Healthy Outlook: Go play! Ideas to get the whole family moving

photo by: Shutterstock image

Research shows that spending some time in nature can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as help lower blood pressure and bring down levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Kids may complain all school year that their tummies hurt and they don’t want to go, but by this point in summer vacation, they’re probably going a little stir-crazy — and probably driving their grownups up a wall, too.

Whether it’s going for a bike ride, visiting a local playground, setting out on a walking adventure or even doing some good for the environment and the community, getting out to play is a sure way to break up the summer boredom.

It’s good for the whole family: Research shows that spending some time in nature can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as help lower blood pressure and bring down levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Safe playtime = happy playtime

I could write an entire article on safety practices for playing outside (I was just a barrel of fun as a kid — can’t you tell?), but that isn’t the goal today. Still, I would feel negligent if I didn’t share a few quick reminders:

Sun protection is not optional. If you’re spending any significant time outside, make sure your skin is protected with sunscreen — especially your face and hands. “Sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent,” according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Sunglasses that protect from UV rays will save your eyes from long-term damage, and there are lip balms available that contain SPF.

Hey, it’s hot outside, in case you didn’t notice. Keep drinking water to replace what your body is losing through sweat, bring healthy snacks to keep your energy up, and watch for signs of heat exhaustion in yourself and your family members: headache, dizziness, weakness, fainting, cramping and losing consciousness, according to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

Bug checks are for more than the ceilings at bedtime. Removing ticks in a timely manner is critical to preventing disease, according to the health department, which has already investigated “at least 20 cases of tick-borne illnesses in Douglas County since the beginning of summer and 10 have been classified as a case,” it said in a recent post on its website, Remember to check key areas early and often: under the arms, behind the knees, in the belly button and in hair — they’re tricky buggers. If you do find a tick, jot down the date, and monitor for fever, rash, headaches and muscle aches, and if any of those symptoms arise, call a doctor ASAP.

Now, on to the fun stuff.

Go play

Have a screen-free day — or at least a screen-free evening. Make a pact as a family to turn off the TV and put down all phones, tablets, video games, laptops and other such things for a while and find other ways to have fun together. Parents: that means you, too.

Not an option? Make the most of the screens. The popular game Pokemon Go is a good trick to get the family outside because it requires you to actually get moving in order to play. A Journal-World reporter in 2016 documented his adventure on a “four-hour, 8-mile, 900-calorie journey through virtual Lawrence” playing the game, which he aptly described as an “accidental fitness craze.” There might be other games like this — your kids probably know better than I do.

Geocaching is another option that includes the screen. I haven’t tried it myself, but describes it as “the world’s largest treasure hunt” and says there are 610 geocaches around Lawrence. Basically, an app points you to coordinates where you’ll find some sort of container, generally holding some sort of logbook to sign. You can also record in the app that you found it and share photos from the experience if you’d like to. It’s kind of like Pokemon Go but with tangible finds that real people placed on the real planet — mind-boggling, right? The website explains how it works, and setting up an account is free and easy. Also, if your family gets hooked, there are geocaches all over the world, so you can even go find “treasures” while on vacation.

Create and execute your own scavenger hunt. What does your kid enjoy? Nature buffs might have fun combing through a park to find different leaves, pine cones, acorns and other such items that could later be turned into craft projects. Make a list and go find those things. If your kid likes taking photos, come up with a list of photo challenges: clouds, something purple, something tall/short, something moving slow/fast, and so on; then set out to take those photos. (Hint: If you Google “photo challenge,” there are a ton of ideas.) These are just a couple of ideas for scavenger hunts, but a little bit of imagination goes a long way.

Try “plogging.” It’s one of the latest fitness trends to gain popularity in Europe and make its way to America. The term comes from the Swedish “plocka upp,” meaning “pick up,” mashed together with “jogging.” Basically, you pick up litter while you’re jogging, thus improving your own health through physical activity while simultaneously beautifying our planet. Think about the kind of message that activity sends to kids.

Some pros in town have ideas better than mine:

See what the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department has to offer. Even though we’re already well into summer vacation, LPRD is still adding new camps and programs for kids of all ages. Just this past week, the department announced a volleyball camp, a “Trolls”-inspired dance class and more still to come this summer. There are also some science camps, such as “Grossology,” and several nature-oriented options. Check out more details and register at or call Jo Ellis at 785-330-7355 for more information. (Also, has a list of amenities for many of the local parks, so you can find a playground near you.)

Keep an eye on the Lawrence Kids Calendar, This calendar maintained by the Lawrence Central Rotary is packed full of community events and opportunities to go have fun.

There’s much fun to be had at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. As if free lunch (Mondays through Fridays for kids ages 1-18, through the Fuel Up 4 Summer program) wasn’t fun enough on its own, this week the library will also host a Lunchtime Inflatable Race from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday for kids ages 5-16. It also lists a boatload of events on its website,, including the “Name That Tune!” scavenger hunt that sends participants running around town to find clues.

About Healthy Outlook

Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.

Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:

Read more:


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.