Spring Fun with Your Tween
Source: Renata Sancken
Your tween might be at the age where they roll their eyes at the idea of outdoor family fun, but if you can get them off the computer (or PlayStation or whatever indoor activity has their attention), they might muster up some genuine enthusiasm for these ideas:
This takes some advance planning, and you have to be careful not to make the clues too easy or you'll just get a lot of eyerolls, but if you can set up a good scavenger hunt around your local park or your neighborhood, your kids will probably enjoy the challenge. Also, they'll hopefully like whatever's at the end of the trail (fruit snacks, movie tickets, new board game) that much more for having had to earn it.
Cookouts can be adapted to you and your kids' experience levels and what equipment you have available. If you happen to have a fire pit in your backyard, you can have your kids help you make a whole dinner outside - maybe foil dinners and Dutch oven cobbler. Or take a bag of charcoal to the park, pick out a grill, and roast hot dogs and marshmallows. Fact: anything you make tastes better cooked outside.
Check Out your State Parks
State parks often get overlooked in favor of the more glamorous national parks, but you can get much more out of the park system than just a long minivan trip to the Grand Canyon. Check out your own state park's website and see what they have to offer. There's probably a fun, free (or low-cost) activity for kids at a site near you. Maybe a ranger can teach your kids how to identify wild birds, guide them through caves, or sign them up for a youth fishing derby.
Put on your rain boots, grab some empty peanut butter jars, and find a nice calm creek to play in. (Note: not a river, and be sure you are aware of the creek's depth and currents before jumping in.) You might be able to find tadpoles, frogs, crawdads, dragonflies, turtles and other fun aquatic (or amphibious) wildlife. If your kids are interested, you can follow this up with a trip to the library to find out more about your local ecosystem.
Get Out on the Water
Spring is the perfect time to rent canoes or kayaks and get out on the water at a nearby lake. Even if the water's too chilly for swimming, it's better to be out on the water in an aluminum canoe before the summer sun comes out in full. Look: you don't have to be an expert boater to take your kids canoeing, and many parks with lakes rent out canoes for fairly reasonable rates. Just grab some life jackets and get out on the lake. If you accidentally canoe yourself into the middle of some cattails, it'll make a funny family story and you'll get out eventually.
Exercise your Green Thumb
It doesn't matter if you have a huge backyard or an urban windowsill, you can still grow something! Your kids will feel a real sense of pride if they can see something go from seeds to the dinner table. Let them pick a fruit or vegetable and give them full responsibility for watering, weeding, and harvesting. Tomatoes, bell peppers, and herbs are good starter plants - and could make a good pizza when they're ripe. Or ask at your local garden shop what some good plants to grow for your climate are.
Earth Day Excitement!
Look in your local paper or search the web to see if there are any Earth Day activities scheduled for your area. Take your family out to plant trees, make environmentally-friendly crafts, or clean up a local park.
Run (or Walk) a Race
There are any number of 5Ks (and longer races) out there for charities, such as the Race for the Cure, Relay for Life, March for Babies, and many more. Find one that's nearby and meaningful for your family and sign up as a group. You can all walk together as a family. Perhaps you can honor a loved one's battle with cancer or other illness, or simply show support for others and get a little fresh air while you do it. Many of these events also have special kids-only races.
Renata Sancken writes for HalloweenCostumes.com which carries many cool costumes for kids. Renata is currently a graduate assistant at the Funk ACES Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.