Here’s the third in our series of 101 outdoor activities for families. From treasure hunts and festivals to skimming stones and cooking outside, there’s something simple and fun for every family!
41. Create a Treasure hunt
This activity can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. Your treasure hunt could be as simple as stashing some chocolate in the garden for your kids to find, or you could create an elaborate network of clues that can only be unravelled by expert map-reading skills and the ability to solve cryptic riddles. Here’s a really nice guide to creating your first family treasure hunt, with tips for themes, clues and hiding places.
42. Plant some wild flowers
There are many reasons why planting wildflowers is a good idea. They do all sorts of wonderful things like attract and sustain important wildlife including insects, birds and mammals; they transform your garden with ever-changing colours throughout the seasons; they’re very easy to grow; and it’s a great fun activity to do with your kids. Companies such as Grow Wild give away free packs of native UK wildflower seeds to encourage more people to sow them, so order a pack today and get involved.
43. Go to an outdoor gig or festival
We took our son to his first outdoor gig when he was a little over one year old (we’ll tell him on his 18th birthday it was Olly Murs) and he loved every second of it. We live near Newmarket racecourse and their summer Newmarket Nights gigs are perfectly set up for families, with playgrounds, picnic areas and big screens so you’re never far from the action. This July we’re planning to spend the weekend at a Cider & Sausage festival full of cheesy tribute bands, and the Forestry Commission does excellent family-friendly Forest Live concerts all over the UK. If you’re looking for a full-on festival that’s great for kids check out Bestival in Dorset, which last year even had cameos from CBeebies stars like Mr Tumble.
44. Wash the car
I have to confess I haven’t done this with Sonny yet, mainly because we’re still in the tail-end of a winter that would make the cast of Game of Thrones shudder, but his obsessions with the garden hose, my car, and anything that involves getting soaked while still wearing his clothes makes me 100% certain he’ll love helping me wash my motor this summer. So next time your car looks a bit filthy, fill up a bowl with warm soapy water, grab the hose and some big sponges, then get outside and get soaked. Your kids might actually even prove themselves to be useful for once!
45. Make pine cone bird feeders
Don’t fancy sticking a big ugly bird table or feeders in your garden? Or want some some natural feeders to supplement the expensive ones you bought from the garden centre? Making pine cone bird feeders is cheap, simple, effective, and looks great. All you need is a dried pine cone; a piece of string; then loads of bird food like raisins, seeds and peanuts that you mash together in a bowl with cheese and lard. Coat the pine cone in your delicious recipe, then hang it from a tree branch and watch the birds descend for a feast. Here’s a guide from the RSPB for making the perfect pine cone bird feeder.
46. Do some chalk drawings
If, like me, you have offspring that like drawing all over every flat surface they can get their grubby little paws on, why not turn this into a fun outdoor activity that doesn’t result in you having to redecorate your house every week? All you need is some chunky outdoor chalk, a pavement or driveway, and some imagination. Whether your kids want to write their names, draw pictures of animals, or just scribble nonsensical rubbish everywhere, you can be safe in the knowledge the chalk can easily be cleaned off afterwards.
47. Feed the ducks
It’s easy to forget that ducks are wild animals because, like pigeons, there are so bloody many of them and they’re usually very tame. So although heading down to your local river, lake, or pond to feed them may seem like an unspectacular way to spend an afternoon, just remember what it might mean to your kids. We’ve been taking Sonny to feed the ducks since he was just a few weeks old. At first he liked just looking at them from his pram, then he liked throwing little pellets of food to them, and now he stands in front of them with his hand outstretched so they can eat directly from his palm. He chats to them, laughs at them, and generally just loves spending time with them.
48. Dig for worms
I was cracking on with the not particularly enjoyable task of weeding the garden and turning over some soil last week, when as usual Sonny came tottering along to stick his nose into what I was doing. He started by stamping on the soil, messing about with my tools and generally making a nuisance of himself, but once his eyes spotted a big juicy worm I’d dug up he became mesmerised. It helped that we’d read Julia Donaldson’s Superworm book the night before, and for the next 15 minutes we hunted for them together in the mud. We probably dug up 20 earthworms, picked them up, stroked them and laughed at them, then put them back in the ground to carry on doing whatever it is that worms do. A bit gross if you’re not a fan of creepy crawlies, but great fun for kids.
49. Go steam train spotting
What is it with kids and trains? Sonny’s rarely more excited than when he’s staring at a train, watching trains on TV, making train noises, playing with toy trains, or – the ultimate – riding a real train. Last autumn we took him to the Nene Valley Railway to meet a life-size Thomas the Tank Engine and I think I can probably say it was the best day of his young life, capped off by sausage rolls and cake in the station cafe. So even if you don’t have a Thomas replica near you, find out where your nearest steam train line is and pop along for an hour or two. They’re fascinating machines for adults to learn about, and they’ve got superstar status with young kids.
50. Skim stones
Another activity on the National Trust’s excellent list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾. Skimming stones across water isn’t as easy as it looks, but it’s completely free and you can do it pretty much anywhere. All you need is some fairly calm water (pond, lake, river, sea), a flattish stone (the flatter it is, the more surface area makes contact with the water) and a good throwing arm (I’m 35 years old and still haven’t developed one of these). I’m also pretty rubbish at skimming and while writing this I’ve discovered it’s a bloody difficult skill to explain, so here are some excellent tips from the National Trust.
51. Cook an outdoor meal
Whether this is on the BBQ in your garden, a camping stove on a remote Lake District mountain top, or something as simple as melting marshmallows around a campfire, just watch your kids’ faces light up with excitement when you cook them a meal outside. I was a very fussy eater as a kid (if it wasn’t chicken kiev and chips I generally wasn’t interested) but on our annual camping holiday to France I’d eat pretty much anything my mum rustled up on the BBQ and shoved under my nose. For inspiration from carrot fries and cheesy nachos to pocket pizzas and tacos in a bag, here are some great family camping recipes from our friends at Get Out With The Kids.
52. Go to the zoo
I’ve wanted to visit London Zoo for years but always thought it was a bit of a waste of a trip without kids, so as soon as Sonny was old enough to stand on his own two feet and spot the difference between a horse and a hippo we jumped on the train and headed to London Zoo. WHAT A PLACE. You probably don’t need me to tell you it’s got every animal from lions, giraffes and gorillas to cobras, tropical fish and penguins, but it still feels amazing to find them all bang in the middle of our capital city. The whole place is brilliantly set up for kids with animal shows, loads of touristy junk to buy, and rides and playgrounds to play on. It isn’t a cheap day out, but it’s definitely a memorable one.
53. Collect seashells
I’m one of those people who can’t walk along a beach without stuffing my pockets with shells, rocks, pebbles or any other treasures that have been washed up by the sea. For kids (and easily-impressed adults like me) the ocean is a massive, exciting and sometimes slightly scary place full of fascinating creatures and weird objects that are often washed up right at your feet as you stroll along the shore. Collecting shells is a great way to take a piece of the sea home with you. We have them stashed in jars, pots and on windowsills all around the house; and if you’re more creative than me you can make all sorts of cool stuff with them as a family.
54. Go grass sledging
Want to go go sledging but can’t be bothered to wait until the next decent snowfall? Then get yourself a grass sledge and go for it! As a kid almost 30 years ago now, my grass sledge was basically a piece of round plastic with a handle that you pulled between your legs and just skidded down a hill. You can still buy them (and I can confirm they’re awesome) but like most other things grass sledges have moved on a lot, with the best ones now having their own tracks fitted to let you rocket down the hill on your own little toboggan. They’re quite pricey, but a decent investment as you can use them all year round.
55. Get a giant parachute
We got this idea from of the many toddler groups Sonny drags us along to, and it basically involves adults standing around the edge of a giant colourful parachute and shaking it up and down while kids go crazy running around underneath it. We bought this one from Argos for just £11.99 to use in our garden, and it’s still going strong after almost a year of getting thrown around, jumped on, and generally savaged by gangs of crazy kids.
56. Chase an ice cream van
Is there anything better in summer than hearing one of those rubbish tunes blaring out from the speakers on top of your local ice cream van, then racing outside to flag it down before it leaves your street? This summer will be Sonny’s ice cream-van-chasing debut, so he’s about to enter the magical world of Fabs, Calippos, Screwballs and 99 Flakes. And I can’t wait!
57. Find shapes in the clouds
If there’s one thing you pretty much guarantee you’ll always find in the sky in Britain it’s clouds, so us parents might as well make some use out of them! I’ve got zero imagination and although it’s infuriating to get constantly outthought by a two-year-old, it’s amazing to watch Sonny point at the sky and blabber on about what he thinks he can see. Buses, trees, fish, dinosaurs, apples, trains – he just stares upwards and gets creative. So next time you’ve got some decent weather and a few fluffy clouds above you, lie on the grass with your kids, forget about all the usual stressful crap running round your head, and let your imagination run away with itself.
58. Fill a jar with outdoorsy treasures
This is a brilliant thing to do with kids, because it’s incredibly simple and throws up different results every time. All you need is a jar or see-through container, and some space outdoors to hunt for natural treasures. The only rule is that you need to fill the jar with natural stuff you find outside, which can be anything from leaves and twigs to worms and caterpillars. If you have more than one child then make it into a mini competition with prizes for the coolest discoveries, and make sure you put everything back safely where you found it once you’re finished.
59. Get a sandpit
Every time I pick Sonny up from nursery they tell me how much he’s enjoyed digging in the sandpit, filling up buckets and generally making a huge mess, so for his second birthday we’ve bought him his very own sandpit play table. It comes with a cover so the sand doesn’t get drenched when it rains, it’s small enough to fit into gardens of any size and shape, and the fact it’s built to be stored outdoors means your house won’t get full of sand! If you’re feeling adventurous you can even make your sandpit (it’s much easier than it sounds) and here’s a great short video from Wickes showing you how to do it.
60. Play hide and seek
Sonny’s been obsessed with hiding from us ever since he learned to walk, then poking his cheeky face out from behind whatever door, cushion, curtain, lamppost or tree he’s using to conceal himself. And now he’s learned to count to ten, we’ve got all the ingredients we need to play hide and seek outside. We’ve got just enough stuff in our garden (trees, log stores, den, shed etc) for a decent game of hide and seek, but it’s even better when we head to a park, nature reserve, or the local woods. You’ll have to keep a close eye on your kids if they’re really young, but you’ll soon discover you don’t need to play this game in epic locations or even find particularly good hiding spots to have an amazing time as a family.
Come back next week for numbers 61-80 in our 101 Outdoor Activities for Families series or subscribe to make sure you never miss a post.