When the school year comes to a close and summer starts, parents everywhere wonder, "How do I get my kids to go outside and play more?" Whether your child has a Minecraft obsession or is a teen texter extraordinaire, getting our offspring to put down the iPads, cell phones, and other gadgets to engage with nature and the other humans in their families can be a frustrating experience, to say the least.
"It's so important for parents to get that quality time with their children and each other," says Jennifer Ludovice, spokesperson for Thousand Trails and Encore properties' campgrounds and RV parks with resort-style amenities. "We see the benefits of families unplugging together at our campgrounds and resorts every day. Putting away the cell phone gives families a chance to re-engage."
There may be some initial whining and complaining about "roughing it" without screens, but children can be convinced to unplug when presented with the right alternate activities.
"The key is choosing the right destination," Ludovice says. "You won't have much luck convincing children to put away the gadgets if there aren't other activities waiting for them when they get there."
Plus, you don't have to banish cell phones altogether, which is not likely to go over well—especially with today's teens. Instead, let them share their outdoor adventures on social media or have a limited amount of screen time after the days' activities are over.
"Consider setting 'technology time' at a regularly scheduled time when the whole family can take a few minutes to check in," Ludovice recommends. "This encourages them to spend more time talking and less time typing."
Choose a park, nature destination or campground that offers a wide variety of fun for all ages and interests so kids can get engaged in activities they enjoy, Ludovice suggests.
"Many campgrounds have kid-friendly activities planned for nearly every hour of the day, from nature walks to cook outs, Olympic-sized pools to horseback riding," she says. "We often find that parents have just as much fun as the kids do when they participate in activities, and it's a great way to reinforce that common ground with your children—and remind them of how fun you are!"
Because kids ages 8 to 10 have an insatiable curiousity, Ludovice recommends using this to your advantage when offering outdoor activities to them.
"Many camps offer staff-lead nature walks, and these are perfect for young children to get their hands dirty," she says. "Let them explore, taste and touch under the supervision of an expert familiar with the natural habitat. It's also a great way for them to find a souvenir to bring home."
Give tweens a bit more of the freedom they so desperately desire and offer them activities that let them show how responsible and useful they now are.
"Children ages 11 to 13 can do more meaningful tasks at the campsite," Ludovice says. "Look for activities that let them participate in things like cowboy-for-a-day or ranch hand programs. These allow kids to have a unique experience and gain self-confidence doing something new."
Older teens will naturally want to assert their independence, so give them some space on a guided horseback ride or tubing lesson, Ludovice recommends.
"Having time to themselves doing something active will give them a unique and memorable experience that they can brag about to their friends later," she says. "Maybe they'll even tell you about it at the campfire that night!"
Putting the effort into getting your kids and teens outdoors and engaged in nature instead of with their gadgets is worth it—not just for their developing brains and bodies but for your family's dynamic as well.
"It's amazing to see the transition in how family members relate to one another from when they arrive at the campground to when they leave," Ludovice says. "There is something about getting back to basics that really changes the way our visitors connect with each other."