What better time to review a book like 101 Things for Kids To Do Outside, than the summer holidays? Arriving a week into the break, when I was running out of ideas for less expensive entertainments, it was a very welcome arrival.
Award winning garden designer, blogger and mum of three young children Dawn Isaac has packed 101 Things For Children To Do Outside with games, projects, crafts, experiments and gardening inspiration to encourage your children to step away from their screens and get out in the fresh air. These ideas stem from Dawn’s perpetual mission to persuade her children to go outside, chronicled in her blog www.littlegreenfingers.com which features on the RHS family website. The horticultural advisor to popular tv program Mr Bloom’s Nursery, Dawn also runs family garden design courses in association with Mumsnet Academy.
The book offers quick 10 minute activities to full days of fun. From party games and treasure hunts to simple gardening projects, each project is simply explained and illustrated with colour photography. The projects do not require specialist equipment and in many cases simply utilise what many households will have lying around. The activities are not strictly prescriptive, and if you don’t have exactly what is suggested, there is no reason why you can’t adapt and change using the book as inspiration.
As I was planning a trip to Queen Elizabeth Country Park last week, I took a look through the book and picked out three activities to try whilst we were there. We took two five year old girls and two nearly 2 year old boys with us.
(1) Take the Matchbox Challenge
The idea is to hold a miniature treasure hunt, filling your matchbox with as many things as you can find in 15 minutes and points are awarded per item. Problem No. 1 – I didn’t have any matchboxes. But, I liked the idea of the game and I thought it would appeal to my daughter who has magpie tendencies so, time to improvise. The only smallish containers I have are sandwich bags and these are duly doled out. We were walking from the visitor centre to a playground and picnic area at the top of a steep hill – something which would normally result in a lot of complaining on the way. Each child was told to collect as many things as they could fit in the bags (which really are only as big as my hand) and points would be awarded for each different item with duplicates only counting as one item. To my surprise, not only are the girls enthusiastic, the game kept them entertained all the way to the top and they were excited to find out who had won. I can see that the matchbox would have the additional challenge of having to be choosy about what you put in it due to size, since we had largish pieces of bark in the bags but the idea of the game worked very well and the adaptions didn’t spoil it in the least.
(2) Nature Rubbings
Ok, not a new game to me and not to you either I expect, but having the book handy and flicking thr0ugh as I was planning the trip did remind me to actually pack paper and crayons so we could do this – something I usually think of mid walk and regret not being better organised. This was a perfect activity as we got the flask out to make teas and kept them quiet whilst we all got our breath back.
(3) Nature Signs
At this point, the attention spans of the girls wandered a bit and we lost them to the playground and den building, so I didn’t actually get a chance to play this with them. They were however very obliging in fetching me sufficient sticks to make a few signs myself, which kept me amused for a bit whilst the toddlers slept and everyone else was off in the distance having fun climbing trees.
This is a game where you make a trail leaving signs using sticks and stones and the like. This is a good activity if there are enough of you to make two teams or your children are old enough to follow your trail on their own. In fact, I think a country park, forest or field is the ideal place for this activity as a trail around the garden (unless you are fortunate enough to have a large garden) is not going to be very difficult to follow.
There are plenty of other activities that I like the look of and a few that I have already tried such as a pavement gallery – chalk pictures on the pavement or a patio. In particular I shall be trying out the giant bubbles activity, holding a snail race, making a pooter and a human sun dial. In fact, I almost don’t need children to do any of these things, because I am pretty sure they will keep me entertained for hours, let alone them. Next year, when I plant my garden I will be getting the children to help me with a few of the gardening projects and I can see this book becoming extremely well thumbed.
The book contains ideas for any time of year, ideal for our unpredictable weather and you don’t need to have a garden as many of these activities can be done just as well if not better in your local park. At £14.99 it’s considerably cheaper than a trip to the local theme park and will keep on giving long after you buy it.
Finally, a note on the age range – if you have young children, as I do (20 months) then they won’t be able to do many of the activities themselves (although I can think of several off the top of my head that they could such as the pavement gallery and water painting), but they will derive a lot of enjoyment out of watching you and older siblings doing them and helping you to do them so really I would say this book is for toddlers and up.