5 Tips for Making Going Outside a Habit

Guest Post by Rachel Thomas

ImageSince my children were very small we have made it a habit to spend as much time outside as possible, but it’s not always easy.

Our schedules are hectic and technology is such that most of us hardly even think about going outside. It seems our attention is either on our computers, our phones, or the television when we are home. Our children’s health and our health as a country is deteriorating and we really need to start making it a habit to spend more time out-of-doors as a family. Here are few ideas that for getting your kids outside that have worked for me.

1. Play Outside Every Day When my kids were small, we made a point of playing in the yard every day. We would swing, play catch, or they would ride around the driveway on their tricycles or get some sidewalk chalk and do some art work. I even taught them the art of making mud pies which was one of my favorite pastimes when I was small. Momma would set me on a towel and we would dig up some dirt, mix it with water, and make pretend pies in mom’s old pie tins. Sometimes we had an old box that we used as an oven and baked our pies for supper. Momma was always thinking of ways to get us involved in outdoor activities and since I loved to help her in the kitchen she knew I would enjoy this activity.

2. Plant a garden
Every year we would plant a garden and momma would let us pick out one vegetable we wanted to grow. It was so much fun planting and watering our vegetable and even more fun when it grew and started producing. It is a wondrous thing for a young child to watch plants as they grow. Even if you have never gardened, it is still something you and your kids can have fun learning together. I will never forget my first vegetable, which was corn; I planted it and watched it grow so tall and strong. There is nothing like eating something that you grew yourself. My children wanted to grow their own trees so that is what we started with. We planted a peach, pear and a kumquat tree and the children were so thrilled when their trees started to fruit. This takes a bit longer than a vegetable garden but it is very rewarding when the trees fruit and you actually get to taste it.

3. Ride a bike or take a walk 
Many days when my kids get home from school and have a quick snack we take a walk or ride our bikes. After school is a great time to get into the habit of going outdoors before everyone gets settled in front of video games, television, or computers. We either walk or ride to the local park or to the bayou to look for tadpoles. My children love to hike and look for interesting leaves, rocks, plants, moss, and trees. My mom bought my son a small blunt axe so he could chop up the dead logs we found. He really thought he was all grown up using that axe. We’d bring home our finds and use them for craft projects later. I also found that doing craft projects outside makes it easier when it is time to clean up as well.

4. Play with your kids
Doing things as a family is the easiest way to get your children active and outdoors, when the kids see mom and dad getting out and having fun it makes it fun for them as well. If it becomes a lifestyle for the entire family then it usually becomes a lifestyle that sticks. We have a badminton net set up in the yard, and even though my daughter sometimes doesn’t want to play, she always has a great time after she gets going. I have found that even less active children can get excited about being active if the adult with them makes it fun. Just being out-of-doors in the sunshine is a step in the right direction.

5. Go Camping 
Going camping was a new adventure for me when my kids were young, I was a little hesitant, but I knew that my children would love it. We started out camping in the back yard. After that my kids wanted to go to a real camping park. There are so many state parks around the country so it is easy to find one not too far away. Most state parks have lakes for swimming and fishing and trails for hiking. Plus, they are safe for families. I remember the first park we went to in Texas. We were setting up camp and my son wanted to go see the lake so I let my daughter take him. Within a few minutes, they were back and my daughter had a panicked look on her face. She told me that there were alligators on the banks of the lake! We talked to the rangers and they assured us that if we did not mess with the alligators they would not mess with us. I was just glad we did not pick one of the campsites that were on the bank of the lake!

It was such an adventure for the kids to sleep in a tent. We saw so much wildlife that we would not have seen at home. We learned quickly that you cannot leave food outside or inside the tent. One night a bag of cookies got inside the tent and was up underneath a sleeping bag near the edge of the tent – but no one knew how, of course. All night long something was scratching at the tent, even after I ran outside and tried to scare it off. In the morning we had a tiny hole in the tent and found the cookies. The next night we made sure there was no food in the tent and we had a better night sleep!

The whole family benefits from getting into the habit of getting active outside. I have found that it really clears the mind and helps the attitude when we all get off of the technology and do something active.

Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments at rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.

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Top 10 Fall Adventures with Kids in Wisconsin

It’s autumn in Wisconsin and nothing is better than that. Get outside with your kids this fall and create memories to last a lifetime.  Here are a few of my favorite fall outings with links to help you create your own memorable adventures. Have fun and write to let me know your own favorites.

images-11. Hayrides: Kids love hayrides and so do adults. They are fun, relaxing and old fashioned. In our fast paced world, it’s delightful to slow down and take a ride in a tractor or horse drawn wagon. Contact your local parks department for hayrides or search the internet. Many are free or very low cost. The City of Madison offers low cost Hayrides and your town may as well. Many organizations host haunted hayrides like MacKenzie Environmental Education Center and Schumacher Farm Park. Halloween events in Wisconsin are everywhere.

images-62. Corn Mazes: Get lost and then found in a corn maze. Go to Wisconsin Corn Mazes to find a corn maze near you. I’m going to Mayr Corn Maze in a few weeks so I can let you know about that one. It’s haunted so that will fun. Many, like Treinen Farm’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, also offer other activities such as pumpkin picking, petting zoos and food. The Keep Wisconsin Warm Cool Fund’s Corn Maze in Fitchburg serves as a fundraiser. So, if you’re looking to help keep people warm this winter, attend this maze.   Continue reading

These feet are made for biking: making memories to last a lifetime

Buba’s Feet at Vilas Beach

These feet are made for biking.
And playing in the sand,
talking to ducks,
jumping on rocks and just plain having fun.

But will they remember any of it as adults?
Will Bike for Life make a difference for these kids?

As Bike for Life’s summer session comes to a close, I’d like to think that the minds attached to the feet will carry with them positive memories and skills from the summer.

But since I can’t attach a tracking device to each child, I can only hope that one or two memories will stick with them and keep them motivated to eat healthy and to bike later in life.

Looking back at my childhood, I recall trips from elementary school and how they affected my life. A school field trip to the Milwaukee Museum in fourth grade taught me that dinosaurs were scary and cool and that there’s a great big world out there. I imagined myself on the streets of Old Milwaukee, which no doubt spurred an interest in all things historic. But more than anything, those trips gave me hope and served as an escape from a not so happy childhood (another story).

I’d like to think that the same is true for the kids that attend bike club, many of which have limited means. Bike club exposes kids to new worlds and that makes them more confident and independent. When kids bike 12.5 miles, they learn that they can go anywhere. When they get exposed to new adventures, they learn to handle the unexpected. These are skills that will serve them well in life.

Biking along Lake Monona with Monona Terrace and the State Capital in the background.

I’d also like to think they’ll remember the teachery things, such as how to make a healthy soda drink, how to cross a busy street and how to put air in their tire.

But more than likely, they’ll each take with them the one thing that touched them… perhaps biking over the bridges or under the tunnels, the elevator at Monona Terrace, or biking to the zoo. Or, they’ll remember the great snacks, or the time I fed them “bird style” because we ran out of cups (see photo below).

Regardless, I am confident that they will remember something. If I’m lucky, they’ll think that bike club was cool, just like I thought that dinosaur was cool. But more than anything, I hope they remember the joy and freedom of biking. I want them to remember that for two hours each week, they were happy. If I leave them with that, I will consider my job well done.

Thanks for the memories kids and see you on the bike trails this fall. 

Here I am feeding Soren “bird style” some of Miss Diane’s tasty homemade soda-sparkling water and a splash of apple juice – before leaving the zoo.

Diane Schwartz is the founder of Bike for Life and Get Kids Outside. You can find her working on her fall biking calendar and other fall outings for the Goodman Community Center.

Bike for Life: Tips on How to Bike with Kids

Bike for Life Crew 2012 on the Capitol City Bike Path near Goodman Community Center.

Bike for Life 2012 has started and it’s going very well, in part because of lessons learned from 2011. Here’s a run-down of 10 changes and tips for this year.

1. Three people are better than two: This year, I am fortunate to have two really great volunteers riding with me. This make a huge difference. With so many helmets to fit, tires to pump, and handle bars to adjust, having a third person really helps.

2. Don’t let the kids see, touch or smell the bikes/helmets until your ready to ride: Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but not really. This year, we start bike club with a team meeting before letting the kids see or touch the bikes and gear. Why? Because it’s impossible to get a child to listen when he or she’s got a helmet on their head or hands on a bike. Best not to fight it.

3. Teach hand signals and road safety on the bike path or next to road where you will start your ride:  Hand signals and other rules of the road make more sense when taught in context with bike path or road. Plus, you can line them up and reinforce things like leaving a lot of space between bikes. So, now we leave in two stages. We do our helmet and bike fitting at the Center and then we walk a short distance with our bikes to the path to line up.

Having fun at the Walter St. Park, our destination for the first day of bike club.

4. Avoid water bottles if you can on the first day: Kids love water bottles, but when there’s so much to do on the first day, they can become one more thing to deal with. Thankfully, the weather wasn’t hot and the ride was short. They all get their water bottles on day two. They needed them.

5. Have a behavior contract: I can’t say enough about behavior contracts. When kids and parents know what to expect, everyone rises to the occasion. If you want to see my behavior contract, please let me know and I’ll send it to you.

6. Have a destination for each trip: Kids love to bike, but they also like to play. Having a destination is part of the fun and makes them feel accomplished. On our first day, we rode to a nearby park. It wasn’t far, but the kids thought it was great. Next week, we’ll bike to the Machinery Row Bike Shop. They’re gonna love it.

7. Go over the rules, even briefly, on every trip: Repetition is 99 percent of learning. If you hear something enough, eventually it will stick. The top three rules to repeat are 1) Keep a safe distance from the bike in front of you; 2) Use verbal cues to alert others; and 3) Focus. This year, “focus” is a key part of our program. Remember kids, we do not hold conversations while riding single file on the bike path. And, we keep two hands on the handle bars.

8. Act like a team: This year, I’m reinforcing the team aspect of biking. Each session, we start with a short team building exercise. Sticking together as a team helps kids see the impact of their actions even when they are riding as an individual.

9. No Passing Allowed: I tell the kids not to pass because it puts the kibosh on competitive and unsafe behavior like racing. There are always one or two kids that fall into this catagory. I tell them, “You can race when you’re not at Goodman.”  They soon learn that passing simply isn’t necessary because everyone rides at a different pace.

10. Um, I don’t really have a 10, I just like having a round number.

So, tell me about your adventures with kids and biking. What works for you? What doesn’t?  

Carrot Juice vs Chips: Bike for Life explores the options

Surprise: Kids like carrot juice.

Carrot juice or chips?
Raw peanut butter anyone?
What do you think kids will eat?
Turns out they’ll eat all three, but not necessarily in that order.

I didn’t think they’d like carrot juice, but they did.
They watched intently as the Willy Street Coop juice bar man turned carrots into juice with the flip of a switch. The rich, orange juice flowed out and the kids eagerly drank it up. They also loved watching peanuts turn into peanut butter in the grinder.  They liked that it looked kinda gross coming out of the machine, which always helps with kids.

After they tried the juice and peanut butter, I took out chips and chocolate to talk about portion size and choices in food. They squealed with delight. Sugar, salt and fat make for tough competition. No squeals for carrot juice and unsweetened/unsalted peanut butter, but then again, they had never tried them before.  On the other hand, junk food, is readily available and a primary cause of obesity in kids.

Can you just 12 chips?

Of course, the real challenge with junk food is how much kids eat.

Did you know that there are about 12 chips and 250 calories in one serving?  Have you ever tried eating just 12 chips in a sitting?  That’s the challenge. I offered single serving bags of chips to make the point.

The next time you sit down to eat chips, challenge yourself and your kids to eat just one serving. And, before you eat, read the ingredient label. Turns out that the nacho cheese flavored chips are loaded with preservatives, whereas simple potato chips contain just potatoes, oil and salt. Even in the chip world, there are choices.

As for the chocolate, the package said a serving was half the bar. This seemed like a lot so we talked about that. Can you eat just a few squares of chocolate and put the rest away for another day?  I know I can’t, which is why I don’t eat chips or eat sugar. I shared this with the kids so they know that there’s a choice. They don’t get it, but then again, they don’t have to, just yet.

Kids are smart and while most of their food choices are made by others, I believe that this information will make a difference to them.

Perhaps not now, but in the future.

What do you think?   

Bike for Life is an obesity prevention program created and run by Diane Schwartz out of the Goodman Community Center. It’s funded by the Endres Foundation and the Rosenlund Family Foundation. The group is enjoying the great fall weather by biking around Madison. Next week, we’ll head up to the Capitol. 

Is it ever too hot?

I wrote this piece during the last heat wave in July 2011. Now that we’re deep into a serious heat wave of 2012, it’s a good time to re-post. See my comments below for my new take on heat.  

I didn’t want to, but I cancelled Bike for Life on Friday afternoon (July 1) because the temperatures were 90 degrees with a heat index of 97.

Wisconsin licensing rules forbid children from engaging in outdoor activity when it’s above 90 degrees (except swimming of course). The rule is designed to keep kids safe, but it is also restrictive.

Yes, it was hot, but it wasn’t too hot for a healthy kid to bike less than a mile to Olbrich Park, go swimming, and then bike back. Imagine what kids do in the south?  They would never go outside in the summer with a rule like that.

I believe that rules like this teach kids to fear the outdoors. For example, we went skiing in sub zero temperatures and the kids were fine. They learned what to do to stay warm. The same is true of heat. The kids lost a valuable opportunity.

Next year, I’ll plan bike club in the mornings to avoid cancellations. I can’t change the rules, but I can change the times that we ride.

And, if it’s hot on Friday, I’ll be planning to do something else.

What do you do when the weather’s hot? 

$1 Snack Attack: What will kids choose to eat?

What will kids buy if they only have $1 to spend on a snack?

That was the Bike for Life challenge last week.

The kids could choose from the following as long as they stayed under $1:
– apple or banana – 22-60 cents
– cheese stick – 33 cents
– 1 oz peanuts – 22 cents
– 1 candy bar – 93 cents
– Single serving bag of chips 33 cents

Before they made their choices, we talked about each item and  its nutritional value. We also looked at portion size and learned how to read a nutrition label.

Then, we biked to Copps grocery store on Aberg and took a tour of the departments. The store manager gave us a tour and the kids made their choices.

Of the six boys, 1 chose peanuts, two chose an apple and cheese stick, 1 chose the chips, and two chose the candy bar. Of the 7 girls, all bought an apple along with either the nuts or a cheese stick.

For whatever reason, it appears the boys felt freer to buy junk food. The two boys were giddy that I’d let them buy candy. If given money and the choice, some kids will always buy candy.

When I asked John why he chose the chips, he said “I just felt like a chip.”  Perhaps he associated chips with a reward, or he craved the salt. Regardless, nutrition had nothing to do with his choice.

The girls all chose a healthy snack: either an apple and nuts, or an apple and cheese stick.  One person commented that she didn’t get the candy because she could buy two things for her money instead of one candy bar. Just like John, nutrition had nothing to do with her choice. It’s also possible that the girls wanted to please me or were driven by peer pressure. Since none of the girls said they wanted a candy bar, perhaps it was too risky for a lone candy bar lover to break from the pack. I wonder what would have happened if just one boy would have wanted the candy. Would he have risked speaking up?

Overall, I think it was a good experiment. Most of the kids chose healthy snacks despite less healthy options. Next time, I’ll ask more questions about why they chose what they did.  Healthy eating takes a lifetime to learn and this was a small learning step. Two things are  certain, 1) kids have lots of reason for choosing what they eat and 2) the will never forget (I hope) the day that their teacher gave them $1 to spend anyway they wanted.

The Ferocious 5: The joy of same-sex bike groups

Isaiah, Micah, Buba, Cashel and Gavin look cool on the Goodman Center's new bikes.

Meet the Ferocious 5: Isaiah, Micah, Buba, Cashel and Gavin.

The boys make up my morning Bike for Life group at the Goodman Community Center.
I have a girl group in the afternoon.
While I didn’t plan it this way, I’m seeing the benefits of same-sex groups.

I find it easier to manage behaviors in same-sex groups because the behaviors are similar. In this case, the boys are more competitive. They argue more and listen less. They want to go fast, but then poop out.  The girls don’t argue at all and they’re better listeners. They pace themselves and have more stamina. If they’re competitive, they don’t show it, or at least not yet.

Neither is better, but the energies are so very different.

Of course, same-sex groups may not work this smoothly in all cases, but I’m happy with them so far.

Bike for Life meets every Friday for 9 more weeks. Stay tuned for more stories about the Ferocious 5 and the Girl Group.

Bike for Life teaches kids how to love biking so they’ll want to do it forever. In addition, they’ll learn about healthy snacks so that they’ll stay fit.

Biking: Independence on Wheels

Icie and Micah show off our super cool folding bikes outside the Goodman Community Center after our first neighborhood ride.

A bike is an independence machine.

Give a kid a bike and they have the means to see and do things
that they couldn’t do before. Of course, biking is also good exercise, it’s good for the environment and it’s just plain fun.
I just launched a new biking program at Goodman Community Center
called Bike for Life. Bike for Life teaches kids how to safely ride and navigate city bike paths and roads. It also strives to get kids moving and teach them about healthy nutrition. Obesity is a huge issue today, especially among minority populations. Of course, the serious stuff is disguised in the fun and adventure of biking.
Stay tuned for more stories about biking with kids this summer.
It’s time to Bike for Life.

Kids get Bikes on Thursday!

Six kids will get a new bike on Thursday.
They’re excited and I’m excited.
They’ve worked hard at doing service around  the Goodman Community Center. They’ve washed windows, picked up trash and worked with preschoolers. They’ve written book reports too.

We’ll walk to the Wheels for Winners garage on Thursday and the kids will pick out their bikes.  I can’t wait.