Here’s the second in our series of 101 outdoor activities for families. From hiking and paddling to climbing trees and taking wildlife photos, there’s something simple and fun for everyone to try!
21. Take a hike
There’s no easier outdoor adventure than to stick on a pair of boots or wellies, open your front door and go for a long walk. We live close to a town centre, but within half a mile of our house we’ve still got parks, lakes, river meadows, nature reserves and woodlands to explore. You’ll be amazed by what you can find in your neighbourhood, and if your little one is too small to walk long distances then treat yourself to a good child carrier.
22. Go paddling
Find a shallow stretch of river, stream, lake or coastline near your house, take off your shoes and socks, roll up your trousers, and dip your toes in. The cold will probably make you shriek a bit at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly. You’ll also find you relax more than you would at a swimming pool with young kids, especially if you go to the beach, because the lack of hard surfaces makes the consequences of a slip or stumble slightly less terrifying.
23. Climb a tree
This isn’t about finding the biggest tree in the forest, or even climbing right to the top of it. It’s about encouraging your kids to get their hands on some branches, getting their feet off the ground, and experiencing that amazing feeling of being up high among nature. And if you get really into it, you could build your own treehouse. But that’s an activity for another day…
24. Build a campfire
Keep it small and safe, but make it fun. If you’ve got space in your garden find a clear, sheltered area away from bushes and trees and create a ring of stones to stop fire and ash spreading. Collect twigs, leaves, bark and paper to use as tinder; find small twigs to use as kindling; then use bigger sticks and logs as fuel when the fire gets going. Check out this detailed guide from the Scouts on campfire building and fire safety, then buy yourself a big bag of marshmallows to toast and learn some good campfire songs!
25. Have a picnic
Who doesn’t love food? And when you mix good food with a great outdoor location it becomes a memorable family day out. Make yourself some sarnies and a flask of coffee; buy some pork pies, crisps and chocolate biscuits; then head for your local river, hilltop, lake, park, or just into your own back garden, and sit down for an outdoor meal as a family. Probably our most memorable picnic so far was in the boot of my estate car in a National Trust car park – mostly because we messed the whole thing up!
26. Visit a farm shop
Farm shops have popped up everywhere over the past decade, and although many are still exactly what they sound like – farms selling things like veg, eggs and meat – many have become five-star family attractions. Our local farm shop actually breeds fully-grown Nile crocodiles and we visited one near York recently that had mini sit-on diggers so kids could excavate sand from pits like proper little construction workers. Most modern farm shops let you meet the animals, explore wildlife trails, eat fresh food in their cafes, and some even allow you to pick your own fruit and veg.
27. Go to nature reserve
Most cities, towns and villages in the UK aren’t far from a nature reserve, and if you aren’t sure where your local one is then check out the RSPB and Wildlife Trust websites for more info. Our local reserve is RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes and it’s been one of our favourite spots for years for dog walks, birdwatching, cycling and picnics. Sonny was too young to appreciate the starling murmuration on his first visit as a baby, but he cycles there with us regularly now and we’ll take him back this summer to hopefully spot the cheeky seal that splashes around the river that runs through the reserve.
28. Take wildlife photos
This is a lot harder than it sounds, but the fun is in trying and searching for animals in the first place rather than nailing the perfect wildlife shot. So sit in your garden, go to your local park or stroll along a riverbank and keep your eyes peeled for anything that moves. Within a quarter of a mile of our house – which is in a decent sized town – we’ve spotted everything from foxes and frogs to woodpeckers and grass snakes (one actually swam past me on my canoe!), and every time I try to get my phone or camera out to take a snap. I usually fail miserably, but on the few occasions I’ve pulled it off it’s felt amazing! Here are some tips from the Woodland Trust to help you and family improve your wildlife photo skills.
29. Go stargazing
You don’t need to be an astronomer to help your kids fall in love with stargazing – simply take them outside on a clear night and let them stare at the universe above them. It’s worth brushing up on a little bit of knowledge so you can point out a little bit more than the moon. Constellations like the Plough and Orion’s Belt are usually easy to spot, and little tips like how to locate the North Star and the nearest planets always go down well. Here are some great tips for family stargazing from the National Trust, including simple stuff like avoiding full moons and useful apps to download.
30. Play nature eye-spy
This is every bit as simple as it sounds. Either spend some time creating Eye Spy sheets full of lots of natural things like bugs, birds, trees and plants for kids to go outside and tick off, or simply head out as a family and play a good old-fashioned game of Eye Spy. Go somewhere full of nature like a Country Park and you’ll have endless inspiration for things to spot. It may sound tediously simple, but Eye Spy can be a lifesaver in terms of re-motivating an angry child who’s downed tools in the middle of a walk!
31. Go out and get soaked
I wouldn’t recommend doing this every time it rains (!) but rather than get stuck indoors why not just head out and get yourselves thoroughly soaked? You don’t need any outdoor gear or even to travel to an exciting location – all you need is a heavy downpour and if you’re really getting into it some mud to jump and roll in! Try to pick a warmish day so you don’t end up freezing cold, and make sure you’ve got dry clothes and towels nearby for when you’ve had enough and want to head back indoors.
32. Plant a tree
Whether you want to stick your old Christmas tree in your garden, plant a fruit tree that will grow into something your family can enjoy for generations (we did this last year and loved it), or get involved in a tree-planting session at the National Forest, this is a lovely thing to do as a family. It’s a fun and enjoyable experience and also helps you teach your kids about the important roles trees play in our environment – like providing oxygen, preserving soil, and protecting wildlife.
33. Go fruit picking
From juicy strawberries in May to crunchy apples in August and plump blackberries in September and October, there’s plenty of fruit ripe for the picking in the UK during the warmer months of the year. Plenty of farm shops let you pick apples, strawberries, pears and plums during the summer, and many of your local hedgerows and bushes will be exploding with blackberries as we creep towards the autumn. This guide from the National trust highlights some of the UK’s best blackberry picking locations.
34. Collect some wild treasures
I can’t be the only person who comes back from every walk with pockets full of shiny rocks, conkers, acorns, pine cones, sticks that are good for poking stuff with, and any other nonsense I feel compelled to take home. Since having a kid I’ve realised they love collecting outdoorsy treasures/crap as much as weird adults like me do, so Sonny and I now have a joint horde of wild junk in the garden. And we both love it!
35. Visit an adventure playground
You certainly don’t need me to tell you how awesome adventure playgrounds are or what to do when you get to one. Ever since Sonny could crawl he’s been obsessed by parks and playgrounds, and now he’s a fully fledged toddler the bigger they are the more excited he gets. So if your kids are ready to take the step up from the swings and roundabouts in your local park; drive to your local adventure playground and let them explore tunnels, rope bridges, sandpits, mini climbing walls and all the other crazy stuff you wish had been so easily accessible when you were their age!
36. Explore with a torch
I came up with a brainwave during the dark horrible days of winter when Sonny hated walking home from nursery – why not give him a torch to shine on the pavement, trees, houses, cars, his own feet, my face, and anything else he wants to illuminate on our way home? It instantly transformed our journey from a miserable 5-minute slog to a proper little nighttime adventure, and usually continued when we got home and went searching for creepy-crawlies in the garden. Giving a torch to a toddler comes with a few drawbacks (he broke three perfectly good ones this winter) but it meant we could keep getting outside on those long dark nights.
37. Get a paddling pool
Granted this is easier to do when your kids are very young and you can get away with small, cheap paddling pools that provide hours of entertainment while taking up very little space, but no matter how old your kids are who doesn’t love splashing about in their garden on hot spring and summer days? Sonny’s been clambering in and out of paddling pools since he was little more than six months old, and even when he doesn’t fancy getting all the way in he’s happy just filling up his buckets and watering cans and watering the plants. So simple, and so much fun.
38. Plant some daffodil bulbs
This doesn’t have the immediate payback that planting a tree or shrub might have, but can you remember how exciting it was the first time you planted something in the ground that emerged a few months later? Planting daffodil bulbs in October is simple, fun and pretty much guaranteed to deliver plenty of spectacular yellow flowers the following spring. All you need is a packet of bulbs, a hand trowel, a rake, some gardening gloves, a decent patch of soil in your garden, and to follow these simple instructions from the Royal Horticultural Society. Go for it!
39. Go to the beach
If, like me, you’ve always lived somewhere that’s landlocked and a couple of hours’ drive from the coast, there’s always been something magical about a trip to the beach. If you live near the sea then I’m sure you love it too, and even more so when you’re a young kid who’s desperate to run through the sand, splash in the surf, and hunt for crabs and rock pools. We took Sonny to Wells beach in Norfolk when he was just a few months old, Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire when he was able to crawl in the sand for the first time, then to the Mexican Caribbean last winter where he was able to run through the waves on his own two feet, and he’s enjoyed the beach more with every visit.
40. Roll down a hill
My mum used to hate this but me and my sister entertained ourselves for hours on end by finding a grassy hill near our house, lying down on our sides and just letting ourselves spin to the bottom like two pieces of rolled up carpet. We’d come home with all sorts of bumps and scrapes, and usually so dizzy we’d be on the brink of passing out or puking up, but I don’t ever remember laughing so much. So find a small hill or slope, make sure there’s a flattish run-off area at the bottom so you’ll roll to a stop before smashing into something big and hard, then let yourself go. It’s one of the best feelings ever.
Come back next week for numbers 41-60 or subscribe to make sure you never miss a post.