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Guest Post by my husband, Brian
Fun family adventures create wonderful memories that last a lifetime. Being a dad who works full time, I want to capitalize on the opportunities I have to spend with them and help them get their energy out. Our kids are adventure seekers and are always interested in learning the next great activity. Thankfully they have very active imaginations!
Table of Contents
My wife is a stay-at-home mom. This started back when we had one child and she left her career as a school psychologist. Both of our careers had some beneficial changes at the right times and it worked out for us to bless her with the opportunity to be home with our son while he’s growing and developing! You can always have a career, but you can only catch these “first moments” once in your life. This blessing of her being home was compounded when we found out we were having twins! (as you may know, the cost of daycare for 3 at once is CRAZY EXPENSIVE!) Our twin boys are 3-years-old and our oldest is 5-years-old.
Our oldest does remote kindergarten – which really means the school gives us a curriculum for us (my wife) to teach him… I wasn’t expecting a remote schooling option to be so hands-on for the parents. I fully understand the parents play a huge rule in educating children, but this is pretty hands-off from the school standpoint in my mind. But I get the remote aspect brings challenges to education.
The twins are being taught preschool by my wife as well. They “sit-in” on Kindergarten as well, so it’s pretty cool to see how much they know already at this young age!
As for me, I’m blessed with a great work-from-home situation. Prior to this, I was working in the office doing a 1 1/2 hour daily commute. It was killing me on so many levels… I LOVE to be productive. So wasting 7.5 hours a week by just sitting in a car staring at someone else’s license plate hoping that “hotrod” behind me uses his brake pedal in the stand-still traffic was PAINFUL to me! But worse yet, it was SO frustrating to know that equivalent of a work-day was devoted to sitting in a car as opposed to seeing my family – reading books, playing games, hugs, kisses, teaching my boys, etc. Me working from home allows me to be so much more a part of their lives! It’s a true blessing!
Setting Aside Time for the Adults
Young kids demand a lot of parental attention – and that can wear on a person. My wife and I have set aside nights that are “our nights” so we can just be ourselves from time to time and take a break from being a parent. This has been extremely beneficial to us.
Additionally, I have offered (and she accepted) to give my wife more time to herself. Being a stay at home mom introduces challenges on many levels (I won’t go too deep into this here) – one that impacts her a lot is that her entire day is focused on kids only. There’s no adult interaction (aside from me), no identity of your career to have/talk about, etc. And this can wear on a person. So what I offered to her is to take “Sunday Off”. This gives her a chance to talk to friends without distractions, explore her hobbies, interests, and simply “recharge” for the week ahead. For us – this has really worked out well. (it also gives me a chance to have more time with the boys!)
I know this can be a “hot-topic” as there are a plethora of mixed feelings/opinions on the current COVID pandemic. I’m not here to debate ANY OF THAT. But I feel it’s valuable for me to state my families personal stance on where we stand for the sake of this post to help readers understand our families choices.
My wife and I are fully vaccinated. However, the twins are too young at this time to get the vaccine. Even if we got our oldest vaccinated, based on my research we all could transmit the virus to our un-vaccinated twins. For that reason, we maintain what I call a “hermit life”. We stay very isolated from an in-person standpoint. We continue to wear masks, social distance, etc.
This is challenging on our entire family, but it is a personal decision we have made and continue to evaluate weekly as the pandemic rolls on. At the very least – I can say we did our part to prevent spreading the illness to others, which I feel is part of my civic responsibility to society.
Re-Thinking How to stay Active in a Pandemic
When the pandemic first hit, it felt crippling. Everything was shutting down as society learned more about its impact. We were all told to shelter in place.
So here at home, we adjusted a bit – getting more toys for the kids to play with, more activities, etc. But those run their course in time as do all toys. These boys were asking for more (well not directly… they are young kids. But the stir-craziness made it clear)
As some of these restrictions lifted, however, we still – as mentioned above – chose to keep our distance. So to this day we still aren’t going to shopping malls, special events, family gatherings that are indoors, etc. We strongly considered the county fair but even that was something we opted out of.
This forced me to re-think a bit about what to do. I’ll admit, at first I just kind of “threw up my hands and sat at home”. I guess this means we can’t do anything, right? Well, my active personality didn’t sit well with this and that changed quickly.
Daddy Sunday (son-day) Adventure
Like I mentioned above, my wife “takes Sunday off”. This resulted in me inventing Daddy Sunday (son-day) Adventures. (kids attach to things with fun labels) The boys and I really look forward to this every week. I put the phone and computer aside and come up with a plan for the day for something different. Weather-permitting, this is away from the home – yes even in a pandemic!
I encourage any parent to plan a special day like this every week. It’s amazing how excited the kids get for it, talking about it during the week, offering ideas of what to do, etc. It’s something they have really come to cherish. It’s also a great way to connect with your kids, present them with new challenges, situations, etc. It lets them learn about themselves and you to learn what they like/don’t like, etc.
Typically I keep the plan a “surprise” until that day. This is partly because most of the time if I ask my three boys what they want to do, it leads to frustration because not everyone agrees. But since this is “dads plan” they can’t really argue – I picked it for them!
Activities to Keep the Family Active
I’m leading off with geocaching for many reasons.
- It’s FREE!
- It’s everywhere!
- Kids get excited about it
- It has an “adventure” feel to it
So… what is it? ha! Good question. It’s a “game” in which people have hidden geocaches around the globe in hard-to-find locations. You use GPS coordinates, a GPS tool (ie. your iPhone/Android), and clues to find the cache. The caches typically consist of a log book to sign and see others that have found it, and toys/knick-knacks. It’s really nothing that amazing, and you don’t get to keep the treasure – leave it there so others can find it. But this is all about the adventure of finding something hidden!
To make it a bit more fun, I’ve told the kids these are treasures and thus we use the term treasure in our house more than geocache.
To find what caches are near you (or where you are going to be) go to the Geocaching site, create a free account, and start your adventure!
Where I live, we got cold winters full of snow. And thus geocaching can be difficult – especially with young kids. So often our Daddy Sunday Adventures are at home. So I’ve taken an empty jar and turned it into a Daddy Treasure jar that I’ll put small toys/items from around the house into and hide it. I’ll give them a clue and they can go find it.
This is a “substitute” for not being able to do geocaching for our family. But boy do these kids get excited about it! (might not hurt that I put gummy bears in it as well from time to time…) But here again, it’s about the sense of adventure and finding the treasure that they love. The 5 minutes I spend hiding this each week results in them talking about it all week sometimes.
It’s amazing how many playgrounds most cities have. (When you realize what they cost is where the amazement really comes from!) Almost every city publishes a website listing them all too. I made it a mission this summer to visit them all! So each Sunday I pick out a new playground for us to go to. The kids play, we take walks around the neighborhood, have a picnic, etc. I’m not exaggerating when I say we typically spend at least 3 hours at a single playground/park every Sunday. And they typically fight me when I tell them we need to leave.
When the kids bore of the playground, there typically are plenty of other things to do there. Think about what you can teach your kids here. And think about “the little things”. For example, what types of trees are around the park and how can you identify them? Do you see any birds nests that you can point out? Are there tennis courts, pickle ball, basketball, etc. that you can teach the kids more about those sports while watching others play?
Even then non-playground equipment can be fun too! Is there a hill to do races up and down? Bring a basketball with to shoot hoops, etc. Run around a baseball field – even using “pretend bats and balls” if you don’t have any equipment with.
Kids have such an amazing level of curiosity and the simple things we take for granted of knowing – they are still learning! There is so much to talk about at a park/playground with young kids!
I don’t personally bring any toys/equipment (ie. balls, rackets) to the parks. As we all know kids have an attention span of about 1 minute. So if you bring these things, you’ll be spending your time ensuring they don’t get lost as opposed to having fun with them. But of course – your kids might really enjoy basketball, etc. and thus it’s worth bringing with. At my kids’ ages – this isn’t needed yet.
Alternative Park Ideas
There are many other park types aside from city parks. There are regional parks, county parks, state parks, etc. There is also the National Historic Landmark program put on by the National Parks service that might be of interest to your family.
Near me, there is a free regional park that is a working farm. I’ve taken the boys there to look at the sheep, pigs, cows. We talked about how the farm operates, what farmers do, what all the equipment does, etc.
Keep looking for new opportunities – Google Maps is good at highlighting park areas to help you start looking for what fun they offer. They are typically marked as green.
Think outside the box when looking for parks – you might have a family friend, sibling, etc. that has a great backyard, play set, etc. that you could utilize.
Why is it that eating food at a picnic table or blanket is so appealing to kids? Maybe because it’s not a high chair and they can wiggle more, I’m not sure. But I know my boys love the idea of a picnic! This is typically part of our weekly playground tour stop. The kids play for a while, then we stop for lunch, and then they play some more! (and I try to find a park with a geocache in as well so we fit that into the day too)
My wife found some cool bento-style lunch boxes like these from Amazon. Each kid has their own “color” and thus gets a corresponding box. I’ll pack peanut butter and Nutella sandwich (often cut into cubes so it’s easier and “more fun” to eat). I try to bring fresh fruit if we have it in the house, maybe some chips or veggie straws, etc. Fruit/veggie pouches work well too.
We have a blanket that zips up with a shoulder strap that is great so it packs away nicely and is easy to carry (even one of the kids can carry) from the van to the park. Else I look for a picnic table at times too, but those are harder for younger kids to use as they are designed for adults.
A zip-top organizing bag helps to pack and carry all the food as well. My wife bought one a long time ago and I was so confused as to what we’d do with it… But here I am admitting publicly that it has really be a useful tool! Our bento boxes and waters all fit in her great and we are off!
Nature walks are great any time of the year. There’s a lot to see on a nature walk as you go through a forest, over a food bridge, past streams, etc. If you are blessed to live in an area where the leaves change colors in the fall, soak up the pretty views or run through a huge pile of leaves and listen to them crunch!
Take your time on the walk, look around, and look for teachable moments. Look for the birds, animals, bugs, budding leaves on the trees, etc. Talk about how worms and some bugs live in the dirt, caterpillars turn into butterflies. Pretend to be a chipmunk foraging for acorns. Some people see trees and leaves and keep driving. But those poor people are missing the entire hidden world of nature – stop to take a look!
Get ON the Water!
Many parks rent kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats. This can be a fun activity for an afternoon. For only a few bucks you can get all the gear you need – no need to buy, store, or haul a vessel to the water. Do a little bit of research for any parks you know on a lake – check their website or call to see if they offer rentals. Be sure to ask if they supply the life jackets or if you need to bring your own.
Now water introduces different safety concerns and risks. So certainly think these through before arriving. Additionally, the motion of the water may not be just right for all young kids. To be fully honest this is not one of my go-to activities. I do want to at some point, but just want the kids to “mature” a bit more before I go this route.
Get IN the Water!
Find a beach and dip your toes into the water. My boys have not done swim lessons yet however, we still love going to the beach. Bring some sand toys and make a sand castle, drive dump trucks in the sand, or dig a moat. Walk along the shoreline and look for what mother nature wants to show you. It could be rocks, shells, snails, aquatic plants – you never know what you’ll see! Talk about the waves and how they bring things to shore. Like any other place in the outdoors – there are a lot of teachable moments here.
I enjoy going out into the water a bit. Since my boys don’t know how to swim just yet, I have them were an age-appropriate flotation device and hold them close as we go out and explore what it’s like to be in the water. Safety first here! (don’t forget to re-apply sunscreen and take water breaks!)
Get ON the Frozen Water
In the Frozen North that I live in, there are several months a year where it’s cold enough the lakes freeze over. So go out and take advantage of this unique opportunity. Take a walk on the water and talk to the kids about how water freezes. Bring some ice fishing gear with you and see if you can pull up “the catch of the day”. Or play some hockey on the ice – skates aren’t needed as boot hockey is also very fun!
Being able to walk on the water opens the possibility to reach places that may be hard to get to in the summer. Now you can walk to the island out in the late, or across the cove. Feel free to let the kids ride in a sled and you pull them across. This type of adventure is something they will talk about for some time to come!
Fishing is a year-round activity that is relaxing and entertaining. It can be challenging with kids though – are they safe, are they going to hold onto the rod, etc. But with proper planning and prepping of the children, this can be done. Fish from the shore, wear swimsuits, etc. You can use a boat of course but that brings in other safety concerns.
Ensure you follow proper local fishing laws in terms of licenses, life jackets, etc. but go have some fun!
The excitement on your kids’ faces the first time they pull a fish out of the water is awesome – try to capture some fun pictures. Make some great moments. And remind your kids, if you don’t catch anything, it’s still a great day out in nature.
As for where to go – ask around with friends and family. Those that fish have their favorite places where they’ve had good luck. Ask the bait shops. The more you catch the more you visit them, so they are a good resource. One other good resource is Fishbrain, a free website, and app for finding fishing locations that others have shared as good spots.
Explore a New Town
There are always many cities and towns within a reasonable driving distance. You may be familiar with them, but your kids likely aren’t. Take a drive and walk through the downtown and see what it has to offer. There are playgrounds your kids likely haven’t explored, neat sculptures and artwork around town, and fun experiences to be had.
Stop and grab a coffee and shaved ice to enjoy an ice cream cone or other local treat. Maybe there is a town event happening that you can be a part of – socially distanced as required of course. Take in a local baseball game, or maybe the church is doing an outdoor mass you could attend. Do a little bit of research on the town and see what it has to offer. Ask friends and coworkers for what they know. Spend a few minutes on the city website, Google Maps, and Facebook looking for events or information. I think the smaller the town, the more character it has. But I’ve found that often the smaller the town, often the harder it is to find things online.
Watch Airplanes Takeoff and Land
The airports around us have spots where you can park to watch airplanes take off and land. I’m not sure if all offer this, but many do. Pack a picnic lunch, park, and watch the planes come and go. Kids enjoy watching these big machines defy gravity as they lift up into the air. And airplanes make a little bit of noise (maybe want some ear protection??) – which if your kids are like my boys, is all the more exciting for some reason.
Check your airport’s website to see if they offer a viewing area. I was impressed by how nice the viewing areas are with picnic shelters, tables, and great views.
Excavators, dump trucks, bulldozers, cement mixers. It doesn’t get any better than this for my boys! This is a common request by my boys – go to construction sites to watch them work. At one point a new addition was being built off the edge of our neighborhood. We walked there at least twice a week all summer and fall to watch the trucks, see what has changed while talking about how a housing development and homes are built.
Depending on the time of the day, the crews may be gone for the day (or weekend) and we’ve ventured around the sites. Getting a good family picture while standing in front of a giant excavator bucket is a pretty cool thing to little boys!
One day a bulldozer driver stopped working, got out of the bulldozer, and stopped by to say hi. He said he has seen us stop to visit the site often and wanted to say hi. I thought that was pretty neat (the kids somehow weren’t as excited as me…).
Drive around the area and keep your eyes out for new construction jobs. Look to the city website for new businesses being built, and often the county and state will post what road construction projects are slated to be done.
Of course, find a safe viewing location and stay out of the way of the crews. This is their land and equipment and their job is to do construction work. You are merely a guest in their workplace, so be respectful.
If you live in a cold climate like me, sledding is an activity that kids always love. Our backyard has enough of a slope that it’s fun and very safe. Growing up as a kid there was a park a block away that had a small but good hill that was great for when I was younger. You should be able to find a sledding hill somewhere nearby for the kids (and you) to enjoy!
Even if you don’t have a hill nearby, just pull the sled around with the kids in it in the yard. It’s a great workout for you and great fun for them!
Most adults dread shoveling. Many kids LOVE shoveling. My kids are excited for it to snow so they can run around and catch snow on their tongues while shoveling. Now, don’t expect to be able to set your shovel down just yet – they often aren’t the greatest helpers. But celebrate the fact that they want to help and let them have fun. I’ve seen more snow either go on top of them or a clean spot on the driveway than on the lawn where I want it to go, but that’s ok. They are loving it!
Climb the Snow Hill
After shoveling a huge snow hill alongside your driveway, it’s a perfect climbing hill! Strap on the snow pants, coat, and gloves and send the kids up to the top of the hill!!! If the tumble down, falling into the snow isn’t so bad – better than falling on the grass!
I put “chores” in quotes because they often see chores as fun and enjoy helping you. But we call them chores. So let them have some fun with you while you are accomplishing the things you need to get done!
I’m always surprised by how excited my boys get about doing yard work. Trimming the hedges, raking, filling a hole with black dirt and grass seed – you name it, they are excited to help! Invest in a pair of yard gloves that fit them, some kid-sized yard tools, and let them be big helpers!
At this age, kids are capable of helping to unload the dishwasher and put dishes into lower cabinets. Talk to them about safe handling, using two hands, and about how we don’t want broken dishes. But they love to help – so let them be a part of it!
When making dinner, you need a lot of pots, pans, food from the fridge and cabinets, and kids want to help. Grab one kid to be your helper for the night and have them bring the items over to the counter. Then they can sit at a safe distance and you can put on a cooking show for them. Or have them help to pour ingredients into the bowl, stir, and help where they safely can.
I’ve found that when all the kids are involved it just turns into chaos. But when one kid is helping, they are just having fun and it’s a great time with that one child.
Ask the kids to help gather laundry for the wash into the basket. They can pull the laundry baskets around and pretend to be garbage trucks or construction vehicles.
They may want to help you fold and sort laundry after it’s washed. I’ve tried that, but it often results in underwear being thrown around the room and all sorts of craziness. So handle this at your own comfort level.
Once the laundry is folded and sorted, have your kids work on putting the laundry away. They can put their own laundry into their dresser. They can help with your laundry as well. My boys pretend they are forklifts, hold out their arms and hands to take a “load” and carry it into the closet, and put it away if they can reach it. For shirts, they hand me a shirt, I put it on the hanger, and they become a crane as they carry it into the closet.
Have fun with it and make it work for you.
Water Softener Salt
Something about putting the softener salt pellets into the bin is incredibly exciting to my boys. This can be an afternoon activity for them some days. They tend to throw them at times though, so try to keep it under control.
Comfort and Safety
While away from the comfort of your home, you need to make sure the kids and yourself are taken care of.
Water & Snacks
Be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks. Just because you ate lunch doesn’t mean that all that playing or walking doesn’t make them hungry! We often walk to “the far park” and stop for a granola bar before playing and then plan on being home in time for lunch. It is a decent walk, so understandable they would need a snack. Toss their waters in a backpack and you’re all set!
Click below to read a blog post my wife wrote about reusable water bottles that we like for us and the kids.
Shade & Sunscreen
Find shade when needed as the hot sun can really wear on a person. Kids are bad at noticing this and knowing when to get out of the sun. You need to monitor this for them and remind them to take breaks from time to time.
Use sunscreen. Apply to your kids per the bottle’s recommendation. They often have a hard time stopping to do this, so make sure they know this is a rule of how they will behave if they want to go on fun adventures with you. Stopping for 5 minutes to get some sunscreen, water, and shade is a great way to keep your kids healthy and safe while out having fun active adventures!
If your kids are potty trained, it’s not always easy to find a bathroom or porta-potty while trying to stay COVID safe. We bought a Playtex Potty Genie and it has been a HUGE help! This works in the van, hidden in the trees, etc., and prevents accidents and uncomfortable moments for the whole family!
Bring hand sanitizer and use it when needed – before lunch, after leaving a playground, before having water – anytime the kids hands likely will be brought up to their mouth or face.
Where will your next adventure take you?
Brian is a website developer for an e-commerce website, a great husband, and a loving father to his three children, including twins. He loves taking them on adventures including geocaching, exploring new parks, and trails to hike. In his free time he enjoys woodworking, blogging, and tinkering in the garage.