10 ways to entertain kids on walks

We’re doing our best to get Jess used to walking. When she was little she joined us in a carrier, first on the front then on the back. And now she’s getting really good at walking longer distances, but at the end of the day she’s only three, and so whilst we might be entertained by the scenery alone, she needs a little more to keep her going. Here are 10 things that we do on our walks to keep her entertained.

1. Pack a picnic

Jess LOVES eating outdoors, so stopping for a ‘snic-snic’ is a key part of our walk. She helps us choose where to eat and before she goes she helps make up the bag. Even on short walks we stop for a snack… she loves finding places with a pretty view for us. Make sure to pop a waterproof rug in your bag in case there’s no benches.

2. Spotting and word games

The easiest game is good-old I-Spy. Jess isn’t great at letters yet, so we do colours with her. I’ve seen loads of games and spotting sheets for when she gets a little older, such as spotting different tree types, birds, insects. In a field of sheep, how many can you see? How many trees on a path? Get creative.

If they’re a little older word games could work well, you could play ‘Who am I?’, related word games, games beginning with a letter of the alphabet (can you find something that you can see on your walk for each letter of the alphabet), or memory games (I went on a walk to XXX and I took with me…….). The possibilities are endless!

3. Games-on-the-Go

When Jess inevitably starts saying that she’s tired, we keep her going with races to fixed points ahead. These don’t just have to be running races, they can be skipping, jumping and hopping.

Follow the Leader is super easy, just create actions for little legs to copy (singing I’m following the leader if you feel like it).

Playing hide and seek is another winner, with her running ahead to hide behind a big tree or rock.

4. Finding nature’s treasures

Sometimes when I’m super-organised I make a little scavenger hunt sheet up in advance with little pictures of what Jess has to find or see. It works well on walks that you’ve been on before so you know what might be likely. If you’re feeling time-rich you could even create bingo cards for all the family that you can re-use.

But if not (the norm), I pass her a little bag and she has to collect treasures. She’s only allowed ten, so has to decide which ones she wants to keep. Woodland walks are great for this, often she’ll just collect pine cones and choose which ones she likes, the last one she found a baby pine cone, a Mummy one, a grandad one… you get the picture!

You could also set a challenge of collecting different types of things, perhaps different colours, or make it more educational and collect different types of seeds. Collecting sticks is also a favourite game, which she can then use as drumsticks on various things that we pass!

5. Singing

Jess is at the age where she loves to sing, particularly nursery rhymes, which works for me as that’s about the limit of my singing ability. From my days working in summer camps I feel I’ve got a good selection of songs for when she’s older too (no doubt the type you might sing at Guide/Scout camps), but there’s also the option to play favourite songs from your phone. Anyone who’s been to a kids disco in Europe over the past few years might remember the classic ‘chu chu wa’ which also keeps her going!

6. Jumps and balancing

A one for the little ones really! Balancing on logs and roots and doing jumps off rocks and stones is always fun. She loves jumping over anything; small puddles, twigs, lines on paved paths!

7. What’s that shape?

Shapes and pictures can be seen everywhere you look! Look at the clouds, puddles, bark on the trees, patches of mud, piles of leaves!

8. Stone throwing

Stones, acorns, pine cones or conkers, we see who can throw them the furthest (obviously in a safe space!!). Sometimes we go a bit crazy (ahem) and do kicking instead! If you’re headed on a path with a stream or river you could play Pooh sticks, or find things that you think could float (which lasts the longest?).

9. Storytelling

Adventures are EVERYWHERE when you go on a walk, and you can let your imagination run wild. In the woods can we see the three bears? What about the fairies? If we can’t why not? What are they doing, where must they be? Near a river we hunt for crocodiles, over a bridge Jess checks that there are no trolls underneath. Some family walks have trails and activities as you walk, so we make the most of them and add stuff as we go along.

10. Tree hugging

Jess randomly started doing this herself one day at Golden Acre Park, we try to find trees that she can reach round herself, and then bigger ones we try it if we hold hands.

Other ideas

So there are our top 10 things, but there are loads of other things you could try, how about taking paper and crayons for interesting rubbings? Or if they’re a little older stopping to draw a picture of something interesting they can see?

Weather can also help with entertainment, rain provides puddle jumping, sun provides shadow tag, and if you’re lucky, snow creates snowballs!!

What else do you do on walks to keep little ones entertained?

Beach holidays with a baby and pre-schooler

How we make holidays to Sunny Spain work!

A bit of an unusual (and rather long) blog post for me, but after walking, I suppose my next favourite hobby is holidays! I just love being in the sun, eating all that fabulous food, relaxing by the pool, and at three, Jess is currently on her 10th beach holiday (all mainland Spain or the canaries). ‘Holiday chat’ is the sort of thing that comes up when talking to other mums, so I thought I’d share some of our top tips for enjoying holidays! Obviously every child is different, and so is every family, so what works for us won’t necessarily work for you, but here it is anyway in the hope it’s of some use to someone .

Accommodation

We’ve stayed in a variety of places abroad with our little ones, from hotels and apartments, to villas. I think in reality this will come down to where you can afford, but I’d try to get as much space as you can. One room in a hotel is definitely do-able, but you’ll find yourself overflowing with ‘stuff’, and after bedtime it restricts where you can sit and enjoy a drink in peace (hope for a good balcony). We’d rather pay for a bigger room in more basic accommodation rather than be cramped somewhere swish. Again, that might be preference. On this most recent holiday we got a two bedroom apartment, so Jess had her own room, we could put James in the travel cot in our room and enjoy using the kitchen and dining room, and living area to make drinks! If you’ve got a really little one try to stay somewhere with kitchen facilities so you’ve got a proper fridge and sink.

Another recommendation if you’ve got a walker is staying somewhere with a splash park. Chances are you’ll be enjoying your holidays outside of school holiday time whilst you can, so we’ve always found these places relatively quiet when we go. The splash park of where we’ve regularly visited is really shallow and separate to the pools, so you can watch your children play in the fountains from the safety of your sunbed. In other places it’s deeper, it still keeps them entertained more than a pool would but you need to stay next to them.

Baby and child equipment

Firstly, don’t stress about this. I suspect you’re not planning on visiting a third world country. So most places will have most of what you need. Travel cots will be available from pretty much everywhere that you would want to stay. Hotels will have high chairs in their restaurants (as will restaurants when you eat out), and the villas we’ve stayed in have often had highchairs, toys and even stair gates. So whatever you think you might need, make sure that you ask before you go. Our apartments even have a stash of pushchairs that people have left behind.

If you don’t mind spending the money, we also regularly rent equipment. The places we’ve stayed in Spain have always had pretty hairy stairs so we’ve rented stair gates for our stay. When Jess was first out of a travel cot we rented a bed guard. This time round we hired a bouncer for James so we had somewhere to put him down in the apartment, as well as hiring a double buggy (we didn’t think we could fit cases, us and a buggy in the hire car!). Just google baby equipment hire and the name of your resort. We’ve found these companies are often run by expats and it’s quite an informal system, but we’ve never had any problems.

Nappies. Available in all supermarkets, but we’ve found are pretty pricey abroad so have tended to take a big pack with us, then we can just top up if needed when we’re out there.

When Jess was a baby we never took her baby bjorn away with us, and just used a pushchair. But this time we took it and it was SUCH a help. Firstly, we’ve always taken the pushchair around the airport and left it until the last minute to hand over. But actually it’s a lot easier without it. AND it means you have the carrier if you have any wait in customs before you get your pushchair back. Babies get heavy really quickly. It’s also come in handy on market day when you need to push your way through crowds!

Food and Drink

If you’re breastfeeding, brilliant! Super easy for you! Just be mindful that maxi dresses (my go to wardrobe on holiday) are not breastfeeding friendly so you might need alternatives. I’ve fed without any cover all over and no ones ever said anything.

If you’re still on formula the easiest thing to do (although not the most environmentally friendly) is to use the ready made bottles. These are not widely available in the rest of Europe, but you can order them in advance from Boots or Superdrug in the departure lounge before you go. Just make sure you’ve thought about how you’ll carry them on along with children and hand luggage. But we’ve ordered 30 bottles a time and a tub of formula for longer holidays!

If you’re happy on powder make sure you know how much you’ll need. You’ll probably need to buy bottled water to make up the formula which have a low sodium and sulphate content, but otherwise it’s the same as doing it in the UK. Whilst you can buy powdered formula abroad, the brands are different,so it depends how fussy your child is. That said, some brands are just operating under different names so might be worth doing a little research. Sterilising tablets are probably the easiest thing to use to sterilise bottles abroad, but be aware in some hotel rooms the sinks are quite shallow so you might find yourself out buying a mop bucket at 6am on the first morning (yes, that is the voice of experience there).

If your child is older than a year and on cow’s milk, this is readily available from supermarkets, either fresh or long life. If you’re in a hotel we’ve got it when down at breakfast, and in the evenings just asked a bar to fill her sippy cup.

Top tip; In Spain we’ve found most children’s menus offer pop or pure fruit juice to drink. Fruit shoots aren’t really a thing, so unless you’re happy giving your pre-schooler coke with every meal you’ll be ordering lots of still water. We fill up a small bottle with squash from the supermarket and just top it up (she’s not a massive fan of too much water).

Eating out? Expect to have a lot of children’s meals consisting of pizza, pasta and chips. I’d just say chill, it’s their holiday too. A quick trip to the supermarket can stock you up on fruit to make you feel better. We’ve found that pouches of fruits and yogurts are widely available in Spain and the Canaries. And if you’re self-catering you can usually find something healthy to make yourselves!

Right, prepare for what I imagine is a controversial comment. Often we eat our evening meals separately. Early evening we’ll go out with Jess, give her a kids meal and enjoy a drink. Then later we’ll either do a takeaway with her in bed, or choose a nicer restaurant where she just has a drink or snack. Obviously this only works if you’re self-catered. Whilst we’re eating we have tried to get James asleep and give Jess the iPad to keep her entertained (I know this isn’t for everyone- my thoughts on this are covered in this blog post earlier this year). It’s an altogether less painful experience- which is the point of holidays, right?!

Packing

If you’ve gone for a package holiday or scheduled flights you’ll probably have loads of luggage allowance, lucky you. Just don’t get too over excited, you’ll still need to move it, and a pushchair, car seat, hand luggage and children!

In the age of budget airlines this is our strategy. We have one big case. In there goes nappies, toiletries and kids clothes. We have a cabin bag each for our clothes and we pack light.

Hand luggage; one of us carries our personal possessions such as electronics, books and snacks. Another bag is the change bag. Jess’s bag (at three she now also pulls this herself) is for her toys, which means she gets them for the flight. I usually buy her something new for the flight too- a new book, stickers or magazine for example. And I download A LOT of episodes of Peppa and Blippi on the iPad.

If you’re considering a Trunki, make sure you’ve got spare arms to carry it if (when) they get bored of it.

Planning days out

Urgh. I hate the word planning on holidays! At home we don’t really do routines. But on holiday we absolutely do, we find it massively helps us get some much needed adult time!

Firstly, naps. An early afternoon nap is really important to us. Up until last year Jess was used to naps and would nap anywhere, so after she’d had her lunch we would strap her in the pushchair and she’d fall asleep whilst we walked to a nice restaurant and enjoyed a child free meal. Now, she doesn’t really do naps at home, but on holiday we let her stay up later if she goes for a nap. We put her down in the room whilst we sunbathe on the balcony with a glass of wine. I guess you take what you can get!

Bedtimes. When Jess was younger we used to get her pjs on normal time, give her milk in the pushchair and then have an evening out with her asleep next to us. Again, now she’s older this has changed. We go out earlier with her and, if we’re not in a villa etc, are back in time for the kids disco. We put her to bed after this then sit out with a takeaway if we’ve not eaten and a drink. Back to the earlier point about making sure you’ve got the right accommodation.

Contingencies. One of the problems with beach holidays is that if it’s not sunny the resort comes to a standstill. Sure, if it’s still warm you can still play on the beach, but if it’s rainy you can’t just go and get drunk like we did pre-children 😂😂 Make sure you do your research before you go and have a few places to visit in your back pocket if the weather turns. Animal parks and city visits have always worked well for us.

So there you have it. A pretty good description of how we’ve made our holidays work for us. We love them and have our next ones booked already 👍👍 Any other advice and good ideas? Please share them! I’ll add them onto the bottom of this blog (obviously will credit them to you!)

Rachel xxx

Sundown Adventureland, Retford

We had THE BEST day at this amazing theme park for the under 10s! We’d been last year, and had a great day but left feeling the park was a little tired in places and needed some tlc. Since then there’s been some updates and improvements.

Given it was a sunny Sunday in July, it was great the park was busy but queues remained small and fast moving.

The park consists of a number of areas with themed rides and play areas. There are also small towns, with lots to explore and buttons to press! With a couple of indoor soft play areas there is lots to do in all weather 👍👍

At three, Jess was able to go on all but one of the attractions, and I was able to take James (7 weeks) on most things too.

The rides were definitely the highlight for Jess, her favourite was the water ride which was a pirate themed raft ride which squirted you as you went past! She liked driving the tractors on that ride; great that with four seats our whole little family could get on. Tip: the tractor ride has been the one with the longest queue on both visits so get there early.

My personal favourites were the flying pigs and ostrich ride!

The play areas are fab; we loved the fort with all the slides and Captain Sandy’s Play Cove which is based on a huge sandpit.

There are picnic areas all over, but there are plenty of food places too (if a little pricey). There’s a great ice cream shop!

If you have small children I honestly can’t recommend this place enough! We spent the full day here and still didn’t cover everything. I think the ticket prices are great value compared to other days out, particularly if you pay in advance!

o

Cannon Hall Farm, Barnsley

Making the most of the hubby’s paternity leave, on Monday we celebrated James’ one week birthday with a trip to the always-fun Cannon Hall Farm. Whilst he slept most of the afternoon, Jess had a great time and did not want to leave! We were so busy enjoying ourselves I forgot to take many pictures, so instead of a blow by blow account of what we got up to, here are the reasons we love to visit…

The Play Areas

Always happy with a slide, there’s a great adventure playground with lots of slides and tunnels. She loved the tube maze (pictured above)- especially when she saw what had happened to her hair! she spent at least half an hour on here exploring. We also tried the indoor soft play for the first time- what a fantastic space! There were some great slides, and for the younger ones a designated space.

Farm Life

It’s a farm! So seeing the animals is a clear perk. We were lucky enough to see newborn piglets en masse. And I felt suitably silenced complaining about the pain of breastfeeding when I saw 11 piglets climbing and squealing over each other to get to their tired mother. Never have I been so glad not to be a pig 🤣🤣

As well as standard farm animals (pigs, goats, sheep, cows), there’s a really great reptile house. There’s also lots of opportunities to pet animals throughout the day. Jess was resistant to the iguana, but much happier to see the rabbits!

Tractor Trailer rides are good fun- just be warned that through the week they’re less frequent.

Quirky Activities

Sheep racing and ferret racing are highlights of any visit here. The gambler in me always loves a good race, and combining this with some good ‘ole family fun is a winning combination!!!

And finally….

The food!! It’s got a great farm shop and cafes- including a dog friendly one. Get a stamp to enter/ exit the farm as much as you need.

So in all a great family day out. Top tip; if you’re local after 3.30pm the entry price drops to just £3 and whilst you might have missed most of the organised activities, there’s still plenty of time for play and animals!

Website: http://cannonhallfarm.co.uk/about-the-farm/

Travelling ‘oop’ North? Three child-friendly alternatives to A1 services between Yorkshire and the Borders.

It’s always nice to break up longer journeys for kids. But services are usually lacking their need for fun and fresh air! Here are three suggestions of places we like to stop off the A1 to make travelling a bit more interesting.

1. Switch Scotch Corner for Cross Lanes Organic Farm.

Ok, so this is a bit of a detour… but don’t let the fact it’s 12 miles off the A1 put you off. Really it’s only 15 minutes from Scotch Corner services where you can fill up with petrol, and SURELY it’s worth it?

Website: http://www.crosslanesorganics.co.uk

What’s it got? A fantastic farm shop, which to be fair is worth the visit itself! It’s organic restaurant has a great menu, and with outdoor seating much more preferable than a motorway meal. There’s a decent play area, and being a farm there will be animals around to spot.

2. Passing Newcastle? A few minutes from the Cramlington services joining the A1 and A19 is the rather unusual but spectacular Northumberlandia

If you’re going past this way there’s really no reason not to stop at the world’s largest human landform sculpture (which is also a lovely country park).

Website: https://www.northumberlandia.com/

What’s it got? A visitor centre with cafe (closed Mondays) means toilets! Car parking is free, and there are even spaces for electric car charging. Walk through the smaller woodland area (spot animal homes in the trees and you could follow the woodland trail) to reach the sculpture itself. Decent paths and lots of climbing to wear out little legs. PLUS picnic benches if you’d rather sit out. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on leads.

3. Sunnyhills Farm shop in Belford is just 500m from the A1.

It might be a smaller farm shop than Cross Lanes, but its proximity to your route makes it an easy choice for a stop.

Website: https://sunnyhillsfarmshop.co.uk/

What’s it got? A play area, cafe with kids menu and delicious deli (amazing cake).

Hopefully these suggestions will help you on your travels! If you find them useful let me know and I can do some more on other well-travelled routes.

I’ve finally realised I’m pregnant

This probably sounds a ridiculous thing to say. I’m 23 weeks with a massive bump. Three weeks of my earlier pregnancy were spent pretty much living in bathrooms making close acquaintances with various toilets. But today it hit me.

Two reasons for this;

1. A throw away comment from a friend we haven’t seen in a while. “Are you all set for the baby then?” Errr no. By 23 weeks with our first one we’d probably trawled every baby event going- and had stocked up on supplies to last us the first six months. This time we have done nothing. Partly because there’s a lot of hand me downs, and partly because of lack of time with a toddler…. but mainly because it hasn’t sunk in that in less than 4 months I’ll have another child.

2. We walked along the canal (so pretty flat) to the pub for lunch and back again. Less than 5 miles there and back, but ever since I’ve been recovering on the sofa with a hot water bottle on my lower back. I am in AGONY. What’s this about?! I’m a walker!!

I’ve not been setting out on long walks over the last couple of weeks, but actually the smaller walks are perhaps a bit too much too. I hate to admit this. I hate it even more because next weekend we’ve booked a cottage in the Dales to do some walks that I’m not sure we’ll be able to do now. We had worried that my husband might find it too hard to go too far with a nearly-three year old on his back… but actually it’s me that’s going to restrict the distances. But the way I feel tonight it’s not worth it. And I think I’ve got to do a better job at looking after me. So until this baby makes an appearance I’m saying bye to the long walks and hills (sob). But I can’t wait to get back to it- and will enjoy those summer walks even more!!

Xx

Is it my party yet?

At work I’m a planner. I’m a doer. I look ahead at deadlines and make sure everything is in place to get things out. So why, for the second year in a row, am I so crap at organising my daughter’s birthday party?

I think the problem stems from it being early Feb. That makes it an after Christmas job. You’d think, with all the self-claimed ‘slummy mummies’ around, that others would share my thought process- and I’d be able to sweep in early New Year and take my pick of all those places who are clambering for my business. Well you’d be wrong. I was wrong. Last year I was wrong and this year I was wrong.

Last year was our first stab at toddler party organising. First off, after realising we should get our act together, we sent messages to our family and friends with kids to save the date. Family were keen, friends with kids already mostly booked up. Second job, decide on what kind of party. Hire a church hall, hire soft play. Job done. Soft play booked online in two minutes, feeling very proud, I set delivery to our little church hall, just needed to ring during church office hours, I’d do that at work in the morning. Ha. That was a hard lesson to learn- four days later and after speaking to half of Leeds only then did we actually find a local hall that didn’t advertise on the internet (and we could only talk to between 5pm and 6pm in an evening so no wonder they were free). And so 7 children (including Jess) and 107 adults piled in to enjoy two hours of screaming. We weren’t rehearsed in children’s parties- didn’t understand the time splits needed for play/food/games, but overall Jess seemed to have fun and was totally knackered so success all round.

This year I was determined to do better. Failed at the first hurdle (leaving it until after Christmas) but eventually found a soft play who organises everything and we were booked in by early Jan. This year Jess has nursery friends. Well I guess playmates? Luckily the nursery were happy to provide a list of 15 names to us to invite. Got the invitations out the next day…. and that night waited anxiously for RSVPs to my phone. Nothing. Nor the next night. I was TOTALLY panicking because Jess was asking me every two seconds who was coming and now all I could tell her was Mummy and Daddy. She wasn’t impressed. Finally a response came.. then another and another. We’re now up to 10 nursery friends… it’s a bit awkward isn’t it? The random text you get- ‘Hi, Ben would love to come to the party, thanks for the invite’. First of all who are you? Mum? Dad? A name would be good for when I meet you! Secondly who’s Ben? Every reply I get I’m now scrolling through observations to see if any children are tagged so I can happily greet Ben when you arrive. Thirdly, lets be honest, I doubt you’ve consulted him unless you’ve already decided that you’re coming. Let’s not lie and say anything about Ben’s feelings. If you’re anything like me a soft play party is an option when there is literally nothing else to do. I’m not sure how many parents really look forward to these things. But anyway I’m delighted that we’ve got actual guests- our daughter is a social butterfly wooohooo!

The final error has been telling Jess about said party. A month’s notice is simply too long. She asks everyone we see if they’re coming to her party (including nursery children who didn’t make the 15 cut). She asks every morning if it’s her birthday party. Everything we plan is in terms of whether it’s before or after her party. Handy tip; don’t tell them until absolutely necessary.

Next year I’ll know this. I’ll know to start looking for venues in November and get invites out nice and early. I’ll know how to structure the timeline of party events. I’ll know to pay better attention of who other children are at drop off and pick up so I know who’ll be coming. I’ll know not to expect replies from parents immediately. And I’ll know that I shouldn’t tell my daughter until I know exactly who is coming, and not to tell her until the week before.

Xx

The Great I-pad Debate

My husband and I are huge fans of eating out. Part laziness on a weekend, but partly it’s something we’ve always done as a couple, and it’s always something to look forward to. Having a child is not something that I think you should stop your real pleasures for.

Recently I was discussing this with a fellow parent at work…. I can’t quite remember how we got on to the subject, but he was telling me how he never eats out any more. The reason being that their toddler won’t sit still, and so the experience was thoroughly unenjoyable. Trying to be helpful (cos that’s the kind of gal I am), I told him about the joys of the I-pad; that it was our trusted friend and whenever we went out to a restaurant with our daughter, we’d be straight on the WiFi and putting Blippi on YouTube. The suggestion went down like a lead balloon…

The accusation was direct; “So you’d rather be stuffing your face than spending quality time with your kid? I think we have rather different approaches to parenting”.

Well, clearly we do. Let me tell you why I think our approach works.

Every weekend we think of something fun to do as a family, and it inevitably includes something outside, and an obligatory trip to the park. We love walking, so try to find trips out that include something child-friendly and something where we can stretch our legs. We love our family days out, and so does Jess. She loves everything about the weekend. But as I started, we also love eating out- and unfortunately this isn’t always compatible with the behaviours of a toddler. Luckily for us she loves using the I-pad, and since she isn’t allowed it in the house, regards time with it a real treat. We often finish walks to a trip to a country pub. She’ll sit happily munching on whatever we order her, swiping between shoes. So really it’s win win all round; we get an hour or two relaxing, and she gets to watch videos with a grown man running around soft play. It works.

Don’t judge our parenting on a couple of hours over a full weekend. Because of our treats we don’t feel like we’re missing out on our pre-child pleasure, and no doubt are happier, more positive people because of it!