Summer Time is Great Family Time

When I have a moment of free time I often duck into the bookstore and treat myself to some literary delicacy that suits my whim. Then I spend the next month skulking around the house like a spy, hyper vigilant of the next opportunity to sneak away and consume my book.

My partner, on the other hand, goes to the library, takes out ten books on a whole host of topics, and fans them out across the kitchen island. We all sift through them, browse the pictures, and skim the jacket covers. We sprawl on the couch with them, take note of the font, the weight of the paper, and make any number of banal observations. In a few days, like magic, the conversations begin. Our consciousness is alight with ideas, and opinions, and points of view. And hanging out with the family becomes genuinely fun because we participate in the joy of shared experience. And my kids can hardly read! But they notice, and they listen, and not surprisingly, they get it. Even my four year old:

“Why are reading a book about bagels?”
“It’s not about bagels; it’s a book about how eating wheat makes you fat and sick.”
“I don’t know, maybe. That’s what the person who wrote this book thinks.”
“Well, anyway, I only eat fruit and yoghurt.”
“And bunny pasta!”
“A little bunny pasta. It’s a good thing you don’t make me eat all of my bunny pasta. I don’t want to get fat and sick.”

This summer you should consider taking advantage of at least part of those precious nine weeks to create shared experiences with your children. I can assure you your kids will never remember the day you paid off your mortgage, but they may recall fondly the camping trip you made to Christina Lake.

Child psychologists will tell you at least one evening a week should be spent as a family. It doesn’t matter who constitutes the family as long as there is one semi-alert adult. In the winter, games nights work well because kids also develop counting, reading, and problem solving skills. But that’s not why I believe games nights trump movie nights. There is something about engaging in an activity that allows you to talk and play at the same time that provides fertile ground for sharing deeply emotional experiences that your children might otherwise keep to themselves. In the spring, gardening provides a similar opportunity. One minute my daughter and I are poking bean seeds into the ground and the next minute she is telling me about something that disturbed her at the playground two months ago! Soon it will be summer holidays: don’t miss the opportunity to spend it hiking, camping, or simply stoking the fire while you have a conversation with the kids. My children never ask to watch a movie when we are camping.

In case I haven’t made my case for getting out as a family, let me assure you that great things come from puttering around in the woods, including stomping out the hottest disease of the decade: Nature deficit disorder. It’s a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. In it he says: "One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is his or her own infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors."

The average American child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media. Granted, not all of it is bad, but after ten years of field research Louv determined kids who do not get enough time with nature are more likely to suffer obesity, anxiety, attention deficit, and a fear of the natural world. A group called “No child left inside” is gaining momentum promoting outdoor education and exercise. Presumably, they are seeking to combat that North American epidemic: No carb left behind.

Now that we have determined it’s time to ditch the paperwork and get outside with your family, the question is where to go? Nowhere may work very well if you tend a garden. Anything with dirt, worms, and some form of produce will do. Some great hikes for kids in the area are the Old Growth Trail at Island Lake, the giant cottonwoods in Morrissey, Silver Springs, and anything off the Timber Chair at the ski hill. If a “stay-cation” is not to your liking, the following are great hikes/overnight camping opportunities for any age, even the ones you have to carry on your back:

Idaho Peak near Silverton, the first half of the Tanglefoot Lake Trail (as far as the Mause Creek Tarns), and Elk Lakes (the path to the first lake is wide enough to push a chariot loaded with gear, pets, or children).