It can be tough sometimes to leave work at the office -- even when on a vacation. Yet it's important to unplug and spend time with family. This week, Elisa Murray, ParentMap's Out and About editor, discusses ways that families have fun together this summer when the line between work and home so often becomes blurred.
What are some ideas to help families reconnect to each other?
An interesting trend I recently wrote about is family camps, where kids and parents have a summer camp-like experience together, often at a YMCA camp or other camp that will host several family camps a year.
According to the American Camp Association, this is the fastest-growing segment of summer camps and it’s easy to understand why. Family camps are usually in a gorgeous location, quite affordable and someone else plans the activities and does the cooking while your family has chore-free time away from home to reconnect and have fun -- trying new things and being goofy together. When your kids hit their teen years, this kind of time together is like gold.
A similar experience -- though a little pricier -- can be had at a local dude ranch in Washington, Oregon or Montana. You’ll learn to horseback ride, tie flies and round up cattle together -- and nights will be about gourmet camp food, campfire sing-alongs and star-watching -- not Facebook.
Of course, the easiest-to-implement strategy is to camp at one of the literally hundreds of wonderful campgrounds in Washington State and beyond, preferably with other families. And if sleeping in a tent isn’t your thing, you can also book yurts, cabins and even teepees at many state parks for a more comfortable taste of the camping experience.
And a thought on the travel part: Try taking a train instead of driving, even a sleeper car to San Francisco or over the Cascades to Glacier Mountain Park in Montana. Since someone else is doing all the driving, and the Wi-Fi is often spotty, you’re traveling through some of the most beautiful scenery in the U.S., families have nothing but together time, and it can be an adventure that kids can help plan.
It's not just about the parents unplugging, it's about the kids too. Any ideas for getaways that keep the tween and teenage set busy enough that they may even forget about their electronics?
This is a good time to try a high-adventure trip like river rafting, where you can bond over the thrill of getting through a rapid. And if you go on a guided trip, teens will enjoy learning from young rafting guides.
Locally, there are also some wonderful sea kayaking trips you can do as a family, say in the San Juan Islands, or up north out of the Tofino area. They’ll be so excited about what they’re doing that online won’t even come up (hopefully).
With younger children, local summer adventures can be a great opportunity to introduce a kid to nature in a way they don't get during their school year. What do you recommend for those families?
We are so blessed to live in a region that is bursting with opportunities for the type of nature exploration that kids respond to and you don't have to go far:
- Foraging, Berry-picking: A favorite summer activity for kids and adults, of course, is berry picking. You can forage for huckleberries, salmon berries and blackberries in local parks, or go a little further to get to a farm where you can pick raspberries, strawberries or blueberries. (There’s even a blueberry farm in Mercer Slough.) Then make a pie. The family that makes pie together...
- Exploring Our Beaches: Exploring at low tide is fascinating, and on super low tide days many beaches will have a naturalist on hand to teach visitors about starfish, moon snails anemones and other examples of low tide life. Check the Seattle Aquarium website for details. An activity I personally want to try is clamming. Just check with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to make sure beaches are open and there's no issue with red tide or the like.
- Hiking, Parks & Picnics: Even in the cities of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett there are many wonderful parks with hiking opportunities and many little pockets of reclaimed space with trails -- we covered this in an article about secret urban hikes recently.
In addition to our website, ParentMap has a book about local travel you can pick-up for more details on some of these getaways.
How can families try this even while at home and make their home life -- at least during the summer -- more about connecting as a family and less about keeping up online?
Summer is an ideal time to break from routine and find that together time. For example, a family could make Sundays a non-digital day, and instead work in the garden together, play games or cook together. A family I know selected Tuesday as their “low-fi” night, which means they do not get online, they don’t watch TV or play recorded music. Instead they play music together, read, play board games or do art.
Another strategy is to move much family life outside: eat outdoors, do art outdoors, do story time outdoors. Just by virtue of being out of the house, in the fresh air more, you’re likely to be offline and building those family bonds. We have articles on many of the ideas I mentioned on our ParentMap website.