The ‘Intentional Summer’ Challenge: Go on a Quest

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Challenge No. 3: Plan a quest — find a hike with a treasure hunt, choose an unusual side trip on a vacation or set out to find something specific.

It’s human nature to find joy in solving problems and get caught up in discovery. That may sound more like what you do at school or work, but research shows that a sense of engagement increases our satisfaction with our leisure time as well.

That kind of engagement can make for a memorable family moment, and it’s at the heart of challenge No. 3 of our Intentional Summer: Plan a quest. We know summer has a tendency to feel as if it’s slipping away, so all summer long, we’re offering research-based ideas for ways to set this season apart from the rest of the year. For this challenge, all you need is a goal, a plan and a sense of determination.

If your weekend lets you get outdoors for any extended period, turn a hike into a quest. I’m the queen of the old, tattered guidebook that assures you “at mile 2.6 of the trail is a small waterfall that invites barefoot paddling,” and my online searches for things like “local kid swimming hole” have led our family down many a back road.

We’ve also tried geocaching, which turns any hike or walk into a scavenger hunt. Download the app at, and it will locate caches near you (usually small hidden boxes with a log book and occasionally small shareable objects), and tell you how recently others have found them. Over two million geocaches have been hidden by people worldwide, and not just in the woods — you can find a geocache almost anywhere, including in Manhattan.

You can customize your quest to meet your family’s interests. If you have a child with a sudden passion for minerals, you might find caves or rock-hunting opportunities nearby.

A love of good food makes for great quest opportunities, especially when traveling — go on a search for the one shop that makes its own chocolates, or seek out a farmers’ market to find a local specialty and make a multisensory memory (even if fresh boiled peanuts, for example, don’t turn out to be a family favorite).

Last week, we suggested playing old-fashioned backyard games. Here’s what we heard:

A reader named Janet reminisced about playing a softball-like game called Scrub when she was in her early teens in Westport Harbor, Mass. “We lived year-round directly by the sea but had a huge yard, shaded, in those days, by giant elm trees.” The game involved a bat on the ground in front of the pitcher’s mound, and the person at bat would roll the ball toward it and set off running to first base.  “I remember those warm summer nights with the sound of the waves and fireflies and my father loving this game along with us,” she wrote.

Alison from Woodbridge, N.J., wrote: “This challenge reminded me of a game we made up in our neighborhood as kids called Jaws. My parents’ porch was the safety of the ship and one kid played Jaws trying to capture us as we ran around the yard. We would compete to see how many times we could circle the house without being caught.”

And a group of teenagers from Phoenixville, Pa., told us about an intentional summer tradition we liked so much, we may borrow it for a future challenge. For now, we’ll just tell you about some of their favorite games: “extreme hopscotch” (extending all the way down the block) and “glowquet” (croquet after dark with glow sticks on the wickets).

Keep on playing!

This week’s challenge: Plan a quest. Tell us about yours, and how it goes, by commenting here or emailing us at before next Tuesday, July 12. Did you find what you were looking for? Discover a new passion? Delight one member of the family while driving another crazy? You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 14. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.