There’s no denying that my son’s an outdoorsman. At the tender age of two, the first words that come out of his mouth in the morning are, “I want to go outside and … (do X).” Insert the words: “mow” or “play” or “swing” or “look for bugs” or “swim” or “find rocks.” He is down for whatever.
With the heat recently, I have had to be careful to make sure that my children not only apply sunscreen but also drink enough water. I know it is tempting to let kids stay inside in the air-conditioning and play their video games or watch TV, but I urge all parents to encourage your families to get out and have fun, even if it is hot! The exercise they get outside is unlike anything you can do on your Wii and they will sleep like angels at the end of the day.
Here’s ten basic rules to having fun (and being smart) in a heat wave:
1. Drink Water! Staying hydrated is hard to remember when you’re a child, so it’s the caregiver’s job to ensure you bring water to park, on a hike, or even in your own back yard. Stay away from sugary juices and soda. Try to make sure that you are offering refreshments every twenty minutes.
2. Serve fruits and veggie snacks. These foods contain lots of water naturally. Chop up watermelon squares or halve strawberries and keep them on hand so you don’t have to do anything but pull them out of the refrigerator. Celery and carrots just need washing. Avoid giving children chips, pretzels, or other salty foods that will make them thirsty.
3. Dress for the weather. Your child may want to dress himself but they don’t always know what’s appropriate. Lightweight, loose fitting clothes made from natural fabrics will dry quickly if they get wet. Also, open toed shoes may be great for the pool, but remember that they aren’t great for parks or playgrounds. Avoid stubbed little piggies or aggravating mulch in the sandals and opt for tennis shoes.
4. Play in the shade. Have your picnic under a tree, or set up the sandbox in the shade. Keeping your toys and swing sets out of direct sunlight will minimize exposure to heat and sunburn.
5. Sunscreen … Sunscreen … Sunscreen. Whether you are in the shade or not, always apply a first coat of sunscreen before getting your child dressed. Don’t forget the tops of their feet and hands. If going on an outing, bring hats and sunglasses so that you are prepared. (I keep a permanent set in the car at all times for my kids.) Of course, they will sweat or hop in the pool at some time, so you should plan on having the sunscreen with you wherever you go and reapply as needed. For sensitive skin, I love Aveeno Sunscreen—it’s all we use on our children.
6. Repel the bugs. Where there’s water, food and messy kids, there is often bugs. Bring your preferred repellant spray or lotion and keep those itchy bites from popping up all other your child’s ankles and legs. The Academy of American Pediatrics considers DEET the best protection for children and recommends that parents look for a product that contains no more than 30 percent DEET.
7. Plan a trip. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you should plan your day. Read the local newspaper to find activities going on in your area. Plan a trek through a state park, go to the beach or community pool. Some outdoor malls offer water fountains that children can run through. Pick the best activity for your family, get out there early and enjoy!
8. Plant a garden. Kids love to help. Make a day of going to the store and picking out some seedlings to plant. Let your children help water or turn the soil. Growing edible plants such as herbs or vegetables are especially exciting for kids because they can eat the fruits of their labor. Allow them to decorate the marking stakes that you place in the ground and place stones around your dedicated spot.
9. Do something different. Put up a tent in your back yard for the day. The kids will love using it for make-believe or simply for a place to get out of the sun. If they are old enough, maybe they can even sleep under the stars. Or, help them set up a lemonade stand. Children love being inventive and your neighbors may thank you for it too. Don’t underestimate the fun your kids will get from you just changing things up a little.
10. Take a break. During the hottest hours of the day, take a break. Visit your local bookstore or library - some offer kids’ programs in the summer. Or, head to the mall and take in a matinee. Visit a children’s museum. Go to the grocery if you have to, but just take some time to refresh and recharge when the midday sun is at its strongest.
The most important thing to remember is that in the summer months, children should be outside playing, running, jumping and swimming—not cooped up in the A/C. They just need their parents to remind them of the basic rules for staying safe outdoors. Enjoy the warm weather!