How To Get Kids Off The Couch And Outdoors This Summer

Raising Daughters | Summer Outdoor Activities


In this podcast, Dr. Jordan describes how to get your family off on the right foot this summer, starting with firing yourself as their entertainment director. Plan fun activities together that they choose, create a car ride and bored bag filled with things they choose to do when they are bored, and plan lots of time outdoors with activities like hikes, campfires, bird watching, and star gazing. Dr. Jordan includes lots of examples of possible activities you can do with your children.


Link to Dr. Jordan’s previous podcast on the benefits of time in nature.

Link to a good article on ways that families could connect with the natural world: 10 Nature Activities for Families article.

Find nature everywhere — and create more of it. National Geographic offers an online guide, Finding Urban Nature, that can help city dwellers. If you have a yard, check out the National Wildlife Federation’s guide to building a backyard wildlife habitat.

Link to Dr. Jordan’s Dinner Dialogue Cards to use at the dinner table, car rides, or around a campfire to learn more about each other.

And of course, sign up your daughters for a week of summer camp with Dr. Jordan at this site: Camp Weloki for Girls

Listen to the podcast here


How To Get Kids Off The Couch And Outdoors This Summer

Welcome back to a new episode. It’s summertime. It’s right around the bend here, and that means spring classes are over and summer vacation has started. I know some parents sometimes look forward to the summer like it’s a plague because they’re already anticipating their kids complaining about being bored. They’re already worried about how much time their kids are going to spend on their devices, on their screens, on their video games, on their social media, etc.

I thought I would try and prepare you with some ideas about how you can make sure that this summer is fruitful for everyone, for your kids, and for you. One of the things I want to stress is the importance of time and nature. I’m going to talk about more than that. I’m going to talk about some specific ideas you can put into place, including how to have a family meeting to talk about the summer ahead of time, plan together about what you’re going to do, and plan together about what your kids are going to do when they’re bored.

The Importance Of Time In Nature

I want to stress the importance of time in nature. We’ve driven our kids indoors too much with devices and things because we’re so afraid of them being kidnapped and abducted. I’ve talked about that before in episodes. I know that some of you still sometimes are overly cautious. It’s a lot safer now than it was many years ago when it comes to abductions and things, but we’re so freaked out and so fearful because of what we see in the news every night.

I want your kids to spend a lot of time outdoors. There’s a ton of research that shows the value of that. I looked back at that research, and I wrote down some ideas here. Let me remind you that being in nature or even viewing scenes of nature reduces anger. It reduces fear and stress and increases pleasant feelings. It not only makes us feel better emotionally, but it also contributes to our physical well-being.

It reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. It reduces the production of stress hormones. That’s even research done with kids who are little, kids who are in grade school, middle school, high school, and elderly people. All of us benefit from time in nature. Even having plants and nature inside helps us with all those kinds of physiological and emotional parts of us.

I have outside on my window some bird feeders. I have three bird feeders, including a hummingbird feeder. I’ve had those outside my office for years. Even when we moved, I had us reposition them, etc., because I love watching the birds outside. Research has suggested that listening to the songs of birds even through headphones can alleviate negative emotions and reduce stress.

That emotional well-being that goes up when we’re bird watching or listening to birds continues even after the incident. It persisted well beyond the encounter with the birds. It can be something as simple as buying a bird feeder or a bird bath and putting it outside windows so kids can look at those if it’s a rainy day, or even being able to be outside, look at the bird feeders, and watch the birds feed. My grandsons and when kids come over, they love looking out my window because they love watching birds. It’s very calming. It’s soothing if you will.

It’d be a great idea for you guys no matter what time it is when this episode comes out, which is going to be around the start of summer 2024, to have a family meeting. Talk about, “What’s our summer going to look like?” It’s not just about a week of vacation, but also about what you guys are going to do to keep yourselves entertained.

Ideas For Outdoor Activities

I, Dad, and/or Mom are not going to be your entertainment director any longer. You’re in charge of your boredom. You’re in charge of figuring out what’s going to be fun for you. Brainstorm some ideas about what would be fun for them this summer 2024 as well as activities that they would like to do. I would talk to them about outdoor activities.

I have six-weekend retreats during the school year. I finished our last one not long ago with some grade school girls. They loved taking the hike with us. They loved walking down to the river, although the river was so full because of the rains that we couldn’t wait at this time. What we did instead was we walked up a creek on the way back. It’s about a good 30-minute or maybe 45-minute hike where they’re having to go through water that sometimes was knee deep and sometimes on their feet. They got their shoes wet. Some of the girls were freaked out at the beginning about getting their shoes dirty and we were like, “It’s water and dirt. You can clean them off.” They don’t have time to do that at home.

I got as many walking sticks as I could along the way because they all wanted a walking stick like mine. We walked up this creek, and at the end, there’s this little waterfall that goes down to this little pool. At that point, it was about waist deep. Some of the girls jumped right in. It was awesome. How often do they walk up a creek and jump into this little pool, if you will? They don’t very often.

You can talk about, “Where’s a good place for us to watch sunsets or sunrises?” You can build campfires. If you don’t have the ability to build one into the ground, there are ones you can buy that you can sit on your porch or in your backyard. Kids love campfires. They love sitting around a campfire, talking, joking around, telling stories, and singing songs. There’s something magical about sitting around a campfire, so create that for your family.

Also, I remember at camp sometimes, there’s a field that has grass that is about waist high. There’s a path the people on the camp have mowed in between. At dusk, it’s so cool to walk along that path because there are fireflies everywhere. Some evenings, there are thousands of fireflies. It’s magical to walk and have fireflies on both sides of you. There are acres at the camp we use in the summer that have sunflowers that they’ve planted. Usually, we get there at about the right time. Some of those things are head high for me or maybe a little bit lower, but there are beautiful sunflowers, acres of those. The girls love hiking up there, walking among the sunflowers, and taking all these awesome pictures.

Maybe you have a sandbox in your backyard. Have a place where they can dig in the dirt. Have a raised garden where they can dig in the dirt and play in the dirt. God forbid they would play in the dirt. God forbid they would get some dirt in their mouth. That’s so good for their immunity. They need fun places where they can, without supervision, on their own autonomously play outdoors. Provide spaces for them to do that.

Also, you can talk at your family meeting about maybe doing some things in your neighborhood. Explore your neighborhood. Explore the areas around your neighborhood. Look around for some creeks, some little bits of nature, or parks around where you live. Sometimes, we don’t explore things in our own cities until we get visitors from out of town. You don’t need visitors from out town to start going to some local state parks. It could be taking some afternoon hikes, morning hikes, or evening hikes.

I would find some places around town that you haven’t visited before and do that. Pretend you’re from out of town. What would you look for in your particular city or your particular town? Plan some trips like that or some field trips, if you will. You can create some projects with them. Ask them what would be fun at your family meeting. They might want to build a treehouse in the backyard. They might want to create a garden. They might want to do birdwatching kinds of things. Buy some supplies for them. Buy boards, hammers, nails, inner tubes, and big boxes that you can get if you buy a refrigerator.

My grandsons, a kindergartner and a two-and-a-half-year-old, when they buy big appliances and there’s one of those big boxes, they will spend so much time playing in the box. Create those things so they can, on their own, use their imaginations to go outside and play. Let them build stuff and hammer things. They’ve lost the opportunities to do fun things that we used to do when we were kids. We’re so afraid of them getting hurt. We’re so afraid of them hitting their thumbs with a hammer. Let all that go and allow them to have fun.

There are places that create playgrounds that have some risk. We need our kids to be outdoors and learn how to handle their risks. It’s okay to get hurt. It’s okay to fall down. It’s okay to scratch your knee. It’s okay to bruise something. It’s okay because that’s how you learn your limits. That’s how you learn how to take care of yourself. Even in your yard or your neighborhood, provide some spaces for them to build stuff.


Raising Daughters | Summer Outdoor Activities


When we used to have boys at camp years ago, and it has been several years since we’ve had boys at camp, we would have a warrior night with the boys and the male counselors. We would take them down to the lake sometimes. We would give them some 2x4s. We’d give them some of those huge inner tubes that are for big trucks.

We’d give them some rope and tell them, “You’ve got 20 minutes or 30 minutes to build a floatable raft to take across a lake. It has to be sturdy enough that all the teen boys, which are middle school or grade school boys, can be on it plus the male counselors.” They would get to work. They had a blast making a boat or making a raft, if you will. We would all pile on it and have the time. It took us around the lake, but it didn’t matter.

I remember one time with one of our camp counselors, Scott, we had a rope in the front of this raft and he was in the front swimming and half pulling it. It didn’t matter because the fun was in creating the raft/ They created it. The camp counselors stood apart and we said, “Do it yourself.” We weren’t there telling them how to do it right. They got a chance to build it on their own. Create opportunities like that.

Alternative Summer Activities

They may also want to have things like puzzles. They may want to have some arts and crafts kinds of things. Go to an arts and crafts store, walk around, and say, “It will be fun for you.” It might be some sketch pads, some paints, or some yarn so they can make friendship bracelets. Some kids like to do different kinds of crafts. I would buy that stuff ahead so it’s available.

Have a container where they put their, “When I’m bored,” stuff. Have a bored bag or a bored box, if you will, where they put those things. It could be coloring books or whatever it might be that would be fun for them that they pick. Maybe even give them a budget and say, “I’m willing to go to the store and you can spend X amount of money and buy some stuff for the summer.”

You might want to even do things like tell them they can redecorate their room. They might want to repaint it and move things around. They might want to build some shelves. You can buy shelves or you can give them a little bit of money to buy some boards. They could buy those crates. Have them use their imagination and let them know, “This is your room. Maybe this summer, for fun, you can redecorate it.” A lot of the girls who I work with love redecorating the room and making it their own.

Maybe you could talk at your family meeting about visiting the library every week or two. They can check out books if they want. They’re not school books. There’s no test. There’s no quiz. It’s for fun. It could be comic books. It could be anything that they like to read. Maybe start some new hobbies that are useful. There’s a lot of time that is wasted, and I’m sure some people would argue with me, looking at walls, scrolling, and playing video games. It’s fun, but it’s not a very useful skill. Doing crafts is a useful skill as well as learning how to play guitar. Maybe take a nature photography class so they can learn how to use their phone camera or whatever camera that they have.

Something that they pick is not a have-to. They decided, “This is something that would be fun for me to pick up this summer,” whether it’s a photography class or maybe a cooking class that they do on their own or with you. Maybe they do some gardening. You can go to the library and check out a book about gardening, a raised garden, an herb garden, or whatever. They can plant the things that they want to plant, be it vegetables, flowers, or whatever.

My grandson who’s six loves to plant stuff with me. We planted lettuce this spring and some flowers in my garden. It’s fun for him whenever he comes over to go down there, look at the garden, and see how things have grown, and see how high this stuff is. Last summer in 2023, we planted some sunflowers. He was amazed at how tall those things got.

Maybe they take an astronomy class, which is something I’ve always said I want to do. I haven’t done it, but I put down on my notes after I was preparing this that I am going to look around town here for an astronomy class. I love looking at the stars with the kids at camp or at home here. I know the Big Dipper and Orion’s belt, but that’s about it. I want to be able to look up there and go, “That’s Pegasus,” or, “That’s whatever.”

Let your kids and you decide, “What are some fun things that we could do this summer and some hobbies we could take up?” Maybe get some of those 1,000-piece puzzles that you put on the dining room table. Slowly but surely, you do the puzzle this summer 2024. You can replace their devices with those fun things. Maybe there’s a container that has all those things we talked about before. Those can be things like coloring books and colors. It could be some building kinds of things. It could be squirt guns. It could be friendship bracelet-making yarns.

You also could have a bag or a container for the car or car rides. Instead of looking at their phones or having a pad that they’re watching a movie, which I don’t like, I’d rather they have special books, comic books, or whatever that are for the car. It can be an Etch A Sketch where they can draw stuff and then erase it. It could be a friendship bracelet string. They can make friendship bracelets in the car.

It could be books on tape that they pick out. It could be playlists that you all create together or they create their own. You put them on Spotify so they can listen to the songs that they want to listen to. Maybe it’s a summertime car ride list. Especially if you’re going on a day trip that might be 1 hour or a 2-hour drive to a state park or whatever, let them pick out those kinds of things.

My wife and I put together a couple of years ago this little box of what we call dinner dialogue cards. It has some really fun questions that you can ask each other at the dinner table or on a car ride. They have fun, interesting questions so you get to learn more about each other. Make some agreements at the start about screen time. Make agreements with their input around how much, what’s okay, and what’s not okay so that it’s very clear. It’s also clear to them how you’re going to follow through. It’s not wishy-washy. It’s clear boundaries that allow them some time online but not so much that they lose out.

Encouraging Independence And Cultivating Family Connections

One of the worst things about social media isn’t necessarily what they’re doing online. It’s what they’re not doing. They’re not learning to play guitar. They’re not reading. They’re not going outside. They’re not exercising. There are all kinds of things that are so much more important than scrolling walls. Talk about that with them. Make some agreements with them and then follow through so that there’s a lot of useful time that they have.

One of the worst things about social media isn't necessarily just what they're doing online. It's what they're not doing. Click To Tweet

The other thing is jobs. A lot of girls I know have parents who tell them, “I don’t want you working because school is your job.” Even in the summer sometimes, they don’t want their kids working because it’s dangerous. I’m not sure why, but it’s so good for kids to have jobs. You can talk and brainstorm, “What are some things you could do?” Even a ten-year-old could get a job raking leaves at the neighbor’s house, walking people’s dogs, babysitting, or those sorts of things. There are lots of ways that they can be valuable and even earn some money.

My wife, when she was a kid, would put on these little plays and things for kids in the neighborhood. They would make a circus afternoon where the kids could come. They’d pay a little bit of money, and then they would put on a little show or a little circus. It can be lemonade stands, etc. There are lots of ways that kids on their own can create their own little business and create some income. The money is theirs to spend, which is awesome. Kids like to have their own money.

There is an article titled 10 Nature Activities for families. It’s an article I found a few years ago. It has ways that families can connect with the natural world. There are ten really nice ideas. Richard Louv is the author of that article. He wrote a book about nature deficit disorder. He has a ton of research about not only the value of nature but also the deficits that we’re accumulating because we’re not spending enough time outdoors.

There’s another article through National Geographic. It is titled Finding Urban Nature which can help city dwellers find some green space. It says if you have a yard, this guy is called a National Wildlife Federation guide to building a backyard wildlife habitat. I’ve got a couple of butterfly bushes out in my yard. I love watching butterflies. It attracts them to bird feeders if you will. There are lots of things that you can create in the outdoors to attract more outdoors, like my bird feeders. I have a hummingbird feeder. I saw my first hummingbird not long ago. showed up. Usually, I have 2 or 3 of them throughout the summer. They migrate in the fall, and then they come back around summer.

Create those kinds of things with your kids. Those are valuable lessons for them to learn about nature, be part of nature, and explore nature. If you’ve done all this, you’ve had your family meetings, you’ve created your box of things to do or your bored box, and you’ve got hammers, nails, and all kinds of things for them to do, when they come to you and say, “I’m bored,” then it’s really easy to say, “What will you do?” They say, “ I don’t know what to do.” You say, “We talked about this at the beginning of the summer.” You could even make a list of activities that they decide would be fun for them to do. You can say, “Pull out that list and pick something to do.” Then, zip it and let them take care of themselves.

Being bored is a good thing. When we’re bored or daydreaming, there are all kinds of studies and research that show that’s when our creativity tends to come forth. That’s when our imaginations start to bud. It’s not a bad thing to have bored time or slowed down daydreaming time. I’ve had some kids who started doing things like writing a book, writing poetry, or doing artwork. Some even do things that they end up selling. They are creating their own businesses, making bracelets, or making jewelry.

There’s an unlimited number of things that they can learn to do that they’re in charge of and they pick. When they have autonomy and they pick it, they’ll be more invested in whatever it is that they’re doing. I wouldn’t sign them up for things and make them do stuff. I would ask them what they wanted to do so that they were engaged and motivated to do it.

I want you to enjoy your summer. I want you to spend a lot of time out in nature. We had a weekend retreat with grade school girls. On Saturday night, we took them up to this field. It’s away from the big city, so the sky is much darker than it is in the city. We laid out a huge tarp, and we all laid down and did some stargazing. It was a crystal clear night, thank goodness because we’ve had a lot of rain.

We were talking and we saw 3 or 4 shooting stars. The girls were so excited. Most of them had never seen a shooting star before. Those simple pleasures are the ones that they remember and latch onto. It’s not some intricate video game or that sort of thing. They’re simple pleasures. There are so many of those simple pleasures when you spend some time out in nature.

Those simple pleasures are the ones that we remember and latch on to. Click To Tweet

Enjoy your summer. Thank you so much for stopping by. I’ll be back here with a brand-new episode. Pass this on to everybody because a lot of parents are starting to wonder, “What are we going to do this summer?” Hopefully, this will help generate some ideas so that you’ll enjoy your summer and it’s not a power struggle. I’ll see you back here next time.


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