Blow your kids' minds with these cool excursions for hot days
Kimberly Burger Capozzi
For kids who like their fun inside with an electronic device charger nearby, the words "cool" and "playing outdoors" don't always mean the same thing- especially when the temperature is up. But even for kids who have seen it all, the outdoors hold some big surprises.
Try taking a trip to another world, literally, or try our backyard adaptations for at-home fun. Your family will forget about the heat, and put outside activity back on the "in" list.
Explore the depths
Textured drapery deposits, rows of stalactites and stalagmites that come together like giant dragon teeth, brilliant hues that put off a magical shimmer- these are the kinds of things you'll encounter on a cave tour.
"Any age is appropriate to inspire youngsters' minds of the wonders of caves and caverns, and the unique features that you don't see in everyday life," says Greg Beckler, president of the National Caves Association.
Each cave is unique, and parents should contact a park before visiting to learn what tours are suitable for their children's ages and abilities, Beckler said. The association offers a directory of 80 caves around the country, or check out NWF's Nature Find for more park listings.
Some things to consider:
- Strollers and backpack child carriers may not be permitted.
- Tours and terrain can vary from 30 minutes over paved paths and above-ground features, to treks of an hour or more with steep descents.
- Be prepared for cooler temperatures of around 50-60 degrees F underground- refreshing on a hot day!
- If you are interested in exploring unguided caves, Beckler suggests connecting with an experienced caver who will help you avoid dangers like water and shafts, and avoid harming wildlife like bats. The National Speleological Society lists local caving groups.
At home: Make your own mineral deposit formations
Can't make it to the caves? Create a model of stalactites and stalagmites with a solution of baking soda and these directions. Send your family outside for setup, using the "it's too messy for the kitchen" excuse. The project will need to sit undisturbed for a few days, so set it up on a covered porch or under a patio umbrella if possible.
Visit the Past
Your children have probably learned about the Native Americans that lived in your state. But have they visited an actual site where native people once cooked, built homes, and raised families? Or maybe you have a dinosaur-phile in your family. Help them find the remains of a plant or animal from another geological period.
For a directory of archaeological parks and resource links, see the National Park Service. There are opportunities to search for artifacts, like the Sifting for Technology program at Crystal River Archaeological State Park in Crystal River, FL. Other sites offer museums, tours, and recreations around completed excavation sites.
To hunt for fossilized remains of plants and animals, state parks are the go-to sources for guides and maps. Know the laws and regulations for your area; parks may not permit the removal of fossils, and always get a property owner's permission before trespassing on private land.
The Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, IN, gives tips for what children should bring to enjoy fossils, such as play dough for making casts. Look for special dig events that include tools and expertise, like the community fossil hunts held by the Poricy Park Conservancy in Middletown, NJ. Local libraries may know of geology groups and programs.
At home: Dig in!
How about searching for artifacts in your own backyard? Maybe you'll uncover an action figure dropped by the children of previous owners, or bricks used as landfill by the builder. All kids love dirt- and here's more on why parents should, too. Then check out these how-to's for finding new places to dig, and studying your family's leave-behinds.
Return to the farm
Feel a calf's rough tongue on your hand, ride in a wagon full of hay, or pick your own strawberries. Sound like the summer of your grandmother's childhood? Your family may find these activities and more at a small farm.
If a farm doesn't have posted hours, call and ask before you stop by, says LocalHarvest.org in it's tips for visiting. Contact farms that offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, in which members pay a farm in advance for a season's worth of produce, and local tourism agencies for information on farms that open their gates to the public.
Farmers markets can be fun to shop, and often offer activities especially for children, like petting or feeding the animals. Beware that farm animals can nip and kick, and children sometimes forget to be gentle, so follow all posted rules and stay close to your little ones. Find a special pick-your-own event where you and your children can head to the fields to pluck strawberries, blueberries, or corn. Don't forget harvest time, when festivals celebrate the bounty with tractor-pulled rides, ponies, and seasonal treats.
At home: Cultivate their interest
Growing vegetables in a garden plot or patio pots is a great way to bring the farm experience home. Here are some ides on how:
- Radishes take off quickly, beans do great in containers. Check out this blogging mom's article for more kid-safe bets in the garden.
- Take advantage of sales on green-house plants mid-season.
- Designate part of the garden, or a container, for dirt play.
- Maybe your garden takes off and you end up with a bumper crop of zucchini? Set up a vegetable stand for your neighborhood.
Learn more about staying cool during hot days:
Summertime First Aid: Heat-Related Illnesses
6 Ways to Have Fun Outside on the Hottest Day of the Year
Get Outdoors with Your Family