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Kids & Family

(BPT) - When summer arrives do you see even less of your kids than you did during the school year? Too many American children, tweens and teens spend those extra hours of free time indoors playing with technology, rather than engaging in healthful activity outside. Even when you know where your kids are, you may not understand what they're doing with all those devices and game controllers.

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This summer, why not help your children get excited about a healthy and fun time outdoors? You can make your backyard the neighborhood hotspot that no kid can resist by providing three key ingredients to a great summer: fun, food and friendship.

Fun in the sun

To compete with smartphones, PCs, tablets and other digital devices, you need outdoor excitement - the kind that only water can provide. Installing a backyard pool may not be practical for everyone, but a backyard water slide is.

Easy to set up and use, a water slide is a cost-effective way to create outdoor fun this summer. While parents may have mixed memories of fun and bumps from the water slides of their own childhood, modern options like H2OGO! backyard water slides offer the timeless appeal of water slides paired with modern technology to provide a more comfortable experience. H2OGO! slides feature the Speed Ramp, an inflatable launch pad that creates a smooth belly-flop landing at the start of the superfast 18-foot slide. A Splash Lagoon funnels water throughout the entire slide, reducing friction and increasing speed. Learn more at www.bestway-global.com.

Food for fun

All that water sliding and other fun activity is going to make kids work up an appetite. They'll need fuel so they can keep having fun. Look for fare that is easy, kid-friendly and nutritious. For example, instead of serving high-fat, high-sugar ice cream, consider frozen fruit or fruit pops. Replace sugary, calorie-laden sodas with flavored water. For kids who crave crunch, replace chips with fresh-cut crisp fruits like apples and kid-friendly veggies such as carrots or cherry tomatoes. You can serve them with a variety of delicious, yogurt-based dips. Whip up a nacho platter that incorporates low-fat shredded cheese, fresh salsa and lean protein like beans or grilled chicken.

Friendship and fun

With your backyard gaining the reputation of the neighborhood hot spot for great food and fun, you may notice some new faces showing up. Encourage children to engage in games that can help them get to know each other and create new friendships with others in the neighborhood.

Some of the simplest games are great ice-breakers. One game that's great for getting to know each other is to have kids stand in a circle and toss around a bean bag or small ball. The child who throws asks a question - such as "What's your name?" or "What's your favorite sport?" - and the child who catches has to answer.

Another fun idea for older children is a biography building circle. Kids sit in a circle and start with one child making a simple statement about himself, such as "I like to play baseball with my dad." The next child in line adds his or her own information by building off something the first child said, such as "My dad is an airline pilot." The play continues with children each saying something new that is somehow linked to what the last child said.

Research shows that physical activity is good for kids. KidsHealth.org says exercise helps children develop stronger muscles and bones, control weight, lower their risk of type 2 diabetes and develop a better attitude about life. Parents can help kids get the exercise they need by fostering healthy outdoor play in their own backyards this summer.

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