Summer Activities for Kids: A Guide to Getting Kids Outside

summer activities for kids

Today I’m talking with Katy Bowman, biomechanist and bestselling author of many books, including Movement Matters and Move Your DNA. Katie’s got a brand new book out that’s as pretty as it is helpful and inspiring and thought provoking as all her books are. It’s called Grow Wild: The Whole Child, Whole Family Nature-rich Guide to Moving More. Katy is always so inspiring for getting your body moving in all the ways it was designed to move including outside. And as a mom of two, now she’s focusing on how we can get our kids doing it too. Today she will be sharing some summer activities for kids that will encourage them to get outside more.

And after a year, when a lot of kids were on screens more than ever, we need this advice more than ever. Plus, good news: kids moving more means more movement for grownups too!

Listen to the Podcast Here

Katy, It’s so great to have you here. You write in your book that kids are more sedentary than they have ever been. And we all basically know that not moving isn’t healthy and can lead to things like obesity and disease. But can you open the lens a little wider for us and talk about some of the big picture ways that movement matters for kids?

Certainly. There is that general health reasoning that we all know we need to move. But with kids is a little bit different because this period of their lives is when they are forming the shape of their body that will take them into adulthood. So, you know, I think many people know that babies come with more cartilage than they do bone. We, as babies are quite malleable to the environments that we’re placed in. And in the first two years it is important as far as forming our anatomy. Like literally the shape of our bones and how they are able to articulate.

While we’re never as soft as we are as babies, as toddlers, we’re more malleable in middle childhood than we are as teens, and teens are still more malleable than they will be when they become young adults and older adults. So it’s really important as far as our structure goes.

But also, which I bring up in Grow Wild, is we can think about movement as something that is beyond maybe our own physical structure. We can think about the habits that we are acquiring. Because we are quite malleable in our psychology, I would say, as children too. So we’re developing sort of the way we are in the world. We’re developing our habits that will take us into adulthood. And we’re understanding how movement works.

You know, I write a lot about sedentary culture. We are growing more and more sedentary, not only as individuals, but our culture. Our society is really set up on us moving less. It often depends on us not moving very much. And so in childhood is a really great time to introduce movement. Not only for those health benefits and for those physiological benefits, but because it’s the knowledge. It’s the purpose of movement and how movement works in the world. And how movement works ecologically with these larger systems that we participate within.

Oh, so much good food for thought in there. I mean, when you wrote that kids are more sedentary than ever as a result of so many reasons, this was even before COVID hit. And then the pandemic came down and a lot of things that got kids moving were just all of a sudden gone. Like walking to and from school, which used to be one of my kids’ major forms of movement.
And then they even closed playgrounds and not to mention sports, and activities, and stuff. Kids could still go outside, although in some cities you weren’t even supposed to leave your house for awhile. And, you know, kids were home from school. Parents needed to work. Parents needed kids out of their hair. It was sorta like, ‘Oh my God, you’re happy on the screen. Stay on the screen. It’s fine. I just need this moment to myself.’
So now we have this opportunity. It’s summer. Things are easing up a little bit. But how do we kind of capitalize on this moment? Do we need to think about recouping lost ground? What are some good summer activities for kids? Orient us in this moment, where are we supposed to be focusing?

EI’m going to go out on a limb and say this is most of the discussions that I’m having with parents right now. It’s sort of a ubiquitous issue. You can’t restore lost ground, right? Like time is just moving forward. So you’re not going to make up for lost time, but you can really look at it as what landscape am I going to create?

So we’re talking about summer, right?We’re talking about a little bit of freedom from the daily time constraints. School I would say is a big limiting factor for many people. How do you reduce screen time when screen time is required for education in many cases. And then that’s also, I would say a time when a grownups to have more leeway. I think if you are fortunate enough to have vacation time, it’s often during this time that we take it. I mean, I think in the end it really is just the weather. We still so strongly associate slowing down, and going outside, and community time, and celebrations, and nature with nice weather. So we just tend to take advantage of that.

And so I guess that’s the, the top of the bullet list of what do we do right now. And it’s take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way for more outside time, for sure. But I think it’s also, we tend to look at the parts of our lives that are the least malleable and focus on that. It’s like, well, I can’t do anything about this. I have this job. I have this deadline, I have this work time. But we don’t really look at our free time in the same way.

So mornings, before work, after work, weekends; that’s going to be your period of time where you want to make sure that you’re not doing the behaviors that you’re trying to get away from, during the times that they’re not essential. So yes, maybe you have to be on your laptop or maybe your kids have to be on their laptop for school or work. But it’s all that extra time around that essential time that sort of creeps in and ends up sucking our time dry.

Right. One of the ways that you think about time, that I really love so much and have enjoyed playing with in my own life is this idea about stacking your life. Where you can meet a lot of different needs in one activity. Can you talk about what that is so that maybe we could start to think about how to use our free time in this way that helps us feel like we have more time to do the things that we want to do?

Stack your life is this idea that we all have essential needs and they’re the same. We need food, and rest. And we need relationships, and we need nature. We need movement. We need to eat. So these are, these are just basic human needs. We all meet our needs differently. So maybe you can plan on ordering your food in for a restaurant to be that food need. Maybe you’ve got to go to the grocery store. Maybe you need to go take an exercise class where you go take a walk.

We figure out how we’re going to meet our needs individually. But what’s fairly common right now in this culture is we tend to meet our needs one at a time. So stack your life is this idea that while we have the same needs, we don’t actually have to meet them one at a time. That you can meet multiple needs at the same time by selecting tasks that meet multiple needs. Which is quite different than multitasking. Multitasking is trying to do a lot of things at once. Where stack your stacking your life is more like, well, no, you’re going to try to find one task that better meets multiple needs. Cause it’s really hard to be mindful, be slow enough to engage in the period of time with the people that are around you when you’re trying to constantly shuffle through a variety of tasks.

So for example, summer’s coming up, you’re asking about what are some summer activities for kids? Well, we go outside, but why would we go outside? Well, berry picking season is going to be here. Wild berries, farm berries, it doesn’t matter. They’re coming up this summer. So an excursion or a plan to go out to a berry farm or to take a hike or you know that there are berries, that’s a task you’re picking that. And what does it provide you? It gives you nature time. Usually gives you some sort of snack or treat. Maybe you come home and make jam, or maybe you make fruit leather, or maybe you make strawberry shortcake. Or maybe you just eat them all right there in the patch, which is totally fine too.

But you also have family time. You’re also slowing down a little bit and you’re recognizing plants. You’re tuning into like, wow, nature provides. There’s information here about where food comes from, that we are frightfully disconnected from as a society. So it’s just one task, but it meets multiple needs. Especially if you bring a picnic to it where you try to extend your period of time while you’re doing it. If you add a walk to it, you are taking one event, but you’re stretching it out over a longer period of time.

Because we tend to switch through individual tasks very quickly. And there’s always a loss of time. So anytime you switch between tasks, there’s this period of time when you talk about children, we call it transitions, right? We’re like, oh, you have to transition from this to that. And transitions is always that period of time where there’s like chaos. Some kids have a harder time with transitions. I argue that adults don’t do any better at transitions either. And that’s why we just sit and continue to watch Netflix because transitioning to anything else is hard. It’s hard. Overcoming inertia is challenging.

So when you start to look for tasks that meet multiple needs, you find that you can spend more time doing one thing, because you’re not worried about all the other things on your list to do. They’re all being done during that task.

I just feel like that you’re talking about the time that we lose when we’re trying to do a lot of things at once. I think you’re talking about it sort of in the context of a day, or maybe even just, you know, an hour or two. But that kind of is I think so many people’s experience of parenthood: You’re just shifting from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next to the next. And then the next thing you know, they’re leaving, they’re in high school. And my kids are now 13 and 11 and I’m starting feeling like this a little bit. Like, whoa, I gotta slow things down. And I also have been realizing lately just this week, I was like, you know what? I always talk about how my kids aren’t good at transitions. I’m terrible at them.

I know, I hear the narrative all the time. All the things that I think we complain about with kids, or maybe it’s not even a complaint, just noticing I’m like, those are my things. Like, I think they’re just the things of this society. It’s just way easier when you are sort of in charge of managing someone else and maybe aren’t managing yourself as well. You’re like, look at all those challenges over there, right? It’s easier to work on them yourself.

Well, in the coaching world, they call it, you spot it. So, okay. Stacking your life gets us to slow down, gets us to spend time with family, gets us to meet a bunch of different needs. Can you give some other examples of summer activities for kids that we can do to get them outside and moving around and together? Because I have to say now that my kids are older, I feel like I have to put my foot up their butt to get them outside. They just don’t really want to go in the way that they used to. So help me.

I know. So first of all, I’m not a parenting expert. And I am regularly putting my foot down and up and across and you know, throwing my own temper tantrums. So I’m right there with everyone. But what’s helped me is to recognize, you know, what are the needs? Like I know what children need for their physiology, for their body. We know what those are, right? It’s they need dietary nutrients and they need movement and they need air and they need natural sunlight. They need friend time, peer time. And we know that these are their needs, but it just becomes so challenging when you’re looking at what they’re doing, and you’re like, that’s not meeting any of their needs. It’s easy to make that assumption.

So I always start with like, what need is being met here? And I think that with screen time,  there’s the obvious, mandatory screen time that came with just them meeting their educational need. But also it’s been a peer. It’s been a source of peers and entertainment. Because as you pointed out, like the way that we had set up our lives is also very individual task, right? You go here to exercise, you go here for your kids activities, their sports, their clubs, their classes, friend time, or play dates. So my time for parenting is really here. And it was also separated that when it all quickly unified into like, no, you have to meet at all where you are. We didn’t have the framework to be able to do that.

So I think it’s just more to look at for my own kids, for example, what do they like? What are they doing instead of going outside? See what they like. So for example, if you have a kid who loves Dungeons and Dragons or some sort of fantasy game like that, I created a walking version. I was like, great, we’re going to do the walking Dungeons and Dragons. Get your friends and we’ll go outside and we’re going to do it over this five mile track. And then I try to make it fun because I think that life is for celebrating and for being fun. It’s just that what makes it fun is anything that’s sort of,  to me, easily titillating or easily stimulating.

So sugar is like that. Literally, it’s just simple energy. I don’t have to do very much work to be energized, if I choose sugar as my food. I have to do a lot more work in my body to create energy out of anything else that’s not as simple sugar. And it’s the same with entertainment. It streams in, I can sit right here. It goes on forever. I have endless options. Like why would I step away?

And the grownups aren’t stepping away either frankly. And so it’s really hard. It’s no wonder that kids have a hard time stepping away because we’re like inside on our devices going, you should go outside. It’s good for you. And it’s just like kids don’t understand, that’s not the way that they learned. Animals, mammals especially, really learn through mimicking  and modeling more so than the language or the words. There’s many levels to learning.

And so I have found that the easiest way to get my kids outside is by going outside. And again, if you’re feeling like, well, that would be great, but I have to be inside to work. It’s like, well then look at those early morning hours, those evening hours, where maybe what you used to do was taken family entertainment. Or maybe since now, the whole day has become a computer, that our old habits of evening devices or entertainment can shift to something new. Which is picnics, outside dinner.

One thing we started to do, which maybe this won’t be helpful. I had a kid who really like cooking shows. It’s one thing to sit and watch cooking shows. And I like cooking shows too, frankly. But it’s another thing to actually physically embody your enjoyment of a cooking show. If not, it’s just like watching animals on Mutual of Omaha going, wow, nature’s amazing. You know, as you’re sitting on your couch. It’s like, get, get some of that thing that you love.

So we started hosting, especially when we were really locked down, family Top Chef challenges where we put out everything. And it was a surprise because children love novelty, and surprise, and celebration. Like you doing just a little bit of work to make something out of the ordinary.

So it took all my food, you know, all these cool ingredients, put them on the dining room table when they weren’t aware of it and then called in and like, okay, the clock is set. You have 20 minutes to come up with an hors d’oeuvre. And so now what I ended up doing, this is where it’s a task, I don’t have to make dinner now. I don’t have to engage in my day in that same way.

I mean, we talked about this years ago in a podcast. Which was the idea of having dinner for breakfast was so radical for people. You know, to break out of this norm. We’re so limited in our creativity because we’re like there’s breakfast foods and there’s dinner foods. Here’s what we do in the evening.A nd there’s what we do in the morning and what we do in the day. I’m like, none that really holds. That’s just what you do. Pick something different.

Our Top Chef challenges have turned into outdoor fire cooking, Top Chef birthday parties that involve neighbors and community. And our kids are frankly now excellent cooks. And it’s, it’s just a TV show, right? You could sit around and binge watch it, or you can be it. So it’s just thinking about stuff like that.

Oh my gosh. I love that. That is so brilliant. I’m sitting here thinking like, how can I turn anime into my kids cooking dinner. Or That 70’s Show, which my daughter is fascinated with. Can I put out like a bunch of wigs and bell-bottoms?

You can throw a 70’s party. You know what I mean? You’re like, oh, they’re interested in this for a reason. You can throw a party that’s themed along that way. They’re in that space. I mean, I think with kids getting into their page, like, what are you interested in and why? And we definitely stretched the celebration into months. Meaning like if a holidays coming up, I also have a kid who loves anime, pulling out all the books and doing all our hair in these hairstyles. What would it be like to wear this as a costume?

It’s just sort of that you are engaging. You’re engaging with them in their interests, rather than always focusing on, I know it’s good for you to be off the screen, go do this. It just needs more work. And it needs more work from us as parents in that way, for sure. But it’s not difficult work. It’s just engaging on their level at their rate, which is often much slower than ours.

It sounds like some of the work is the slowing down that you’re talking about to really think about what their need is and what they like. And being able to get in that space where you can think creatively, which you can’t, when you’re trying to do three things at once, what have you. I think that’s an intriguing and compelling challenge, you know, as opposed to how you’re going to yell at him to get outside. It’s a lot more fun.

It is. And this is just another Top Chef example because I’m always looking at, they need to eat. It just seems to be like, if you asked me what I did for a living, I would say dishes. More so than anything else. I feel like I’m in the kitchen as an adult, especially with children. So I looked for tasks that allowed me to be with them and for them to learn something, but also them to eat. So then that’s done.

But I also love and need to be able to step away to do my work. And one solution for that was set up the laptops for them to record a cooking show. So yes, they are on a device, but it’s not a device in the way that we’re used to thinking. I mean, in Grow Wild, that was why I said, we really need to break down what we mean by being on a device. Does that mean I’m concerned with my child curled up in a position and the effect of being a device on their spine and their lack of movement? Is it I’m afraid of, or concerned about the content that they’re consuming? Is it the media portion and what they’re learning or not learning?

So for me, I felt quite fine opening up my laptop and putting on photo booth, which is just recording what they do. And letting them spend two hours, making cooking shows together. I always think so much of what’s happening right now on social media, as creation of arts, and performance, self-portraits, you know.

Like all these things are happening perhaps because the outlet for doing them in other ways has gone away. So maybe they’re in a play, maybe they make the play on the phone. They’re not even giving it to anyone, they’re still doing it for themselves. But they can participate in perhaps the world that they’re thinking of online or just on media.

So  t’s just meeting them halfway. Meeting the culture where it is, but allowing them to participate in more than just being a consumer of media, by still being creative and still moving around and still learning other things at the same time.

Sounds great. Quick before we go. I know you’ve been doing a lot of interviews for Grow Wild and getting a lot of reviews. Is there something that a lot of folks have been missing in their takeaway of your approach to getting kids outside and moving?

Yes. And I think, you know, I talk often about these general concepts of just getting kids up and out and moving around and standing up. And  increasing their basic level of activity.

But really, what’s more critical to what we talked about as far as what kids need in terms of movement is actually quite specific. Each tissue in the body needs different things. So your eyeballs need different movements than your shoulders need. And your shoulders need different movements than your hips do. And your bones need very specific types of movement. So I think because our kids are so under moved, but again, they were under moved before. But now, because they’re really under moved, if I could just increase steps per day, I would be thrilled. And that’s a wonderful objective.

But at the same time, we were already at the point where most of their tissues, even when their steps per day was walking to school and having some daily activity was making them more moves than they are now. Even that was not getting to the heart of what a variety of their pieces needed. And so I think because of we’re in such a movement drought, the chapter in the book, that’s really like, here’s how to evaluate their total activities so that you can see which body parts are getting moved and which ones aren’t has been totally lost. Because it’s way too overwhelming to think about a movement diet, and to assess it for movement nutrients when we are movement starved.

So I just want to make that we don’t overlook the technical wide range of movements kids bodies need just because we’re in a movement drought. Because I think we can do both at the same time. So no one’s asking me questions about that. And I’m like, oh, this is really the nitty gritty of the book, but we’ll get there. I think we’ll get them right.

Well, I mean, if we’re kind of starting from zero, then better to be thinking about the final destination, as opposed to just triage. So I can see how that’s applicable even now. But tell me and us so that when we read the book, what chapter it is.

It’s activities. It’s the chapter called activities. And I actually just created a sheet that you can print off from my website. Cause I was alluding to, you know, here’s how you would evaluate activities and here’s all the categories. But I was like really in this day and age, give me the sheet. Print it out. I want to fill it out. So I went and created that whole worksheet for you so that you can print one off for everyone, including adults. So that you can see like, oh, I see right now, we’re not doing anything that moves your shoulders. Or I see right now, there’s nothing here that’s loading your bones.

Because we are starting starting from zero, the assumption is eating something is better than eating nothing. And while that’s true, we really have the option to pick our movement diet at this point. And so it’s helpful to know. So I’ll get you a link to that so you can share it

Yes, I will absolutely share it. And for folks who just want to connect with you more, find your book, where can they find you?

Nutritious movement everything. At nutritiousmovement.com and then @thenutritionismovement on various social media platforms. I’ll be there.

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to do a little bit of that creative thinking that Katy was talking about in terms of what’s it going to be that gets your kids to happily go outside, and move their bodies, and have fun, and be in nature. It’s an easy thing to say, but it does require that you be in this space where you can think creatively and sort of critically. And think, what need are they trying to meet by being inside and interacting with their screens kind of continually? Or what is it that they love and they’re so excited about and how could we do that in a way that actually stacks with a need for movement and a need for nature?

I’m still brewing on this. How can we take a love for all things 70’s outside. I’m going to keep thinking about it. And if I come up with something, I’ll let you know.

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