*This article appeared in the 11/20 edition of the Alaska Dispatch News for my Kids in the Outdoors column.*
With a week still to go, my email inbox runneth over with announcements like this:
“Shop now for pre-Black Friday deals and save, save, save!” Screaming at consumers both literally and virtually, retail outlets are capitalizing on the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving opportunity to shop and shop big.
Dare I suggest that this year may be different?
Specialty outdoor giant REI announced several weeks ago it planned to close all stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, choosing instead to support their ethos for outdoor recreation and community stewardship with the hashtag #OptOutside. The gist of REI’s strategy is, of course, to encourage more shopping at their storefronts or online another time while spending Black Friday with family or friends in the great outdoors.
Say what you will about the sharks of marketing, but we’re in. Why? Mostly because the #OptOutside concept may encourage families to engage in a new activity they never considered before. At the very least, the campaign will cause people to think twice, especially kids, who often believe what they see and hear from advertising. Go outside instead of standing in a long line of shoppers? Sold. And Alaska is the perfect place to give it a try.
Here are a few ideas for outdoor family fun without spending a bundle on #OptOutside Black Friday:
– Host an outdoor picnic for friends and family. Find a campground (or backyard). Build a fire in the fire pit, roast hot dogs and marshmallows, drink hot chocolate. Start some outdoor games or relay races to keep the blood pumping, or take the crew sledding. Check with Alaska State Parks for rules on campfires.
– Feed the birds. Now is an excellent time to make or fill bird feeders and string them around your yard. Some birds stick around the entire winter and appreciate extra calories provided by humans to help them stay warm and nourished. Need some ideas? Try your favorite social media channels, or use the list at the Crafting a Green World website for 20 different types of feeders to make with the kids.
– Create an ice candle. Alaska’s low temperatures make perfect conditions for creating crafty candles in a variety of shapes. Kids love to see the results of their handiwork, and the whole family can participate, from toddlers to teens. Stay simple with milk cartons or get fancy with unique molds made from things around the garage. Use tips from FamilyEducation.com for successful ice candle-construction.
– Take a hike, ski or snowshoe trek. Eagle River Nature Center is hopping on the #OptOutside bandwagon with free parking Friday, Nov. 27. Normally parking is $5 for those who are not members of the center, so why not take advantage of this bonus day and explore the miles of trails at this family-friendly site? All of the trails are open now, because the bears have finally decided to hibernate. Note: The center itself will be closed, but there is bathroom access. Bring food and water for hungry kids.
– Go skating. While some Anchorage ponds and lakes are not officially open, ice formed rapidly during the recent stretch of frigid weather and skaters have been on Potter Marsh for a week. The speedskating oval at Cuddy Family Park in midtown is ready too — though Thursday’s snowfall won’t help. Don’t have skates? Hit up the thrift stores or sporting good outlets for deals. Skating is good family fun and great exercise. Encourage kids to wear helmets, and follow all orders and posted signs to stay safe.
– See the lights. Anchorage Zoo’s annual ZooLights fest kicks off Friday, Nov. 27, at 5 p.m. Bundle up, bring a sled for the little ones and wander the zoo at night, a wonderful time to watch those more nocturnal creatures watch you. Our ZooLights plan usually involves a thermos of hot drinks, special holiday treats, hand warmers and a camera to capture wolves howling, music playing, and kids squealing. Find all the details at the Alaska Zoo’s website, including ticket information.
Wave if you see us. We’ll be the people investing in each other instead of the latest electronic gadget this Black Friday.
REI’s #OptOutside website encourages photo and trip-sharing to encourage more family outside time.