Summer vacation has begun. Your challenge is to manage your family's extra time in a healthy way. Left to themselves, children may head for the nearest electronic screen— spending long hours indoors doing nothing more physical than manipulating a video game controller. If you want to lure children away from the attraction of online play, keep in mind that kids respond most enthusiastically to internal motivation. Dr. Mark Lepper of Stanford University points out that internal motivation consists of the 5 C's: Challenge, Context, Competence, Control and Curiosity.
Choose summer activities that involve these motivating factors and children will stay engaged for long periods of time. Here are five ideas for healthy, physical play:
In a large outdoor yard space, help your kids build a playhouse or "fort." Plan ahead and decide how to be inventive with materials. Then take them on a materials collection trip. Big boxes, thrift-store bedspreads and small sheets of plywood can all work beautifully. Family goal? Camping out overnight in the space they created on their own. Building a fort also challenges them to feel different and brave.
Involve neighborhood friends and peers from school by making plans with other parents for trade-off play dates. With friends around, kids are naturally more active. Invite the whole group to the park, swimming pool or beach. Even if you're just at home, have a few basic toys available, such as a jump rope, garden hose, basketball or chalk for sidewalk hopscotch. Together, kids can get creative and can fill an entire day with fun.
Help build proficiency. Kids are more likely to stick with an activity if they feel that they are gradually mastering a new skill. (Video game developers are well aware of this!) If something takes effort to learn, children enjoy increasing their competence and will develop self-confidence. Build proficiency with sports and lessons, such as tennis, ice skating, skateboarding, rollerblading, martial arts or other physical tasks that require an investment of time. Educational games and puzzles can also help children improve their problem-solving skills. To keep with the theme of health, challenge your kids to a Kool Smiles dental wordfind or bingo game.
Put your child in charge of a family outing. Set a few ground rules. For example: it has to involve physical activity, it has to be legal and it has to cost less than X dollars. Let them decide where the family will travel to and what the day will consist of. Alternately, have them create an outdoor game day for younger siblings and friends, in which they monitor and teach the younger ones something new. Include neighborhood families to participate in summer Olympics and games such as relay races, jump-rope tournaments and hula-hoop competitions.
Give your child the chance to explore an unfamiliar territory. Together you can pick a place you've never visited for wandering, hiking, biking and discovering. Children are also fascinated by animals. Visit a farm, take horseback-riding lessons or start a bug collection.
For those times when you need to be at work, a good day camp or summer camp can fit all of the "5 C's" criteria. Keep those principles in mind when choosing summer camp options, and your child will grow in mind, body and spirit.
Blog authored by Ellen Henderson. Ellen is a mom and DIY maven. She writes primarily about health, wellness and sustainable living issues.