Look­ing for that spe­cial gift for kids?

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake jamiedrake­out­doors@out­look.com

I don’t need to tell you that kids spend less time out­doors to­day than they did 20 years ago.

Just drive through any neigh­bor­hood a few min­utes after the bus lets off and you can see for your­self. You won’t see kids bik­ing in the streets or play­ing touch foot­ball in a front yard or even hear the sound of laugh­ter. It’ll be a ghost town, ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional dog walker or jog­ger.

That’s shameful con­sid­er­ing how im­por­tant out­door re­cre­ation is for kids’ health and wel­fare. It’s no se­cret ev­ery­one in Amer­ica is get­ting fat­ter — kids, too — and I’ve read that even hand strength is de­creas­ing be­cause peo­ple don’t need to grip stuff any­more.

Keep that in mind when you’re shop­ping for Christ­mas gifts this year. Kids are al­ready

seden­tary enough. They don’t need the lat­est smart­phone or video game. Those things aren’t good for them. My own kids don’t have any de­vices and they are just fine with­out them. They get plenty of ex­po­sure to com­put­ers and tablets at school.

Kids are born with ac­tive imag­i­na­tions and a sense of won­der. They don’t need to aug­ment their re­al­ity with dig­i­tal de­vices, as their imag­i­na­tions are the orig­i­nal vir­tual re­al­ity. What they do need are gifts that in­spire their cre­ativ­ity and en­cour­age their ad­ven­tur­ous spir­its, things that get them out­side, en­joy­ing the fresh air and do­ing things with their minds and hands.

Here are a few ideas for gifts

that have done my chil­dren well and things I plan to get them in the fu­ture.

We have one of those gi­ant tram­po­lines with the mesh en­clo­sure in our back­yard. Sel­dom a day goes by that my three older kids and our neigh­bor’s two don’t spent a good chunk of time play­ing on it.

My hus­band was a lit­tle hes­i­tant to get one be­cause his sis­ter is an emer­gency room nurse and cau­tioned us against it, but we’ve had it about three years now and, in my es­ti­ma­tion, the kids have logged at least 1,500 hours in it with no se­ri­ous in­juries.

There is a wide va­ri­ety of sizes and prices, from $250 to $1,000, but you get what you pay for, so spend a lit­tle more to make sure it’s safe and qual­ity-built to last many years.

If you have a nice tree in your back­yard with some sturdy branches, a plat­form swing is a toy that will get a lot of ac­tion. This is a newer kind of swing that’s usu­ally made with wo­ven ny­lon rope or flex­i­ble web­bing for the bot­tom. They come in var­i­ous sizes and some can fit a cou­ple of kids (or even adults) on them. Prices range from $80 to $130.

If you have a young­ster at home who loves to dig along­side you in the gar­den, a child­size wheel­bar­row and a cou­ple of yard tools would make a great gift.

Ace Hard­ware car­ries a nice model called the Lil True Tem­per, which costs about $20, but it’s only avail­able at some stores. Or­der one on­line from Wal­mart for closer to $40. This wheel­bar­row is sturdy and would be ap­pro­pri­ate for a child 2 to 5.

Don’t waste your money on cheap plas­tic tools. Kids want to be just like mom or dad and luck­ily there are quite a few brands that make chil­dren’s-sized ver­sions of the adult shov­els, rakes, and hoes. Just a reg­u­lar gar­den spade would work fine, too.

A real Swiss Army knife can en­hance child­hood ad­ven­tur­ing. They are handy in many ways and tend to be the kind of gift that you can use to teach your child safety and re­spon­si­bil­ity. I had one as a kid, and while I never had oc­ca­sion to use the corkscrew, I cer­tainly found uses for the many other im­ple­ments.

A Swiss Army Knife makes a nice stock­ing stuffer for a boy or girl. The Vic­tori­nox Swiss Champ knife has 33 tools and costs $90 at Ca­bela’s and L.L. Bean, and is $70 on Ama­zon.

If you have a bud­ding sci­en­tist at home, the GeoSa­fari Talk­ing Mi­cro­scope ($28) from Ed­u­ca­tional In­sights is a fun toy that will teach kids about ev­ery­day bugs and sci­en­tific equip­ment. It comes with 12 slides that have pre­tend spec­i­mens for lit­tle ones to look at. The sug­gested age range is 5 to 7,

but in my opin­ion this toy is more ap­pro­pri­ate for kids 2 to 5.

If your child is in kinder­garten or older, buy a real mi­cro­scope. Once you teach them how to use it, they can look at any­thing in the nat­u­ral world that in­ter­ests them. We have a mid-range mi­cro­scope at our home and have looked at the hair on in­sects, fly’s eyes, drag­on­fly and but­ter­fly wings, fun­gus grow­ing on tree bark and ev­ery kind of rock imag­in­able. The sky’s the limit.

The AmS­cope 40x-1000x Dual Light Stu­dent Mi­cro­scope is the one I bought for my own chil­dren on Ama­zon for about $85. It comes with a hand­book and some pre­pared slides to get them started. While you’re at it, buy an ex­tra box of slides (for about $7) so you never run out.

A re­mote con­trol he­li­copter or drone is a toy that’s guar­an­teed to get your kid out­side.

We’ve had a lot of fun with the smaller he­li­copters from Air Hogs and Syma. They are not so big that you are wor­ried about safety and if you get some recharge­able bat­ter­ies and a charger, you can keep the long-term costs down. If you are care­ful, you can even fly them in­doors, al­though I think you would prob­a­bly rather they be flown out­side in the yard.

One of our lit­tle he­los even has a video cam­era in it. You can take pic­tures and videos dur­ing your flight and then watch them on your lap­top. Th­ese he­li­copters can be had for be­tween $25 and $50.

Some­thing that would make get­ting up be­fore dawn a more pleas­ant af­fair is a Yeti 10-ounce tum­bler.

Fill it with hot choco­late on early morn­ings or send it to school with some warm tomato soup on re­ally cold days.

At Ca­bela’s they cost $19.99 and for $5 more, you can have your child’s name en­graved on it so it never ends up in the lost and found. And while you’re at it, get one of those Nal­gene Grip-N-Gulp wa­ter bot­tles to put in their stock­ing. It will never break and there are a cou­ple col­ors to choose from, which is great for fam­i­lies with sev­eral kids. Just as­sign them each a color. They cost $9.25 apiece on the Nal­gene web­site and will last for many, many years.

Young and old alike will ap­pre­ci­ate this last gift idea. Par­ents or grand­par­ents can pur­chase a fam­ily mem­ber­ship to the Calvert Marine Mu­seum in Solomons that in­cludes all the chil­dren in the house­hold for the bar­gain price of $60. And when I say bar­gain, I mean it.

No child of mine has ever turned down an op­por­tu­nity to visit the mu­seum. The aquatic ex­hibits are top-notch and the chil­dren’s room can keep kids busy for hours. A rainy day, sum­mer va­ca­tion, out-oftown vis­i­tors are all good rea­sons to take a short drive over to Solomons and check on the ot­ters and gi­ant mega­lodon.

When was the last time you vis­ited the mu­seum? The kids will be out of school for the hol­i­days soon. Get a mem­ber­ship and visit the mu­seum to­gether. It’s a great lo­cal des­ti­na­tion and an op­por­tu­nity to spend time to­gether as a fam­ily, which is what Christ­mas and the hol­i­days are all about.

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