Here’s the penultimate instalment in our 101 outdoor activities for families series. From mud pies and shooting stars to outdoor cinemas and flying kites – every idea is fun, simple and cheap!
61. Go snail spotting
Do the pavements around your house come alive with snails every time it rains? I’d never given snails a second glance before I became a dad, but now I realise it’s like a wildlife safari for young kids. We spend hours hunting for snails, pointing out the different patterns on their shells, making sure we don’t tread on them, and picking them up and moving them to safety under surrounding trees and hedges. I don’t think I’d ever touched a snail before two months ago – now I must have manhandled hundreds of the slimy little critters.
62. Create a scavenger hunt
We visited our local nature last weekend (the brilliant Holt Island in St Ives) and the volunteers who run it had created a big pile of scavenger hunt sheets for kids to play with. It’s such a simple concept that’s perfect for birthday parties, family days out and holidays. You simply pick a bunch of things your kids are likely to find in the outdoor space around them – rocks, twigs, flowers, leaves – then write them down a sheet of paper with a tick box for each item. Then send your kids out to find them! If you’re struggling for ideas, here’s a scavenger hunt activity from the Woodland Trust.
63. Run through a sprinkler
Or a hose. Or underneath a watering can. Or just spray some water from your outside tap. Basically, just get outside on a hot day and get wet!
64. Paint some rocks
Every bit as simple as it sounds. Find some small rocks outside, and if you’re planning to paint faces get some really weird shapes to give them some character. You can buy proper rock painting kits online, but just some basic brushes and craft paints will do the job. And here’s another cool activity I stumbled across recently on a wonderful website called The Artful Parent: making melted crayon rocks. I wish I’d thought of it first!
65. Get very muddy
Is the thought of washing muddy kids worse than the thought of energetic kids being stuck inside all day like caged animals? I’d take the first option any day of the week. That’s why I’m always happy to head outdoors with Sonny and get coated in mud, water and anything else he can find when it’s wet and horrible. All he needs is his puddle suit and wellies – then there’s no stopping him.
66. Read books outdoors
If your kids are anything like my 2-year-old son, they’re probably addicted to books. We’ve must have read the Gruffalo 10,000 times and don’t even get me started on Thomas The Tank Engine. But what we don’t do anywhere near enough is sit outdoors and read them. Sonny’s got a bookshelf and mini sofa in his bedroom where we devour his favourite books every night, but nothing beats sitting in the garden on a warm evening and flicking through the pages with birds tweeting and planes humming overhead.
67. Visit some farm animals
We went to the National Trust’s excellent Wimpole Home Farm last spring. It was full of sheep, pigs, donkeys, cows and all the other animals you’d expect to find on a working farm – but it cost us a fortune! This spring we decided to spare ourselves the £30 family entry fee and just cycled down to a local farmers’ field that was full of young lambs. Sonny smiled, talked and waved at them over the fence and fed them grass through the gate – and it didn’t cost a penny.
68. Invent outdoor games
Tired of Hide & Seek, Capture the Flag and all the other outdoor games you played as a kid? Then make some new ones up! We’re not very inventive but our favourite at the moment is to see who can jump highest over the tree roots that are creeping across the pavement down our street, or count the number of buses we pass on the way to nursery. All mega simple stuff, but it means Sonny can’t wait to get out of the front door every morning.
69. Spot some aeroplanes
I don’t know if it’s because we live reasonably close to a few local airfields, but the sky above our house in Cambridgeshire is crawling with planes during the spring and summer months. Sonny’s obsessed by every vehicle on the planet, and he seems freakishly good at picking out the tiniest little specks of jets thousands of metres above him then shouting “airplane!” at the top of his lungs. He loves it, and it’s a great way to keep him still for 15 minutes.
70. Look for shooting stars
Much trickier than spotting planes, but a million times more exciting. The first time I showed Sonny the moon his little face exploded with happiness. And although I’m pretty sure he hasn’t properly seen one yet, he loves staring up at a clear night sky and trying to spot a shooting star. I still find it exciting at 35 years old, so it must be mind-blowing for his little brain. I think I’ll wait until he’s a little bit older before I try explaining what the hell they are though!
71. Go on a sound safari
Have you ever sat outside somewhere leafy and green in the summer, closed your eyes and just listened to the sounds around you? After a while everything apart from the tiniest tweets, hums, thuds and whispers melts away around you. Keep your eyes shut and have a competition to see who can name each sound first. And don’t even bother keeping score – all that really matters is just listening and loving the sounds of nature.
72. Make a mud pie
If you think this sounds appetising, just remember not to eat it when you’ve finished. All you need to make a classic mud pie is a bowl, a big stick or spoon, some leaves or twigs, a big pile of mud, and your own imagination. Chuck it all in the bowl, add some water if the mud isn’t wet enough, then stir the mixture together until it’s gloopy and gross. If that doesn’t already sound simple enough, here’s a video from the National Trust to help you.
73. Create an outdoor cinema
Garden + TV + Extension cord + blankets + cushions + snacks + drinks + Finding Nemo = best family Saturday night ever.
74. Grow some plants
Sonny’s auntie bought him an insanely cute little gardening kit for his second birthday that includes a pair of toddler gardening gloves; a little spade and fork set; packs of sunflower, cress, wildflower, tomato, sweetcorn and pepper seeds; and a miniature metal bucket to store them all in. We got started too late this year to grow some of the vegetables, but the sunflowers and cress are both going strong. Sonny waters them by himself and is so proud of the results that he shows them to every visitor to our house.
75. Learn to identify trees
When Sonny was a baby he was borderline obsessed with trees. Whenever we wheeled him under one, flat on his back in the pram, he just stared up with a dopey grin on his face and shook with excitement. Now he’s at an age where he wants to learn new things all day every day, so rather than just point at trees I try to teach him about the different types. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t fully understand what I’m saying (and to be honest I only know about 5 different species) but he loves the fact they’re all different and is fascinated by the varying colours and shapes of leaves. If, like me, you need to brush up on your own tree ID skills, check out these online resources from the Woodland Trust: Leaf ID for Kids, Twig ID for Kids, Autumn Leaf ID for Kids, Winter Tree ID for kids
76. Count the birds in your garden
Even if you don’t actively attract birds to your garden, you usually won’t have to wait long to spot them either flying overhead, perching on your fence or digging for worms on the lawn. At the time of writing this blog it’s late May, and I’m staring out of the window at starlings, great tits and goldfinches on our feeders; with a pair of wood pigeons sitting on our shed roof and a posse of swifts screaming and circling in the sky above. Sonny’s at nursery today, but if he was here with me he’d be squealing with excitement and counting them all on his fingers. If you’d like to know what species of birds are visiting your garden, the RSPB’s online Bird Identifier is a great place to start.
77. Make a herb garden from pallets
I stole this idea from a bloke I used to work with, and it’s created hours of fun and fascination for Sonny. He thought it was hilarious watching me bang two old pallets together, screw the resulting construction to the fence, then fill its little troughs with compost. We then bought 12 different types of herb, planted them side by side, and now water them together every day. Not only do we now have our very own homegrown herbs, we’ve also got a cool daily father-son activity, plus we get to watch bees buzzing around the flowers in spring and summer.
78. Swim in an outdoor pool
I always thought you had to go abroad to swim outdoors, but it turns out people are crazy enough to do it in England too! If you don’t have any rich friends with an outdoor pool in their garden (nope, neither do I) then search for your nearest outdoor swimming pool or lido. We’re planning our first trip to Jesus Green Outdoor Pool in Cambridge this summer – just need to make sure the sun comes out first!
79. Fly a kite
Is it just me, or do you never see anyone flying kites any more? And I’d include myself in that bracket. Maybe it’s because they’re a bit old fashioned, or a nightmare to untangle, or quite hard to get the hang of, or just not as cool as PlayStations – but once you get them going they’re great fun. And perfect for those dull, windy days when you’d normally be stuck indoors wondering how to pass the time.
80. Make a garden obstacle course
I got this idea from a guy I follow on Twitter who’s constantly coming up with weird and wonderful ways to get kids active. It’s so simple I can’t believe I’d never thought of it before. All you need is an open space (garden is ideal, local park just as good) and a bunch of stuff you can use to create obstacles. Footballs, chairs, buckets, logs, paddling pools – anything. Then just set them up to create a track or route that the whole family can race around, and go for it. The crazier the better, and you’ll have hours of fun.
Come back next week for the final instalment in our 101 Outdoor Activities for Families series or subscribe to make sure you never miss a post.