on several factors, camping can be expensive, time constraining, or unsafe. However, these are very special circumstances. For the average family, camping can be done without spending a ton of money, during a time that’s good for everyone, in a completely safe and fun way.

The most common reason for not camping is the expense factor. Camping can be extremely expensive, depending on your requirements. However, camping is about “roughing it” a little, and not having to worry about a little dirt under your nails. Tents and sleeping bags are typically the largest “required” expense for camping. It doesn’t have to be super expensive, though. For a summer camping trip, summer equipment will do just fine. You can find quality summer tents, with rain flies, big enough to sleep 4 people and their gear for as little as $80. Sleeping bags can be expensive, but, if you are summer camping, you don’t need a -40°F bag. A simple 20°F sleeping bag will work perfectly. You may even find yourself not using it at all, depending on the temperature. These summertime sleeping bags can be found for as low as $30. All together, that puts you at $200 for quality reusable gear.

Other gear you will need depends largely on the type of camping you want to do. Coolers for food can be expensive, but many campgrounds have small “general stores” to buy food from. Obviously, one of the most important things to bring is water. There are several options for water supply for a camping trip. You can bring bottled water, but there will be a lot of trash and weight. There are water-purifying bottles, but these can be very pricey. There are survival-style items, such as iodine tabs, that can be used, but most folks aren’t this into camping. There are pros and cons to each of these options. Be sure to choose the one that’s right for you.

Where camping tends to get expensive is in all the outdoors activities there are to do while camping. Typically, the price goes up with the intensity level of the activity. For example, bird-watching is only as expensive as a set of binoculars, but zip lining can be very expensive. It’s not a bad thing to spend money on things that will bring you and your family closer to each other, but you have to ensure that the things you purchase are worth the price.

ATVs, for example, aren’t exactly cheap, but they can supply 10+ years of fun for you and your family. They can bring an experience that not much else will give your family. Plus, there is a cheaper alternative; trail-worthy go karts! While not as inexpensive as a pair of binoculars, go karts will offer so much more, in terms of excitement and thrill. To top it all off, they are probably cheaper than you’d think. A good quality go kart can sell for as low as $564.77 with a company like Killer Motorsports. Just be sure to do your online shopping to find those companies that offer good products at a great price.

Remember, though, that the best part of camping is not what you bring along; it’s how you use the things you bring to create opportunities for family bonding. Kids and parents can come together, around a warm campfire, and truly learn about each other in ways that sitting in separate rooms throughout the house just can’t offer. Camping is a time that the family will cherish and remember for the rest of their lives.

No App for Happiness + Get Eaten by Bears

[amazon asin=1620876361&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Max Strom, author of There is No App for Happiness.
How to avoid a near-life experience.
Issues: Technology has expanded at such a rate that nearly every aspect of our world has been affected–but there has been no expansion of personal happiness. Instead, the wealthiest societies have become depressed, anxious, sleep-deprived, and overmedicated.

[amazon asin=0399161082&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Peter Brown Hoffmeister, author of Let Them Be Eaten by Bears.
A fearless guide to taking our kids into the great outdoors.
Issues: A simple, practical introduction to hiking, camping, and exploring that will help parents and kids alike feel empowered and capable. So turn off the video games and rediscover the powerful of going out to play.

Camping with Kids, Part 2

Last week, we talked about some tents and sleeping bags. But if you’re really going to go camping, you’ll need more than that to make a successful adventure. Here are a few more of our favorite take-alongs. Lights Since camping typically involves an overnight, it’s important to think about how you’re going to get around […]

Camping with Kids

With summer winding down and fall nipping at our heels, now’s the perfect time to look at great camping gear. Our favorite times to camp are fall and spring: great weather, smaller crowds, and still plenty of fun to be had. So what to pack? Here are some fun and easy ideas for a perfect […]

No Child Left Inside

Dear Mr. Dad: My kids, 9 and 11, spend a fair amount of time with electronic games but my husband and I insist that they spend an equal amount of time reading. They both play outdoor sports (one does soccer, the other baseball), but no matter what we do, we just can’t get them to hang around outside and have fun by themselves. Got any suggestions?

A: What you’re describing sounds like a case of Nature Deficit Disorder—a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods.” Louv says that there are significant psychological, physical, and cognitive costs to not spending adequate time in nature.

Although Louv’s phrase sounds a little alarmist—after all, the last thing parents need to worry about is yet another disorder—there’s a growing body of research that supports the idea. For example, Americans are about 25 percent less likely to visit National and State Parks than we were just 25 years ago. Our children spend less time playing outside—and a lot more playing inside—than we did at their age. They’re what one researcher calls “the backseat generation,” much less likely than we were to walk or bike to school because they’re getting driven everywhere.

When kids finally do get to play outside, they don’t get nearly the same amount of freedom to explore as we did, and playtime (including organized sports) is so highly structured and there are so many rules that all the fun of running around and exploring is sucked out.

The situation is aggravated by elementary schools—and there are plenty—that have reduced or eliminated recesses. And just a few years ago, a number of environmental groups were outraged when the publisher of the “Oxford Junior Dictionary” got rid of a number of nature-related words, such as beaver, dandelion, heron, acorn, clover, otter, and blackberry. New words have been added, though, including broadband, blog, MP3 player, voicemail, and Blackberry (with a capital B).

The good news is that play in nature—particularly unstructured play—benefits children in a variety of ways, including improving problem solving skills, increasing focus and creativity, bolstering self-discipline, reducing stress and aggressive behavior, and even increasing IQ.

So how do you get your kids outside? There are a ton of options.

  • Do some research. The Children & Nature Network has compiled a huge (and growing) list of organizations, campaigns, and programs. The list (at childrenandnature.org/movement/info) will help you connect with resources in your community. Other groups, such as the Sierra Club (sierraclub.org/youth) and National Wildlife Federation (nwf.org/Kids) have programs aimed at children.
  • Do some reading. There are lots of places to get suggestions for outdoor activities to do with your kids. Two recent books that I really like are “Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors,” by David Sobel and “It’s a Jungle out There! 52 Nature Adventures for City Kids,” by Jennifer Ward.
  • Set a good example. Looking up from your computer to tell your kids to get out and play isn’t going to work. So put some air in your bike tires, dust off your skateboard, buy some bug repellant, get your sleeping bags and tent cleaned, put new batteries in your flashlights, and start making plans. Ease into it. Start with a five-mile bike ride or a two-hour hike before you jump into overnighters. The object is to get everyone interested in and excited by spending time outside. You may get some pushback from the kids early on, but once they get their hands dirty, they’ll love it.