How to get kids enjoying the great outdoors during Easter
As the holidays loom, why not immerse the little ones in green surroundings? By Ella Walker
It's definitely easier to hand over the iPad than drag your kids kicking, screaming and suitably sullen, outside. But the great outdoors really is pretty wonderful wellbeing-wise - for you and the kids.
"Kids have a lot of energy, and they need to burn it up," says Dawn Isaac, author of 101 Things For Kids To Do Outside (Kyle Books, £14.99). "Going outside, they're going to sleep better. If they sleep better, they're going to concentrate better. There's almost no end to the benefits."
After all, "no one remembers the best day they had on Facebook. You do actually remember a really cool day outside".
"The first hurdle is trying to get rid of the competition," Isaac notes. So, once you've banished screen-time this Easter, enjoy some of this...
Whatever you do, don't go for a walk
"My kids were always allergic to walks," says Isaac. "A walk is the worst idea in the world, but there are lots of things you can do to trick them into one."
Do a scavenger hunt round the local park, go foraging (you genuinely can go blackberry-picking almost anywhere), visit a farm and make 'nature bracelets' out of double-sided sticky tape stapled to a loop of card, to stick on stuff the kids unearth along the way.
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Or do what Isaac calls a 'penny hike', where every junction you come to, you flip a coin to decide what road to take next. "It has to be more than, 'Just go outside'," she explains. "They're used to being sold stuff really well these days, so as a parent, you've got to get very good at selling nature."
Embrace the dark
Don't just think about the fun to be had during daylight hours. "Kids love going out after dark because it feels quite naughty," says Isaac. "Anything that feels a little bit not allowed is so much more appealing."
Camp out in the garden, go stargazing, look at the moon (telescope optional), play torch tag, or set up a moonlight garden, "with lots of white stones setting pathways" that will show up in the light of the moon.
Or sign up to a bat walk at your local park. They'll give you a bat detector, which picks up the kissing sound the winged creatures' sonar makes.
Be prepared - and let them get messy
"You have to make sure you have clothes for every eventuality," warns Isaac. "And loads and loads of food. As long as you've got both those things, they'll keep going."
So, whether you're splashing in puddles, building dams out of mud, doing a soft toy bear hunt in the garden, or playing 'lose a limb' tag in the park with a tennis ball, she recommends carrying a flask of hot chocolate and stashing marshmallows in your pocket.
Eating outdoors in general is an easy win - even winter picnics work if you put enough layers on. "It's always more exciting having a sandwich outside," she notes.
"Any chance to do something outside that you're not used to doing, that you're used to be being restrained inside with, just becomes more interesting."
Throw a campfire into the mix, melt some of those marshmallows, and you'll likely have to haul the kids back indoors come bedtime.
Put them in charge of growing stuff
Runner beans are a good place to start - anything your kids can pick, eat and be proud of - and give them ownership of a patch of earth. Help them choose a spot in the garden, or give them a pot of their own, and let them decide what to grow. Strawberries taste even better if you've raised them yourself.
Have them watering your plants too - indoors and out - and if you've got a compost heap, get them involved shredding egg boxes and toilet rolls (what kid doesn't like tearing stuff up?). Eco, helpful, and messy - they'll love it.
Find some creepy-crawlies
"Nature has a way of finding its home everywhere," says Isaac - so don't write off bug-spotting just because you live in a town or city.
Start with (carefully!) lifting paving slabs in the garden to see what worms and woodlice are living beneath, or build a bee hotel out of a bundle of bamboo sticks (cut them so they're about the length of a pencil, then string together and hang against a sunny wall). Get the kids to leave out food for the birds, or even decorate a bird box to put up in the garden, whether on a tree or a fence.
Really can't separate them from a phone?
If all else fails, you can always take the screens with you, but make sure everyone's clear on the fact they're only to be used for nature-related activities.
Run your own photography wildlife competition (best pic gets first choice of the chocolate in your rucksack), download an identification app and use it to spot birds and trees, or sign up to a national bug or bird count and use the app to submit what you've spotted.