I love the outdoors. I grew up spending summers camping, backpacking, hiking and just generally living outside, as it was the only part of the year that allowed for such things. In my mind summer is still synonymous with the outdoors. Needless to say, summer is not camping season in the UAE. We do camp here and in Oman when the weather is good, but in my attachment to what is familiar, I have been known to resort to recreating the outdoors life style inside the comfort of our air-conditioned apartment.
If I have to have my kids effectively quarantined at home when school’s out and extracurricular activities are done, then I want to be creative about how to keep them active and engaged and not just plugged in. So, last year my wife and I turned our living room into a campsite.
We removed our furniture, set up our tent, furnished it with cushions and pillows from our sofa, created a starry night scene, and stacked a pile of wood with fake flames in the center of a circle of folding chairs. We ate hot dogs and chilli, made s’mores at night and even sometimes actually slept in the tent. And we lived like this for an entire month.
Our kids were so taken by the whole thing that they forgot they were still just inside in the same apartment. It was different and exciting and they were engaging with the environment in a new way. Even though the TV was just to the side of the tent, it was blocked from view and without accessible seating; they completely ignored its existence and never asked for it. Instead they spent their time playing inside the tent and using their imagination around the fire pit.
Sometimes all it takes is moving some furniture around create a new scene within the confines of the same old four walls. I’d love to have a big yard for the kids to play in and to be able to just go outside whenever they want, but we don’t have that type of set up right now. That doesn’t mean I’m going to submit and accept having summer couch potatoes who are plugged in all the time.
My general rule is for any amount of screen (TV, iPad, etc.) time they have is to spend at least the same amount of time doing something active or creative. Their little minds need real life interaction to thrive and develop in a healthy way. So whether or not you have easy access to outdoor spaces or it’s just too hot to let them spend much time outside, with a little creativity and willingness to negotiate your home décor temporarily, you can bring all the fun of the outdoors inside, at least to a degree. I won’t be setting up a slip and slide in my living room anytime soon, but my daughter did just learn to ride her bike last week…in the hallway of our apartment building.