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Quality Time Is the Best Holiday Gift

All I want for Christmas is to be outside with my family.

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Ah, the holidays, when quiet family time gets derailed by, well, the holidays (a sentiment captured by this Saturday Night Live clip).

And while the idea of hiking in the great outdoors sounds like the perfect antithesis to holiday mayhem, parents know that, despite their best efforts, family hikes aren’t always full of peace on earth.

So what’s a parent who’s longing for quality time in the outdoors with their family to do? Editor Dennis Lewon went big one year and hiked his brood down the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail to spend Christmas at the Bright Angel Campground. His was a nature-rich holiday escape story of success.

Of course, backpacking won’t fit into holiday plans for many.

Last year, the day after Thanksgiving, my two boys and their two cousins (ages 6 to 15 at the time) and my husband and I spent a few hours at an adventure park, where kids as young as five years old don a climbing harness and set forth on ropes courses in a forest that looks like it should be home to Ewoks. Challenges varied from balancing across wooden planks, to more difficult moves over ropes and small boards, all connecting giant poplar and oak trees in the Maryland woods. My sons learned how to unlock and lock carabiners, have two points of contact all times, and to trust themselves. It was a great confidence builder.

And I learned to focus on the task in front of me (something I struggle with, at times): unlock carabiner, lock the other, balance across suspension bridge, repeat. I found the day at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School a fantastic exercise in mindfulness. And we had some great family fun, especially on the zip lines.

This holiday break, which is TWO AND A HALF WEEKS WITHOUT SCHOOL, we’ll be borrowing an idea from a friend and creating an activity jar. I’ll have the boys, and my husband and myself, write down outdoor activities we can do as a family. Activities might include something relatively easy, logistically, like: stargaze from the backyard. Or they might be more involved: take a family cross-country ski lesson. And there might be something in between with a syrupy reward involved: hike one-way to breakfast, take an Uber home.

We’ll all write down three outdoor/nature activities that we do together on small pieces of paper, fold them up, and place them in the jar. Then we’ll pull an activity every day (or so) from the jar and plan our outing. (For logistics’ sake, we’ll have two jars or color-code paper: one for activities that take 30 minutes or less, and one for half-day outings.)

This way, everyone gets a say in what we do. And since my goals are to slow down this holiday season, connect with each other as a family, and enjoy the great outdoors, it seems like a failsafe way to achieve all three. Who knows where a simple jar full of possibilities might lead?

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