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5 ways to get your family outside this summer

Today's Parent | posted Thursday, Jul 9th, 2015

FamilyOutdoors

After 13 years, I found the silver bullet: the trails. Lacing up for a run, walk or bike ride slays my kid’s grouchiness within minutes (or at least half an hour). We’ve always been an active family, but it was only after tween angst hit (hard) that I noticed the correlation between trail time and better moods. Since then, it’s become my go-to parenting tool.

Studies show being outdoors doing physical activity lowers depression risk, reduces anxiety and improves behaviour—but that’s moot if you can’t get your brood outside. So my advice is: Don’t ask, tell. Bribe. Threaten. Cajole. Whatever works. Because the payoff is pretty sweet.

Within minutes, Esmé typically takes off, power walking with the dog. Or cycles ahead as I follow on foot. Or pushes herself to breakneck speed, to drop her dad and I on family trail runs, eager to be alone with her thoughts.

Sometimes she doesn’t notice me catching up, and I hear her humming to herself, an unguarded moment for my taciturn introvert. Other times, she slows down so we can walk and talk. Or she gets silly: On a recent outing, I wondered why she was lagging as I jogged ahead. I found out when she rode past me, hitting me with the brushy end of a five-foot-long reed that she’d fixed, jousting-rod style, to her bike.

If you’re not already an especially active family, it can be hard to know what to do beyond hanging out at the local playground or splash pad. Here are a few ways to enjoy summer outside with your kids.

• Open-water swimming. Check local lake and river water-quality updates. Then put down the Kindle and wade in!

• Orienteering and geocaching. Go on a high-tech treasure hunt using your GPS. Be prepared for trails and mud.

• Explore a provincial park. Even better—explore at night. Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park hosts guided wolf howls.

• Pick up a rod. Google “learn to fish” and your province to find free programs.

• Search for creatures. Look for snails after it rains. Go out after dark and watch bats swoop for insects. Bring a flashlight and see what bugs are underfoot.

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