Vail Daily column: Ban boredom with the Great Outdoors
Have you been counting down the days until your kids get out of school with a little less anticipation than they are? Those two little words are lurking in the background, behind the shouts of joy over having no homework, and promises to call friends … “I’m bored.” How long will it take your kids to utter this time-honored phrase? A week? A day? Or will it be that very afternoon when they are released from the gates of academia? Don’t let boredom overcome your kids this summer; but also, don’t give in to their requests for screen time in its endless varieties. Do what our parents did; send your kids outside to play. Yes, simply ban them from sanctity of your four walls. Eventually, they will get tired of staring in the windows and they will find something to do. Encourage them to build a fort, either for themselves, or for the little critters that live in your yard, real and imagined. Young kids can have a blast building tiny homes, complete with gardens, fences and pathways, out of stones, bark chips, sticks, leaves and anything else they can find outside. Older kids can build forts for themselves, especially if there are some trees nearby. They don’t even have to be fancy; my kids have established their “pioneer fort” in our yard, out of grass raked into piles and a couple of logs around a stone fireplace. They will sometimes play for hours out there, even insisting on going out again after dinner to play until dark. Amen.
The 100-page rule
We all know the kids are supposed to read over the summer, preventing the summer slump and all, but it’s not always easy to get them interested. It seems like I’m always trying to sell my kids on starting a new book. We have a 100-page rule at our house. They need to give any new book at least 100 pages to see if they like it. If they aren’t into it by page 100, they don’t have to finish it. For younger kids, you can adjust this rule accordingly for their reading level. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money on books; the local libraries have great selections of kids’ books, and you can even borrow them to download on Kindle (yes, for free). To give your kids a bit of a break, you might even let them download an audio book. These are also great on car trips for kids who get carsick reading.
Sending the kids out to play and reading some classic literature (or any literature) are great because it teaches kids to be independent. They learn that they can entertain themselves, and that they don’t need someone to structure their activities all of the time. They have a chance to be creative and resourceful, to solve problems and work out disagreements on their own. But sometimes you do want to play with your kids, because let’s face it, they’re not going to be kids forever. Maybe one day you throw a cooler (preferably with food in it) and lawn chairs into the car and drive up to Yeoman Park where you can sit on the riverbank while your kids build dams and wade in the creek. Don’t forget water and sunscreen, though.
As your kids get older, they are ready for more challenges and more independence, and it can sometimes be difficult to find activities that will really engage tweens and teens. This is an age when kids can become disillusioned and sometimes turn to unhealthy outlets to entertain themselves. The wilderness, in particular the backcountry, can provide great opportunities for high school kids to explore their own thoughts, ideas and capabilities. There’s no more tumultuous time in a person’s life than those adolescent years, and nothing can help provide clarity more than spending time with yourself, surrounded by beauty and nature, raw and untrammeled.
If you’re not prepared to take your teenager out into the wilderness, then there are other options. Walking Mountains Science Center has a couple of great opportunities for high school students this summer. For those looking to earn some money and/or college credit, Walking Mountains offers a Natural Resource Internship for students entering grades 10-12. The interns earn a stipend, along with college credit at Colorado Mountain College, by participating in an eight-week-long research-based field program in partnership with the National Forest Foundation. (This starts next week, though, so if you are interested, call ASAP to get your application.) Other options at Walking Mountains include two different backpacking trips, one for beginning backpackers who need more support and a shorter route, and a second trip for more experienced backpackers who are ready to challenge themselves and cover a little more terrain. Both trips are led by experienced field educators trained in environmental education and wilderness safety.
So don’t let your kids utter those two little destructive words this summer. Stop them in their tracks and send them outside. It’s raining? Give them raincoats and or let them get wet because, who doesn’t like to play in the mud? And the mess? Well, make sure they are wearing play clothes and leave a couple of old towels by the door. The value of the stories and adventure that they have will far outweigh the cost of mud stains on your carpet. They’re only going to be kids once, and it’s up to us to make sure they do it right. Outside.
Jaymee Squires is the director of graduate studies at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, and she can’t wait to get out camping with the kids this summer. She already has her favorite lawn chair ready.