It’s really no secret how important play is for both kids and adults, even without the mountain of supporting evidence (e.g. Benefits of Play for Adults).  I’m a big champion of active play in my own family because it boosts the mind while simultaneously increasing the level of physical activity.   Nothing changes our kid’s attitudes faster than 5 minutes on the trampoline.

 Cinder Sprints-walking uphill

Cinder Sprints-walking uphill

 A Real Vacation

With summer break right around the corner, I hope you’re planning lots of active play into the upcoming family vacation.  Traveling for vacation creates an ideal environment for active play opportunities (traveling = active & vacation = play); but you do have to be careful since it can be easy for the “active” ingredient to begin sliding (at a commercial water park, you can spend a lot of time waiting in line creeping slowly up the stairs to the drop tower). 

For this reason, my wife and I always incorporate lots of physical activity into our trips (snowboarding, wakeboarding, hiking, sports). You can tell you’ve got a good thing going when the kids are engaged in high levels of physical activity but don’t want to stop.  I call this the self-entertaining loop, and it works for both kids and adults if you find the right activity for your audience.

For example, two years ago after hiking Lenox Crater Trail, I ran headlong down the last quarter mile (it’s really fun to run all out down a wide, soft cinder trail).  Our kids then spent 30 minutes doing cinder sprints (walking back up the first 100 feet of trail and sprinting back down). It was a self-entertaining loop—success! 

A Bit Closer to Home

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, extended vacations don’t happen nearly often enough to fill the need for active play.  In fact, some have dubbed the U.S. a “no vacation nation”.

Even if you’re not getting out on vacation or to local events as much as you’d like, there are lots of great activities you can do in your own backyard.  It makes sense to enable lots of active play at home since you’ll spend way more time there than traveling. 

Recently I talked to a friend who was concerned that even though her boys were “swimming” at their place on the lake, they were mostly just goofing off and weren’t doing much real activity.  In her case, she has a bit of work to do adding in features that will spark more active play, but it will definitely be worth it.

Backyard Water Slides

At our lake place, a 120’ water slide is an important part of the mix.  That’s one of the simple beauties of long water slides—they establish the base for the burst activity component required for active play (you can tell it’s active play from the elevated breathing). 

Often times with a large backyard water slide (think 30+ feet), getting to the top of the slide looks a lot more like a race.  That makes putting a waterslide down to your pool or the lake a great way to add in more active play. Some of the reasons I love long water slides include:

  • They’re super fun, thrilling, and appeal to people of nearly all ages when done right 
  • They’re more exercise than most big and small water “toys” (more running & swimming, less waiting)
  • They solve a transportation problem (they get the kids and the grownups to the water fast if swimming and boating is the target activity (to the boatmobile … dunah dunah dunah dunah dunah …)

If you don’t already have an awesome large water slide in your backyard, get in touch to find out how we can help make it happen.  Slides make a perfect addition to properties with pools, ponds, or lakes and we can also help if you want a self-contained water slide (no large body of water necessary).

Water Slide Games

If you’ve already got a great slide, here’s a few fun water slide games our family enjoys:

  • Indy 5—how fast can you complete 5 laps through the water slide circuit?
  • Long jump—how far past the exit point can you hit the water?
  • Momentum—how far can you coast (without paddling) after coming out of the slide?
  • Paul Revere—can you hit the rider with a soft water toy before they reach the end? This one’s best for open body slides/flume slides/half tube slides. 

More Active Play Ideas

If adding a waterslide this summer isn’t in the lineup, here’s some great additions we’ve used on our property to facilitate active play that you may consider:

  • Workout stations: trick bar, chin-up bar, balance beam
  • Games & Sports: Basketball hoop, Soccer goals, Horseshoe Pit, Jump Rope & Tug-of-War Stations
  • In the Air: trampolines, zip lines, slacklines (make sure you’ve got a great brake AND a backup brake on the zip line and a net around the trampoline)
  • Trails: running, walking, outdoor scavenger hunts (in addition to daily walking and running use by the family, we host a 1-mile friends and family fun run once a year)
  • Hammocks: swinging, swinging, and more swinging (I know you’re thinking hammocks are for napping, but our kids and their cousins spend more time piling into the hammocks 6 at a time to swing than they do on the real swings)
  • Shooting: Paintball, Nerf, Archery (in addition to our archery range, we do a paintball game once a year for the kids)

Initiating Active Play

If you’re having trouble getting an active play session started in your family, here’s a few strategies we’ve learned for kicking off some serious active play.

  • An older facilitator (preferably an adult or older teen to get things going)
  • An engaging activity (ideally it’s both challenging and fun—we like to use a stopwatch so everyone can compete against their personal best)
  • Risk-taking participants (usually the facilitator will need to warm the group up into taking safe risks by going first)
  • Permanently install required equipment (any hurdles to getting started can be a deal breaker so we take time to install the required components that will make it easy to get started)
  • Compete against yourself (it's not always possible but generally more positive when competition is to improve against a past performance rather than beat someone else)
  • Reward failure (my oldest son took a big spill towards the beginning of the cinder sprints but was soon back at it after all the high fives and back slaps)
  • Add a twist to re-engage (as the play starts to taper, adding a small twist can often start the cycle back up again—I got another 15 minutes of running out of my kids simply by laying down my jacket for them to jump over)
 Cinder Sprints-Hurdles

Cinder Sprints-Hurdles

 Cinder Sprint-Wipeout

Cinder Sprint-Wipeout

So what are YOU going to do to bring active play to your family this summer?  We’d love to hear about your plans in the comments below. Of course if you’d like to talk to us about getting a big long water slide, we’d love that, too!