Outdoor Outings With Children
When you first have a baby, your outings tend to be limited to going to other people’s houses, or out to the park or for a walk with the baby in the pram. But as your child grows older, you find that you need to do more to keep them entertained, and also that you get bored going to the same places.
Most of us, however, do not have unlimited resources for this, either time or money.
This page provides some ideas for places to take young children outdoors, and what to do there, from eating through to entertaining yourself and your child, without breaking the bank.
Outings with Toddlers
The good news is that young children are quite easy to entertain. Pretty much everything is good for exploring when you are a toddler, and if it involves water or mud even better.
This means that your local park is likely to be a source of fantastic opportunity and will remain so for some years.
Suitable park activities include:
- Paddling in streams, in wellies or in bare feet, depending on the time of year;
- Floating boats made from leaves or sticks (or even toy boats, attached to a piece of string);
- Damming streams with sticks and stones: for best results, choose a fairly narrow stretch that is not too deep;
- Fishing in streams: you will need a fishing net and a box or bucket to hold anything that is caught, plus a book or suitable internet connection to identify creatures;
- Bug hunting, which ideally requires a magnifying glass or similar: just turn over old logs, bits of bark and stones until you find small creatures;
- Poohsticks, if you have a suitable bridge;
- Jumping in puddles;
- Making mud pies;
- Using a mud-covered stick to draw patterns on the path;
- Climbing trees;
- Exploring new areas of park and woodland, away from the path;
- Kicking around a football;
- Going for a bike or scooter ride.
Some places, including parks, but also many National Trust properties in the UK and other similar places, also have more organised play areas, with swings, or climbing options.
Some may also have den-building areas, which can be a lot of fun, especially with adult assistance.
If you do go to a National Trust property or similar (historic house and garden), don’t expect to be able to see much of it with a toddler. You might get a chance to look at the house briefly, but not to read anything. It is best to go with low expectations, and settle for simple pleasures like jumping in puddles or climbing very low trees.
Outings With Older Children
As your children get older, you may have to be a bit more imaginative.
‘Going for a walk’ may not have quite the same appeal for a child as it does for you, so you might need to ‘Go exploring in the woods’ or ‘Go and sail a paper boat down the stream’.
National Trust properties and other similar sites tend to have lots of activities, including nature trails or spotting activities but, if they don’t, here are some other ideas to try:
- Give each child a matchbox or other small container, and ask them to fill it with things that start with the same letter as their name, or with another letter chosen at random;
- Go exploring for the biggest and smallest things that you can find: the largest, tallest tree in the park, or the smallest pebble;
- Water play, including boat-making and then sailing, or fishing, are likely to remain popular even with quite grown-up children, especially in the summer. You can also extend this to exploring the course of the river, but make sure that everyone has suitable shoes, including you, as this could get quite wet;
- Bug-hunting can also be interesting, especially if children have a suitable book or electronic option to look up the minibeasts that they have found;
- Make up a treasure hunt, and set your children to finding something shiny, something man-made, something natural, something tiny, something living, three types of grass, or anything else you like. Give a prize to the child who finds everything first.
Bike riding can also be a good option, especially if you ride too, but it is probably best to aim for a destination with something to do, for example, a play park. Just going somewhere new can be enough to keep everyone interested, whether it is on bikes or on foot.
A Word on Theme Parks
Theme parks are great entertainment. They are also very expensive and get very busy. They are not for everyone.
It may be possible to avoid them altogether. But for anyone who lives reasonably near to one, this is going to be hard because your children will hear about them from other children and may start asking for a visit. There are two approaches:
- Embrace the theme park and buy season tickets, then go as much as you can; or
- Save it for an occasional treat, and make sure that you choose the right park for your children.
You may be able to find special offers, or save up supermarket reward points or similar to reduce the cost.
In summer, it is not hard to manage all-day outings fairly easily, including food.
You can take a picnic, and make sure that you have food that everyone will eat and that suits your budget. You will need to remember a picnic rug of some sort and children often find picnics much easier with plates, but this should not give you too much trouble.
The big advantage of picnicking is that you can eat whenever and wherever you want, provided that you have carried the food with you. You can also ensure that you have suitable snacks to hand, necessary for small children.
In winter, picnicking is much harder, not to say impossible. If your budget does not run to eating out, or your children are not good at eating food in strange places, you may be better shortening your outings and going home to eat.
The point of any outing is for everyone to enjoy themselves, including you.
Getting stressed about money, or about whether everyone will eat, is not going to add to your enjoyment. It is better to go for a shorter outing and do less, but leave with everyone happy, than to try to cram in too much and end up with everyone tired, grumpy and unhappy.