The Campfire

September 05, 2011

Active Bodies, Active Brains

Keeping your kids moving during the school year

By Heidi Drake

The 2011-2012 school year is about to begin (or already has for some kids)—have you thought about how to keep your offspring physically active in the face of school lunches, cooling, wetter weather, and less time for outside play due to homework and other commitmeDSCN1412nts?

Yeah, it’s a daunting task for sure. But with child and adolescent obesity rates currently ranging from 16-33 percent in the U.S., we can’t ignore it. But even we at Play Outdoors realize our kids can’t be outside all the time, so we need to find the right activities for them during the school year. And if they learn a bit about teamwork and commitment or spark their minds in some other way as well? Bonus!

•    Team Sports. Got a coordinated kid who likes a little competition (or a lot)? Enrolling  them in soccer, football, track, basketball, baseball, or any other team sport fosters school spirit and teaches teamwork and follow-through. But, don’t force a kid who just doesn’t seem comfortable with the   pressures of being on a team or really struggles with the basics. Take it from someone who was the picked-on kid on the team!
•    Individual Sports. Don’t give up because your child didn’t take to soccer! You just might have a budding golfer, tennis player, or cyclist living under your roof. Expose your kids to several activities or sports without pushing, and see where they naturally gravitate. Martial arts is a great option for many kids.
•    Family Sports. Because of my not-so-great team sport experience as a kid, I became interested in things that didn’t feel like “exercise”—skiing/snowboarding, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and the like. Now I’m able to do these things with my girls and husband, so we all get a dose of family bonding to boot.

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August 29, 2011

Global Green + You = Healthy, Happy Kids at School

By Heidi Drake

Every time I drop my girls off at their school in Sunriver, Oregon, I realize how blessed they are to Green-Schools-Makeover be entering a newly remodeled facility in a picturesque resort setting.

Not all kids are so lucky. That’s why Play Outdoors has been an enthusiastic supporter of Global Green and their Green Schools Initiative, which supports the building, remodeling, and all-around “greening up” of educational facilities across the country. You can get involved, whether your kids attend an older, urban school that needs serious help or they could just stand to kick their school’s eco-consciousness up a notch.

“How?” you ask—it’s up to you!

•    A little goes a long way. If your kids attend a newer school or you don’t have time to dive completely into green school advocacy, there are still ways you can make a difference. My daughter Maya’s Daisy Scout troop raised awareness for reusing and recycling by starting a can drive and using recycled materials for crafts, and her kindergarten class planted a garden on school grounds.

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August 23, 2011

Kick the Kids Outside to Play, Even During the School Year

By Heidi Drake

After several glorious weeks spent swimming, hiking, camping, biking and general outdoor exploring, my girls are both looking forward to school and seeing their friends daily and lamenting the end of one rockin’ summer break. My impending challenge? Making sure the school year doesn’t mean a sedentary lifestyle for my two energetic kids.

Trampoline-kids If your kids are involved in outdoor sports like soccer, football, or cross-country running, you’ve already got a leg up—bravo! Not all kids are cut out for team sports, though, and it’s important for them to spend fun time outdoors doing non-competitive things too. Things like:

•    Jumping outside. Got room for a trampoline? Get one! There’s nothing more freeing than a good bounce, for kids of all ages. Trampolines make great beds too—grab your favorite insulated sleeping bags and snooze under the stars with the kids after you’ve tuckered ‘em out.
•    Walking outside. From a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood to a riverside search for a geocache… customize a simple stroll and it becomes an adventure. The kiddos won’t even know they’re exercising (works for you, too). Don't forget to take a reusable water bottle no matter how long you're planning to hike.
•    Balancing outside. All you need is a Gibbon Slacklines balancing strap and a couple of trees to create well-balanced kids. Set it up and they’ll gravitate toward it! The Gibbon works your child’s core while encouraging balance—and it’s just plain fun.

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August 17, 2011

Fun & Healthy School Lunch and Snack Ideas for Kids

By Heidi Drake

I was surprised the other day when my lunch offering of a ham sandwich with mayo was met with a teen-worthy eye roll from nine-year-old Elise, accompanied by a sigh and, “Can’t I have something different?” I was bored too, but she usually wouldn’t eat anything else.

I seized the opportunity to try some new lunch and snack fare, which turned out to be a fun new adventure for both my girls and me. Some of our favorites?

•    “Fancy Sandwiches”. This one sounds like a lot of work, but all it took for six-year-old Maya to call them “fancy” was a change in bread. We picked up some fresh rolls and a box of croissants and old favorites became new again. Elise has even added lettuce and tomatoes to her ham and mayo. Bonus: no more wasted crust!
•    Wraps. Pick up an assortment of tortillas and fill ‘em with your favorite sandwich ingredients, vegetables, Mexican fillings… leave it up to the kids! It’s even more fun when they get to build their own.
•    “Stick Food”. Maya made some fruit kabobs for us recently, and since then we’ve made Girls-and-homemade-bruschetta “stick sandwiches” (cut of pieces of bread, meat, and cheese on skewers, dipped in various condiments), veggie skewers, and even a dessert version made up of chunks of chocolate cake and strawberries, dipped in whipped cream. Yum! Break regular wood skewers in half and they’ll fit in your kid’s insulated lunch bag.
•    Bruschetta. Armed with a kids’ cookbook from the library, Elise made bruschetta for an  afternoon snack (with a bit of help from Mom when it came to slicing the bread and using the oven). Kids can cut most fruits and veggies with a butter knife, so let them help!
•    “Mommy’s Lunchables”. My girls were constantly begging for those prepackaged lunches in the sandwich meat section of the grocery store, but I wasn’t a fan of the prices and processed food. One day when we had a limited mish-mash of grocery items available in our kitchen, I tossed together a couple of trays with crackers, cut up ham and turkey, cheese, pickles, fruit, and drinks in their favorite water bottles. Who knew it would be a hit? And it’s easy when you need to clear a few things from the fridge and pantry.

Let your kids help with your shopping list and plan for the week ahead, and they’ll actually eat what you give ‘em. Happy noshing!

August 08, 2011

Back to School Gear for Intelligent Beings

By Heidi Drake

Less than a month ‘til school starts—are you ready??

It’s okay if you’re not. Play Outdoors is here to save your sanity. From kid-sized backpacks that perform whether the kids are camping or walking to school to the supercool clothes their friends’ll Dakine-kids-backpack be jealous over, we’ve got the back-to-school gear you need. Just follow our head-to-toe guide…

It’s still sunny when the school year begins, so why not grab a Quiksilver or Roxy ball cap (or two…) for your young athlete? And when the air starts to chill, we have superstylish kids’ knit caps and beanies too.

You know the kids have outgrown last year’s clothes, so get some bang for your bucks with durable and up-to-date shirts, dresses, pants, and more from trusted brands like O’Neill and Billie Girl by Billabong. So hip you’re gonna want “big kid” sizes for yourself!

No matter how good your little sweetheart looks wardrobe-wise, a hungry-kid scowl’s gonna wreck his image. Be in control of what your kids eat for lunch by packing healthy food in an insulated lunch box or bag from PlayOutdoors.com. A double-wall insulated water bottle will help keep your kiddo hydrated too (and save on expensive bottled water and the multitudes of plastic bottles clogging up your recycle bin).

An organized kid’s a lot less stressed (and so are their parents), so make sure your student is equipped with a tough and functional kid’s backpack—yep, we’ve got laptop-friendly styles too.

And, we’ve got to take care of our kids’ feet—they take a lot of abuse going from class to class, to recess, and the bus stop. Growing feet need special care, so we only bring you the best. Look for supportive and multitasking KEENs, tough kids’ hikers from Merrell, fun styles by Simple and Sanuk, and a lot more.

Shop smart and you’ll be good to go! Until next year…

August 01, 2011

Family Outings for the Last Days of Summer

By Heidi Drake

Just flipped your calendar over to the next month and freaked out a little that it’s August already? Dad-and-child-hiking Me too. But if part of that panic is thinking it’s too late to pack a few more quick family trips and outings into your summer schedule, relax. You’ve still got time to take the kids outside for some shenanigans before they have to hit the books again, and it doesn't have to involve a lot of money or advance planning.

•    Hike! No matter where you live, you can put on your sneakers or hiking boots and take a walk outdoors. Don’t forget water and snacks, and lots of sunscreen! What we love about hiking is you can do it pretty much anywhere, for any length of time… ‘sup to you!
•    Camp! Pack up the kids’ sleeping bags and some roasting sticks and head up to your favorite lake or wooded area. The majority of campgrounds in the U.S. only take reservations for about 50% of their sites, so the rest are there for the picking. Perfect for the last-minute "planner!"
•    Bike! Choose a mellow, paved bike route or some kid-friendly single track and get rolling with your crew. Oufit your kids with Camelbak hydration packs for safer riding and room for snacks too.

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July 26, 2011

The Gyrowheel: Genius Bike Training Gadget or Waste of Money?

By Ben McKinley

Complete_gyrobike_duo In the not-so-distance past, the Segway “scooter” introduced the magic of the gyroscope to tourists, techies and police the world over (and became a hilarious and popular TV and movie prop).  Recently, the makers of the Gyrowheel utilized this same technology to fast track your little one’s quest to ride on two wheels. This device is a pretty incredible alternative to the training wheels that caused many a-scar and scare for young riders over the years, myself included.  I was amazed at how much it resists being knocked over while rolling on its own, and while connected to a bike.

What exactly is the Gyrowheel? It replaces the front wheel on your kid’s bike and helps them balance while they get the hang of it. I checked out Gyrowheel’s website to see how it works—pretty wild stuff! It looked so easy, like the bike would pretty much ride itself. Unfortunately, it wasn't so simple when it came to using it with my preschool daughter.

Gyrowheel Pros:

•    Safe alternative to training wheels and their tendency to pull feet underneath and hurt them
•    Provides a more realistic feeling of riding and leaning into turns for little ones
•    Because of the stability it provides, the Gyrowheel gives little ones more time to gain confidence on two wheels and avoid scary and painful falls. This does not mean a kid-sized bike helmet isn't needed!
•    Equipped with three stability settings to encourage weaning off device as kids work to ride on two wheels without the tech assist

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July 18, 2011

Are We There Yet??

Road Trip - three kids in back seat

By Kevin Farron

School is out, bags are packed and the sun is shining! It's time for a summer getaway! Keeping kids entertained in the car can be a hazardous headache – but, with a little planning, it can be done.

Plan Ahead

Allow more time than expected, for extra rest stops or surprise hikes. These can be as simple as lookouts or points of interest on the trip. Browse over maps to identify possible rest stops and turn the long trip in the car into more manageable short stints.

Pack plenty of healthy snacks and drinks in car-friendly-bottles (sugar and caffeine will make the time the car much worse, I promise) and throw some comfy sleeping bags and travel pillows in the back seat. Sleeping kid = happy parent.

Eye Spy Games


  • License Plates! - Before you go, print off a sheet of paper with all 50 states listed (and perhaps some Canadian Provinces as well). During your adventures, have the kiddos keep their eyes peeled on the passing cars, looking for different state plates. See how many you can check off during the trip, and then keep the checklist going until they're all found! Talk about the states you find - Where are they located? How do you spell them? What are they known for? Hawaii?! How'd that get here!?
  • Alphabet Game - ABCD...EF..G! Start at the beginning of the alphabet, and work your way up by spotting letters found on billboards, license plates, street names or even funny looking trees! This can be a group effort or a competition, and one that will keep the attention all the way from Main Street (A!) to the zoo (Z!).
  • Car Games/Coloring Books - When it comes to car games, two things are crucial: they need to be fun and they need to be new and exciting. It’s not a bad idea to hide one or two away for the drive home. Some of our favorites are Camp and Flash of Brillance. And of course, a large selection of books is always important.


Create Fun, Memories

And finally, just before you head home from your getaway, process the pictures from the trip for one of the best car activities out there – scrapbooking! Even better, bring a few disposable cameras and let to kids shoot away during the vacation. Then, let the little photographers sort through the pics, choosing the shots they want to include. Car scrapbooking can be as simple as organizing a photo album and coloring the cover, to writing stories that go along with the pictures or, for the more advanced and patient, snipping, sticking and the whole scrapbooking shebang.

If your family prefers videos to still photos, watch them! Share some laughs and relive the good times. Just because you're in the car doesn't mean the fun is over.

With a little planning, patience and creativity, you'll never hear "are we there yet?" again. Instead, shouts from the backseat will be asking, "we're there already?!" and you’ll be thinking the very same thing.

The Pyramid Turns Plate: The New Food Guidelines

By Meredith Russell

1992 and 2005 Food PyramidsThe food pyramid is a thing of the past, and most experts are cheering. Did anyone ever really understand or use the food pyramid to make healthy snacks for their kids? You're not alone if you found it to be mysterious at best. Did you know that a serving of grain was a third of a bagel?! The US Department of Agriculture left behind its two former variations of the food pyramid this month and unveiled the "food plate." What's fresh in this new design?

A new set of guidelines. The food plate and its accompanying recommendations provide guidelines for choosing nutritious foods in healthy portion sizes. In the context of the growing obesity epidemic (one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese), the plate focuses more on fruits, vegetables, and exercise than ever before.

2011 Food PlateChanges. Along with a simpler and easier visual, the plate and cup bring some other changes. Note that "protein" has replaced "meat and beans," suggesting a wider variety of proteins (think tofu) that can meet the same needs.

Plates are political. Who knew that the creation of the plate could be so controversial? While many agree that the plate is more user friendly than its earlier versions, some feel the government is overstepping and telling people what to eat. And, some questions remain. What about kale? Why is there a separate "dairy" category rather than including dairy in protein? Why is it "dairy" rather than "calcium" and including calcium-rich vegetables? Some reports have pointed to various food industry lobbying efforts to explain some of the results. For example, did the efforts of the dairy industry result in its own category? As consumers (both with our money and our food), we can bear in mind that no marketing or public health campaign is made in a vacuum.

Bottom line. Be an educated consumer. Be aware that television ads and cereal boxes market to children, and can use nutritional information in ways that sell their products, not necessary to improve your health. Educate your kids about what they are seeing regarding food information around them. And keep in mind that it’s not all about the food. Keeping your family physically active is crucial for overall health. Simple things like hiking keep your family and your bodies strong.

July 11, 2011

You Mean a Beach Vacation Can Actually Be Fun?

Family playing at beach

By Meredith Russell

My book group's most interesting conversation last week was not about the book. Here was the surprisingly divisive conversation: Can beach vacations with young children actually be relaxing and fun? How can the parents feel like they are on vacation while simultaneously preventing drowning and sunburn? Amongst us were three families, with children the exact same ages, who had completely different beach experiences—from totally miserable to having the time of their lives. And the variable seemed to be what level of kid supervision we provided, and our attitudes about it.

Questions lingered: How much is too much? Was I being overprotective and thus ruining my own fun? What do I need to know to ease my mind?

Bottom Line: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "Ocean swimming should only be allowed when a lifeguard is on duty." Gulp. For many of us, swimming only at guarded beaches is just not realistic. So, an identified adult needs to make it their full time job to watch the children in the water. No reading magazines while on duty. And for children under age five, adults should provide "touch supervision," which means being within an arm's reach at all times. Looks like we'll be getting wet!

Riptide tip. Riptides and strong currents are of particular concern for inexperienced swimmers. Teach your kids this trick: If you're caught in a current, swim across it (parallel to shore), not against it (toward or away from shore) and you'll eventually swim out of the current.

Storm out of there. If a storm approaches, leave the beach! A beach is a dangerous place to be in lightning (since water conducts electricity), so be sure to take cover. Fast.

Sun strategies. A big beach-time risk is the sun itself… sunburns can happen on cloudy days too! Always apply full spectrum, waterproof sunblock before heading to the beach. Reapply every two hours, and immediately after swimming. Hats and sunglasses are great protection too!

I realized that these tips made me feel better, but they weren't the quick-fix suggestions I was hoping to find! There was no letting go, no easing up, no magic age when I can switch from vigilance to vacationing. We all need to find our own balance and comfort level. So, for now, I will be pulling on my own bathing suit, tapping into my inner swimmer, and splashing along with the kids! Magazines and trashy novels can wait a few more years.