How to Keep Your Youngsters Outside (and Unplugged) This Summer

Summertime: simply put, I love it. Warm sunshiny days where you transition from pyjamas to bathing suits and back again—where you’re outside from morning until night, and weeks go by without even touching a TV remote or recharging an iPad. To me, this is what summer is all about: suntans and popsicles, evening swims, long hikes, pier jumps and playgrounds. Thankfully, in our neck of the woods, opportunities for summer adventures with your children are unlimited. There’s no need to haggle over screen time when the great outdoors awaits.

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By Allison Kennedy Davies

Outdoors for All
But some say this outdoor playtime isn’t happening nearly enough. The biggest risk is keeping kids indoors: that’s the message of the most recent ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. This long-running ranking system has been giving Canadian children some dismal marks for physical activity in recent years but in 2015, ParticipACTION went even further, offering a position statement on Active Outdoor Play. “Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks—is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature,” states the Report. “It means giving children the freedom to decide how high to climb, to explore the woods, get dirty, play hide ‘n seek, wander in their neighbourhoods, balance, tumble and rough-house, especially outdoors, so they can be active, build confidence, autonomy and resilience, develop skills, solve problems and learn their own limits,” the Report adds. “It’s letting kids be kids—healthier, more active kids.”

As you face the universal summer challenge of getting your youngsters outside, here are some local adventures—aka, solutions—to help build their confidence and reach their potential.

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“It means giving children the freedom to decide how high to climb, to explore the woods, get dirty, play hide ‘n seek, wander in their neighbourhoods, balance, tumble and rough-house, especially outdoors, so they can be active, build confidence, autonomy and resilience, develop skills, solve problems and learn their own limits.”

CHALLENGE: My youngster needs a confidence boost

SOLUTION: Test their limits at Blue’s summer camps

Blue Mountain’s variety of summer camps offer immersive experiences where kids will surprise themselves and their parents. “We had a young camper, maybe 12 years old, at the Beachside Camp last year,” recalls Kids at Blue’s Lesley Ciarletti. “He hadn’t really been successful at camp before and had some low self-esteem about this. At the end of his week, his aunt checked in with me and she was in tears. She said the camp had changed his life.” The camp’s combination of high adventure yet low risk activities was perfect for this camper. “He got to accomplish something that made him feel awesome while still respecting his own boundaries,” Ciarletti adds.

 

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CHALLENGE: My child needs a new and exciting goal this summer

SOLUTION: Tackle the trails in the mountain bike park

The Blue Mountain Bike Park could be just what the doctor ordered. In recent years, the park has been adding trails and features to help young riders get an introduction to mountain biking and progress safely. After completing a skills assessment, kids ages 8 to 12 can now ride with an adult 25 or older or with a Blue Mountain guide.

“Kids are the future of mountain biking,” explains Blue Mountain’s Luc Belanger. “Mountain biking offers a good way to put kids in a challenging environment that’s also a safe environment. Over the last few years we’ve built the right trails to introduce kids to mountain biking.”

Blue Mountain’s Groove and Gulch trails are wide, machine-built routes that let kids find their feet on a mountain bike. If you think your youngster would benefit from some coaching, Blue offers an Intro to Downhill program for youth.

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CHALLENGE: My kid isn’t a natural athlete

SOLUTION: Set them free with the folks at Free Spirit Tours

“We do get some parents who say my kids aren’t really that athletic,” explains Free Spirit Tours’ Jennie Elmslie. “This is a perfect camp for those kids because it allows them to be who they are and try something new in a safe, non-judgmental environment. The kids are always cheering each other on.”

For children who don’t feel as comfortable in the conventional “athletic” mould, an emphasis on more self-led and less structured activities can be just the ticket to bringing them outdoors and keeping them active. In their 18th year of offering guided rock climbing, caving and paddling excursions, the folks at Free Spirit Tours have seen first hand how the outdoors can lead to positive and lasting change. For the last 14 years, they have offered a summer camp program and have seen kids grow up with the program to become Leaders in Training and then Leaders themselves. In the outdoors, kids learn to work together, to urge each on and to make decisions about how far and how high they’ll climb.

“He got to accomplish something that made him feel awesome while still respecting his own boundaries.”

CHALLENGE: My child is tech-crazy

SOLUTION: Give them a GoPro and an adventure to film

Today’s kids are looped into technology like never before. Rather than letting them watch endless YouTube videos of kids doing cool things, encourage them to create their own. Strap on the GoPro and get them out on bikes, paddleboards or the Zipline at Blue, with a chest harness. Kids will soon learn it’s much more entertaining to play the starring role than to be the observer on the couch.

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