We've experienced the perfect storm lately--three high-energy kidlets (ages 6, 4, and almost 2), nice weather, and the knowledge that soon a new baby will change our abilities to spend much of our day in whatever excursion takes our fancy. So, for the last few months, we've been going places almost daily. It has been so much fun! We love the chance to get out.
Like most of our friends, we have not been overly burdened with an excess of material wealth, so I'll let you in on some of our favorite activities.
* Rain dancing. There is nothing more fun than grabbing swimsuits and having the whole family go outside and dance in the backyard during a nice, warm rain. As long as there is no thunder or lightning, go for it! It is even better if you snuggle in soft towels and enjoy hot chocolate together when you come in.
* Sprinklers! If you can't get it for free from Nature, pick a good time to water the garden and turn on the sprinklers. A few old towels on the floor by the door make for quick clean up when you come in.
* Memberships to local attractions. We've been surprised at how often a year-long family pass for places like the zoo, children's museum or aquarium is comparable (or even less!) than the daily admission! Some offer discounts for local residents, or coupons or special deals online. They can be well worth the price!
* Parks, of course. We've found that mixing it up by going to different ones makes it fresh and keeps it exciting. Look up new ones in nearby communities--some might be closer than you expect.
* Picnics. Even if it is just in our backyard, everything tastes better outside!
I've also been asked a few times how we are able to enjoy it so much with three kids that age. Here are a few things that have helped it work for us:
* Timing is everything! You know your family's rhythms better than anyone else--pay attention to them. What time of day is the best for your family? Today, I took the kidlets for our weekly grocery shopping trip and received multiple comments on how happy and well-behaved they all were. We had gone right after breakfast, when everyone was rested and fed. If I had attempted the shopping in late afternoon, chances are that I would have heard a far different kind of comment!
Go with the flow. If you are doing pretty much anything with several little ones, it is easier for everyone if you remain flexible regarding time. Their legs aren't as long, and neither are their attention spans--unless, of course, they find something of particular interest, in which case your attention span may run out long before theirs. That is OK. If you have the choice of spending the same amount of time relaxed and happy or frustrated and angry (and trying to rush usually still takes the same amount of time), then you may as well have fun together, right?
* Think about your goals. Are you trying to win some sort of badge by thoroughly examining every exhibit or attraction, or are you there to have fun? My kids can spend hours at the zoo and not see all the animals. Yet, what would I gain by trying to "get our money's worth" by marching everyone through without regard for their interests or enjoyment?
* Pack well. It can be hard to balance bringing what you need and weighing yourself down with non-essentials. Our must-have list: food and drink (I get reaaaaally cranky if I need a snack, and so do the kidlets), a wrap for the smallest one, sunscreen, meds (Benedryl/Epi-pens/band-aids), and a change of clothes in the car.
Besides being over-priced and under-healthful, we deal with multiple food allergies and find it easier to bring our own snacks. Fruit like clementines, our own breakfast bars, cheese sticks or other easily portable snacks and our own water bottles keep everyone's energy levels where they should be.
I've found strollers to be more cumbersome than helpful in most places (YMMV), but a wrap is essential for when a little one gets tired or before they are able to walk everywhere. I've even carried my 3.5 year old around in one during some all-day excursions in Puerto Rico! They also make breastfeeding easy and discreet.
I also try to keep a change of clothes in the car for everyone (and a few old towels) so that if we decide on a spontaneous trip to the splash pad or pool, we are prepared. Besides, who hasn't had a time when you needed a quick change for a child?
Enjoy the moment. Attitude is everything, and most of the time, my children's behavior is a reflection of my own emotional undercurrents. It is amazing how much my mood sets the tone for our day. If things start to unravel a bit, often all it takes is resetting my own emotional thermostat. And, if it is time to come home, by all means do so! Being mindful of our own reserves and those of our children can help us to get the most out of our times our and about.