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Books Offer Ideas for Getting Outside

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Summer is the perfect time to help children unplug from their electronic devices—at least for a little while.

“He spent one cold night with a skunk cuddled up on the end of his sleeping bag...”

Yet gently weaning them from game consoles and computer screens in order to entice them outdoors can be a daunting task. Admit it, putting down your own handheld gizmo can be hard enough at times.

As a mother of two young boys, Rebecca Cohen recognized the need to spend more time enjoying nature. As a New Year's resolution, she challenged herself to get outside every day with her children for at least a few minutes. In the end, she surprised even herself by sticking to the goal for an entire year.

Now her book, 15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids, will help other parents find ways to introduce and enjoy the great outdoors with their families. From making mud prints and bird watching to instructions for creating your own adventure book inspired by the movie Up, the author offers scores of simple, low cost activities.

Among my favorites are breakfast picnics, ideas for celebrating the summer solstice and instructions for assembling an outdoor-to-go backpack that includes a picnic blanket, water bottles, a snack, sunscreen/bug repellent and a few other necessities needed for a spontaneous adventure.

Some of Cohen's other ideas--planting a garden, deadheading plants and sweeping the stoop--may even double as chores. But don't tell your kids that. It's better they think they are just outside for fun.

Check out all of Cohen's ideas in her book 15 Minutes Outside.

Ready for more rigorous adventure? If so, author and master hiker Jeff Alt offers ideas for the ultimate family outing in his book and accompanying DVD A Walk for Sunshine: A 2,160-Mile Expedition for Charity on the Appalachian Trail.

In 1998, Alt trekked every mile of the Appalachian Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. (Each year, an average of 2,500 walkers attempt to complete the entire trail with only 15-20% succeeding.) Written in an easy to read, personable style, Alt's book recounts the ups and downs of his experience on the trail, including one cold night spent with a skunk cuddled up on the end of his sleeping bag.

Alt also shares tales of the people he met, the setbacks he encountered, the preparations he went through (mailing boxes of supplies to post offices along the trail) and the countryside he covered.

And Alt's adventurous ways didn't end when he married and had children. For this eager walker, it was just a matter of rethinking his approach. (His family completed a 50-mile hike across Ireland with his 21-month old daughter and a four-year-old nephew.) Making some adjustments to his daily mileage goals and adding child necessities like pacifiers and sippy cups, Alt continues to share his love of the outdoors with his growing offspring.

For families considering their own adventure on the trail, the author offers a detailed gear list, including adaptations for young children, and plenty of tips on menus, safety issues and pre-hike training. Eager to help parents and kids have positive experiences, Alt recommends letting children help plan the adventure by researching trails, mileage and local history online or visiting websites for national parks and other hiking destinations. He suggests renting movies about places you want to visit, going high tech with GPS, pedometers, headlamp flashlights and geocaching or taking a family orienteering course. Most importantly, he encourages everyone to get outside everyday and explore your very own neighborhood.

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About the Reviewer: Kerry Bennett

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