I recently stumbled upon a New York Times blog post that discussed how a simple walk in the park could reduce brain fatigue. You know, that feeling of being disjointed or mentally drained. The post got me thinking; if a walk in the park could provide a simple brain refresher; just imagine what a week of camp or a weekend retreat could do!
At Operation Purple® camps and retreats we embrace the healing powers of the outdoors and thrust kids and families into beautiful environments to do just that – reboot. Life is already busy and chaotic so overlapping it with a military lifestyle just seems to be more than any one person should be able to handle. Giving these families a week or weekend away and “unplugged” makes perfect sense.
Our intent is to energize families to try new activities and create memories with the hope that they recreate these stress-reducing moments once they go home. I often reflect on activities my family did for fun that were actually my mom’s way of turning our heads. As a financially stretched military family, expensive vacations or entertainment activities were out of our reach. So our industrious mother chose instead to use night hikes through the neighborhood instead of using what little gas was in the car to pick up little brother from the sitter. Mom-instructed, kid-friendly gardening, was an excuse to get dirty while reducing our grocery budget. Creating our own flour dough in the backyard meant mom never had to consider whether she could afford our request to “have purple, blue, AND pink” play dough.
My mom had no clue her homemade distractions were “reducing brain fatigue”—she just knew doing things outdoors cost her less financially and emotionally. Performing simple outdoor activities provided hours of harmony in our home. So, here are a few of my favorite memories that stemmed simply from a military mom giving her kids some fun in the sun on a tight budget:
- Have a picnic. We often packed our favorite books, a few blankets, and a simple meal before venturing to a local park or outdoor space. As a kid it was an adventure to eat on the grass after collecting my share of grass stains. For mom, it was a cost effective alternative to my never-ending McDonald’s plea. To this day I love to rejuvenate by sitting on an expanse of grass with a PB&J in hand.
- Fly a kite. I know this sounds very Mary Poppins, but putting a kite in my hands as a child created an obsession that couldn’t be stopped. I tried it once and was hooked. I quickly gave up my precious Nintendo and found myself running up and down the neighborhood just to see the streamers fly. I’m cringing at how that dates me, but the scenario of being tied to the TV by an electronic game system still rings true for most kids today. My mom’s ploy to avoid purchasing yet another video game created an adult city dweller that now religiously rings in spring by participating in the annual kite-flying extravaganza on the National Mall.
- Set up a scavenger hunt. Nothing turned sibling rivalry around quite like a friendly competition. Organizing a scavenger hunt that resulted in a team sweet treat to enjoy while basking in the sunshine was a win-win for mom. She got hours of quiet while we feverishly hunted to find every clue outside. The inevitable family nap that happened post-scavenger hunt was a bonus. I honed my trivia skills on a monthly basis while out in the sun.
Spring is here, with summer close on its heels—don’t wait to get kids outside! How will you reduce stress on your kiddos’ brains, and your wallet? What fun new memories will you create that your kids can use when they are adults?