You’re browsing the internet on the iPad, your partner’s messaging on his phone, the kids are glued to their games consoles – if this picture sounds uncomfortably familiar, it’s time to unplug, get out of the house and seek some family adventures.
Studies are popping up faster than Pokémon to show the physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits of being outdoors, getting on the move, connecting with nature, taking risks and trying new activities.
Clinical psychologist and author of The Happy Child, Linda Blair, recommends families spend less time staring at screens and more time outdoors, doing inclusive activities:
“There’s nothing wrong with electronics but it’s about what they’re preventing us from doing. Psychologists know that the best predictor of success, happiness, and even some evidence of longevity, is good social skills. The most important thing is that you’re looking at each other, talking to each other and gauging each other’s reaction.”
She adds: “When you’re outside, moving your body, you also get a wonderful cascade of cocktails in your brain, the happiness hormones: endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. It will also help you to sleep better – not just from the exercise but from being outdoors in the light so your body knows the time.”
And you don’t need the budget for far-flung destinations or the stomach for extreme sports to experience adventure – it’s about breaking out of your old routines, embracing the fresh air, exploring the world around you and being open to new opportunities. Adventure can be found on your own front doorstep, you just have to open your eyes to find it.
“We can wait forever for the perfect moment to get outdoors but it doesn’t have to be that way. In term time, try a surprise march to the park after school or walk home the long way round via the canal or patch of muddy ground,” says Mark Sears, Chief Wild Officer at The Wild Network.
Formed in response to the Natural Childhood Report, which concluded today’s children are exhibiting the symptoms of ‘Nature Deficit Syndrome’, the Wild Network is on a mission to grow ‘wild time’ in families, schools and communities.
Here are six ideas to inspire you for some wild family adventures.
1Climb a tree
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It’s a simple age-old activity but there is something utterly liberating about seeing the world from a whole new perspective. The everyday things we take for granted (because we’re too busy staring at our screens) suddenly take on new meaning from that magical vantage point in the sky. Head to a forest or hit up your local park – and don’t forget your binoculars.
2Go on a mini-beast safari
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A South African safari might be off the cards, but there are plenty of opportunities for a mini-beast safari in your own back yard – even in the most built-up urban areas. Hunt around with a magnifying glass and a notebook, build a bug hotel or plant bee-friendly flowers in your garden, or head to your local pond for some pond dipping action or to the coast for rock pool exploration and crabbing.
3Go on a treasure hunt
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Clinical psychologist Linda Blair says, “If you want to encourage harmony, think of cooperative exercises that involve teamwork, like a treasure hunt with prizes for everyone, rather than competitive activities. This creates a feeling of self-pride and bonding.” If your kids are too old for playing pirates, try the world’s largest ‘grown-up’ treasure hunt: geocaching.
4Get on your bikes
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Cycling is brilliant fun for kids of all ages (and parents, too). And as well as being great for your physical and emotional wellbeing, it’s also free of charge. There are family-friendly cycle routes all over the country. Choose a canal or riverside route or get messy with a spot of muddy, mountain biking. UK charity Sustrans have loads of ideas for family cycling adventures.
5Try a new sport
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Kicking a ball around the park or heading to the swimming pool is great but there is a lot to be said for trying something completely new. Whether it’s archery, kayaking or climbing, trying something you’ve never done before is the perfect antidote to mindless social media scrolling because it forces you to be fully in the present: a kind of informal mindfulness practice. And we could all do with more mindfulness in our family lives.
6Embrace the rain
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There’s nothing us Brits love more than a good old moan about the rain. We pull our coats over our heads and run for cover when we get caught out in a shower, take umbrellas everywhere ‘just in case’ and resign our kids to indoor ‘rainy day activities’. But there is something beautifully life-affirming about getting soaking wet on purpose. Whether it’s jumping in puddles with your toddlers, playing football in the rain with your teens or having a huge family water fight, getting wet is a great way to encourage a more adventurous and life-loving attitude.
7Book a family adventure holiday
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If you’re feeling really adventurous, why not go all-out and book a family adventure holiday? PGL run multi-activity holidays, which are brilliant for boosting your children’s confidence and socialising with other fun-seeking families. If you’d prefer something further afield, The Family Adventure Company offer everything from trekking in the Himalayas to tiger safaris in India.