Are you tired of seeing your kids glued to the sofa playing video games when it's a beautiful day? Well, it's time to get them up and outside for some real-life fun!
Even if your budget's tight, you can find ample adventures at a park. Whether your local park is a small neighborhood green space or an expansive national park, take advantage of your nearest recreational area and plan an outing for the whole family, no matter how young or old. Use these suggestions to get your crew off the couch and out into the sun for some healthy, free (or cheap) warm weather fun.
Classic Playground Activities
If you're packing little ones, hit your neighborhood or community parks for fun and exercise that goes beyond the swing-set. Your kids will have a blast scrambling up rope nets and navigating obstacles in fortresslike play ports. See-saws, giant slides, monkey bars, pint-sized zip-lines and mini rock-climbing walls are just some of the wonders you'll find at park playgrounds. And, of course, there will be swings! So pack some sunscreen, snacks and juice boxes and head to the park for some full-body fun. Your kids will be building strength, agility and confidence, and laughing all the way.
Have a Picnic
Can you ever be too young or too old for a picnic? Grab a basket and blanket for a lazy, languid feast on a grassy park lawn. Or load some hearty fare into a backpack and hike to the perfect spot near a waterfall or to a peak with an endless view. If you're heading to a park with a lake or pond, take along some extra bread to feed the ducks.
Many community parks have tennis courts and fields for soccer and baseball. They offer leagues for organized sports, but you don't have to be on a team to enjoy playing around with a ball. An open field is a great place to practice kicking around the soccer ball or have a game of catch. Show up with a ball and you just might find enough willing players for a pick-up game.
Learn About Nature
Are you interested in some close encounters of the natural kind? State and national parks teem with wildlife, both the stationary and the ambulatory kinds. You can expose your children to the wonder of nature and learn about native plant and animal species that inhabit various environments. Take along your camera to capture the weird and wonderful things you find. Later, you can make a scrapbook detailing your discoveries.
Take a Hike
Local, state and national parks offer many different opportunities for hiking. Some are short, easy treks to breathtaking scenery; others are major climbs that test your endurance. Preparing for a big hike can be a fun and healthy family activity, too. Some parks even have trails for those with physical limitations or special needs. Check the Web site of the park you have in mind to learn about don't-miss scenery, special features, the length and challenge rating of trails, and whether or not pets are welcome.
Parks cater to families and often host fairs, carnivals and special events to get your attention. The activities depend a lot on the type of park. Look for carnivals with games, races and inflatable play objects at community parks. Turn to state and national parks for events that introduce you and your kids to outdoor and high-adventure sports like orienteering, archery, fishing and canoeing. Holidays are big events for parks, too. They offer activities like Easter egg hunts, winter wonderlands, parades and firework displays.
Set up a Challenge
Parks offer big, wide-open spaces perfect for staging a race, obstacle course or other family challenge. Break up into teams for a relay race. Designate age groups for foot or bicycle races. Bring a few simple props and set up your own family field day. Here are some examples:
- Hula-hoops or jump ropes for an endurance challenge
- Eggs and spoons for a balance-testing relay challenge
- Soccer ball for a dribbling challenge
- Plastic cups and water for a balancing-on-the-head race challenge
- Rope for tug-of-war and three-legged race
For high-adventure challenges, look for parks that offer canopy tours, rock climbing or zip-lines.
A scavenger hunt is a great way to explore numerous areas of a park in a relatively short time. Make a list of things you would find at your particular park, and divide your group into teams. Give each team a list and a bag to collect items. Include supplies like a camera if challengers need to prove they climbed to the top if a hill, or paper and a pencil to take a rubbing if they have to find a particular statue. Finally, determine a place to meet after gathering all the items on the list. The first team back with everything on the list wins. Prizes can be a free pass on cleaning rooms or the winner's pick for dessert. Conversely, the losing team might have to do something for the winners, like cook dinner.
Host a Family Reunion
With budgets tight these days, a park is a wonderful venue for a family reunion. You may be able to reserve or rent a covered pavilion, although some parks have a first come, first served policy. After the grub and socializing, there's plenty of space for kids to run around and lots of play options to ward off boredom while the old folks sit around and reminisce.
Does your family need more than one day together? Many state and national parks have lodges and camping accommodations, so you can extend your family reunion beyond a single afternoon.
Play with the Dog
Parks are one of the few places where your canine family member can enjoy an outing, too. Some parks are pet friendly, and some have gone straight to the dogs. Dog parks are enclosed parks with features designed especially for your pet. They usually include grassy stretches for ball and Frisbee play, and there may be agility course elements, like ramps, jumps and tunnels. There are also low, dog-friendly water fountains and shady areas for cooling off after some serious play. Some dog parks even have splash pools, lounging benches, and separate areas for large and small dogs.
HowStuffWorks visits White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and learns about its history, geology and adventurous spirit.
- "Group Gatherings." Georgia Department of Natural Resources. State Parks and Historic Sites. ND. (04/16/2011). http://www.gastateparks.org/gatherings
- Professional Disc Golf Association. (Accessed 04/16/2011). http://www.pdga.com/
- "The History of Picnics." Picnic World. ND. (04/16/2011). http://www.picnicworld.net/picnic-information-19.html