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If adults show willingness to perform outdoor activities, kids likely will follow suit

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Updated: September 19, 2013 9:45AM

Our two youngest kids found a sand sculpture of a turtle at the tail end of a sandbar last month after waters finally had receded enough to allow for wading in the Kankakee River. The designer crafted the turtle, more the whopping size of a sea turtle than even our biggest snapper, down to the lines on the shell.

It was spectacular, a wild moment for the summer.

The hubbub about getting kids outside long has irked me because it is an adult issue being treated as a kid one.

One thing I know is if adults are willing to walk a trail, dig in the dirt, wade into a stream or sleep on the ground, kids will mimic them, if allowed. In other words, if adults get their oversized butts outside, kids will, too. Kids are good at following examples, good and bad.

Our kids return to school this week. This is a good time to assess how we did in getting outside this summer. I lean toward a B.

In the basics, we did OK. We looked for frogs and turtles slightly less often than in some years because of the cold, wet spring. We didn’t look for crayfish at Rock Creek until this month, later than usual.

We climbed the hill and checked the lagoon at Palmisano Park in Bridgeport twice, which is about usual. That park is important because of its classic view of downtown and because it is the ultimate example of a modern urban park.

We fished more than usual and had more quality outings for bluegills and crappie than ever. I kept a promise and taught our daughter the basics of topwater fishing.

It helps that the youngest boy reached 8 and is fearless, so he climbed into some wild tangles and discovered where huge largemouth bass bedded later than usual this spring. Part of getting kids outside is allowing them to risk sliding into the muck on explorations.

We only visited Lincoln Park Zoo once, less than usual for a summer. We hit our favorite nature park only twice, in part because budget cuts reduced the hours of the nature center.

We normally do a Sunday hike, but the kids are old enough that a multitude of other activities restricted that to a handful of times.

The kids did more camping than usual, sleeping out regularly in the backyard. As parents, we let them set up a couple of times even when radar showed storms crossing the Mississippi River and likely to arrive in the middle of the night. Getting wet and cold is part of the outside experience.

One organized event, Kids Fest at Wampum Lake in July, is becoming a tradition for my daughter. I think organized events with that kind of variety — fishing, paddling, tree-climbing, archery — are better than one-theme events.

These things aren’t difficult, just a matter of making outside activities a priority.

This weekend, we hope to fulfill the last to-do and swim in Lake Michigan, most likely at 31st Street Beach, near the end of the Air and Water Show.

Don’t be afraid to go in the water.

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