School is out. Summer is here. And so begins the challenge of keeping school-age kids busy and active. For a nostalgic parent like me, it seems this might have been easier when electronic devices weren’t persistently present and only an arm’s length away; the days when going outdoors was the ONLY way to interact with your friends or to play out imaginary adventures. But if I am honest with myself, I remember that my mother and grandmothers spent quite a bit of time and energy getting me, my siblings, and my cousins away from the television and into the outdoors. “Go outside and play!” was a phrase we heard year-round, but never so much as during the summer months when long, warm days meant there was plenty of opportunity to focus our restlessness away from the house and on the great outdoors.
I realized some time ago that I have to be persistent in the same way my mother and grandmothers were if I want my kids to, “Go outside and play!” My kids and I aren’t living in a community like the one of my youth, where our rural neighborhood provided access to a river, a pond, and hundreds of acres of forest and open land just outside our door. I have to be more organized in my approach and determined in my efforts to look for outdoor opportunities that fit our family schedule and are accessible to our more urban community.
When my kids were toddlers, we made regular trips to our nearest conservation nature center. Slow walks on trails, wildlife viewing, and participating in programs were fantastic ways for my little ones to go outside and play and discover nature. As the kids got a little older and holding hands wasn’t as necessary (or desired), we would go for hardier hikes on conservation area trails where they could break away from me a little and navigate independently, something that wasn’t allowed when we walked in town. At first, going ahead solo made them a little nervous, but realizing they could get up and down the trail and always come back to find me gave them confidence and a sense of accomplishment. Those experiences made going outside to play exciting for them and rewarding for me.
Keeping kids busy and active throughout the summer can be challenging. All of us here at the Department of Conservation want to help you find ways to get you and your kids outdoors. The Department offers outdoor skills classes and educational programs for kids of all ages. We manage over 1,000 conservation areas across Missouri for your use. Visit our website and the “Things to Do” section (nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover nature/activities) to see all the ways we help you and your family “Go outside and play!”
Jennifer Battson Warren, deputy director
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