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Spring Break: Fun Outdoor Adventures For Entire Family

It seems early this year, but spring break is on right now for many children, including mine. Fortunately, exactly one year ago we booked our skiing and snowboarding adventure for the whole family in Park City, Utah. Even if you haven't made your spring break reservations, it's not too late to get your kids to put away the hand-held electronics and go on a fun outdoor family adventure.

As a University of Virginia grad, Thomas Jefferson's ideas on a healthy mind-body connection were weaved through my educational experience. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson recorded in his notes: "Exercise and application produce order in our affairs, health of body, cheerfulness of mind, and these make us precious to our friends...."

In 1787, kids certainly did not have the tantalizing lure of electronics that are so prevalent today. From the Wii, XBox, PlayStation 1, 2, 3, PS3, DS3, iPod, iPad, iPhone, to name a few deeply engaging non-physical distractions, there is more competition than ever for a kid's attention. When I recently asked my eight-year-old son why these electronic games are so addictive, he said, "Mom, it's like you are in real life, but you are not."

That simple reflection hit me like a ton of bricks. While I am not going to deny my children the fast-moving entertainment (yes, in moderation) of today's virtual games, I do have to recognize their attraction.  At the same time, it is important for parents to show their kids that creating adventure in everyday life not only is REAL, but the feelings are deeper, the experience more engaging, and the social interaction more fulfilling.

Here are some of recent day-trip adventures our family took.  Hopefully, our experiences will jump-start your own ideas for adventures that are available where you live:

Geocaching in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  By going to www.Geocaching.com, you can participate in a "real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices". This adventure combines the simplicity of the outdoors with modern day electronics. Geocaching is not just available in Bucks County; you can do it in every part of the country!

Hike in Virginia on the Appalachian Trail. Interestingly, 25 percent of the Appalachian Trail is in Virginia. There is a range for trail terrain, from easy to strenuous. The hike that we did last spring was part of a circuit trail in Northern Virginia that is considered strenuous, and an optimal destination for spring break hikes. Go to www.appalachiantrail.org for more details on day hikes, and trail maps of the entire Appalachian Trail. 

Ski or Snowboard in Park City, Utah. Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, and Canyons Resort are the three major ski resorts in Park City, Utah. The 2002 Olympics for ski and snowboarding were held at Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort. Park City has become a family tradition for our annual ski vacation. To learn more about our favorite ski town, visit www.parkcitymountain.com

Sea Kayak & Snorkel with the Manatee's in Crystal River, Florida. Snorkeling with the manatees was an adventure that we virtually stumbled upon a few days after Christmas. We kayaked across some pretty rough waves before snorkeling with these incredibly gentle creatures. The boys were truly in awe by their enormity and peaceful dispositions. Visit www.crystalriverfloridFather helping son with bike helmeta.com to learn more.

Mountain Bike or Cycling in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. As a resident of Bucks County, I clearly have a geographic bias. An engaging day trip on a bicycle on the canal trail is fun for everyone. We will often begin our adventure at Bulls Island, and ride to Frenchtown, New Jersey. Safe, flat and scenic make it the perfect bike ride for families with young children. For more details, check out www.dandrcanal.com. 

Aside from the well-known physical benefits of outdoor play, it's also good for the mind. Studies have shown that outdoor activities lead to increased optimism, greater resilience, self-confidence, self-esteem and focus. Thomas Jefferson should be given credit for making observing that exercise for our children can help them be more energized, have a positive attitude, and ultimately makes them an easier person to be around.

So my advice: free it up, let it go, and have an adventure. This spring break can captivate your family's spirit, energy and attention!

K.C. Wilder, Ph.D., is a former college cycling All-American, two-time national masters short track cycling champion and professional cyclist, certified sports trainer and sports psychologist. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons and yellow lab. For more information about Dr. Wilder, click here.

Posted March 13, 2012