It’s sometimes said that those who were kids in the 1990s were the last generation to have a true childhood. This is because they came of age before the digital trends of the internet, smartphones, and other tech devices went full throttle.
Having spent part of my own childhood in those apparent glory years, I feel rather bad for today’s kids, who are missing out on the delights of a carefree summer in the fresh air. It’s likely they would be a lot happier and more creative—even if they were forced outside for an entire morning and told to drink out of the garden hose if thirsty, as the proverbial kid of yesteryear was.
So since a summer outdoors is a thing of the past, here are a number of ideas to pass along to your children and grandchildren to help them experience firsthand the glories of being a ‘90s—or any previous generation—kid.
Teach your children some of the backyard classics, such as kickball, sardines, kick the can, blindman’s bluff, or “red light, green light.” Variations on TV tag—we always played book tag and could go on forever by recalling our favorite titles—get both the mental and the physical juices flowing.
Build a Fort
Whether it’s a permanent one under a pine tree’s boughs, or a temporary one with a tent constructed out of a blanket and the picnic table, forts are a winner with kids because they create a special space to call their own. Even more, however, forts are great because they foster ingenuity as kids turn scraps into all kinds of useful building materials. After all, half the fun of something comes through creating it.
Educator Carole Joy Seid encourages parents to ditch the play sets of tools and provide their children with real ones. Doing so will teach them how to handle tools safely and effectively—and also will give them a creative outlet and opportunity to practice practical skills for the future.
Plant a Garden
Give kids an opportunity to get their hands dirty and raise a few plants, even if it’s only in a window box. Doing so involves your children in what author Wendell Berry calls the “family economy,” giving them the gift of “local productivity.”
Back in the day, a bike was the “kid car,” enabling children to explore far and wide. Life today makes that freedom a little more difficult, but let your children start small, riding first down the block, then around the block, and then gradually to farther destinations as they demonstrate responsibility. The training will help overcome both your fears and theirs.
Those excessively hot days of summer when it’s difficult to expend much energy are likely just what board games were created for. Try pulling out Monopoly, Risk, and Settlers of Catan and setting them up on a table outside. The kids still will be getting fresh air but will be able to practice strategy rather than staring at screens.
Paint the Picnic Table
Chores are one of the best cures for boredom, but there’s no rule against chores being fun! Almost every kid is fascinated by paint, so dress your child in some old clothes and hand him or her a paintbrush to paint an easy item such as the picnic table. Your child will have fun and help the family in the process.
Before sending your children outdoors, read some great works of historical fiction to them. Chances are, they’ll start reenacting the story once you turn them loose outside, playing King Arthur or Nathan Hale or pioneers on the Oregon Trail.
This one is a bonus because it entertains not only the kids, but the neighbors as well. My elderly neighbors later confessed that they got a lot of laughs watching me and my childhood friends throw water balloons in the air and then try to get them to smash down on our heads. (Trust me, it sounds much more painful than it really is—at least for a resilient kid!)
Pick up a croquet set at a garage sale or on Craigslist, then teach your children to play. My friends and I played this for hours as children—and when we got tired of the game itself, we improvised, using the mallets for crutches, or holding them upright and balancing the end of the stick on our fingers, seeing who could do so the longest.
Get some hefty sticks of sidewalk chalk, and let your children decorate the driveway or make grids to play hopscotch. For older children, suggest they write encouraging messages to others walking along the sidewalk, drawing on Bible verses or poems that they have learned for inspiration. I’m one of those adults who actually reads these unexpected sidewalk messages as I walk by, and they usually bring a smile.
Have your kids put on a play in the backyard, perhaps drawing on the historical fiction mentioned earlier. Kids always love presenting something and having others watch, and the preparation will get their creative juices flowing. Consider inviting the neighbors to watch, enabling you to strengthen your community in the process.
Getting children out of the house in the summertime is often viewed as a good thing because it maintains the sanity of Mom or Dad while also keeping children from being bored.
But what we often forget is that getting our children outside makes them healthy, both physically and mentally. For instance, the classic children’s work “The Secret Garden” explains how fresh air and exercise made little Mary “less ‘contrary’” and ready to “do new things.” Similarly, Thomas Jefferson recommended outdoor activity because “a strong body makes the mind strong.”
So teach your kids the joy of past generations with a summer outside. Who knows? It may just be the key to helping them overcome the mental health and academic struggles that seem to perpetually plague the up-and-coming generation.
This article is republished with permission from The Epoch Times