Exploring the great outdoors means getting outside often for us. Playing in places like parks and playgrounds. We enjoy it as we all feel better with a bit of fresh air and it makes my job as a parent easier.
When we’re at home all day, it can sometimes get a bit like ‘please keep it down’, ‘we can’t throw that’ or ‘no hitting; hitting hurts’ etc. It can feel like I am setting limits all day. More so when I’m trying to get chores done; it sometimes gets harder to set the limits with empathy, as my mind is on getting the task in hand done so misbehaviour or the boys squabbling can feel like more of a trigger than usual for me, catching me off guard. And I can sometimes feel flustered and want to shut their squabble down rather than trying to regulate myself emotionally and then trying to help them through it.
So if I feel that it is getting harder to remain mindful and patient, or I feel bleaurgh, I know we need some fresh air.
We mostly head out in the morning. Often back home for lunch (though we sometimes do lunch out, too).
Local Parks and Playgrounds
We have three playgrounds near us that we visit often, and two of them are within parks (editing now and we’ve found and added two more parks and playgrounds to our repertoire, alhamdulillah). I love the park and it mostly feels manageable for me to get out with the boys now (this has come with practice!). However, it used to sometimes feel hard for me to get out, and harder on the days where I didn’t feel get-up-and-go. And those are the days where we’d likely benefit most from the fresh air and change of scene. What helps for me is getting still and present and then, with self-compassion, talking myself through the steps needed to head out: getting myself and the boys ready, packing our snacks and/or lunch and then heading on out. Leaving the snacks if it’s a hard day and it feels too much.
Local Community Initiatives
We also visit a local food bank’s edible garden fairly regularly now. They’re open to volunteers on some days and it’s been lovely to go along, do some gardening, and play, alhamdulillah. The boys use the hose to water the plants. They’ve planted broad beans too, and we’ve pulled out some weeds. We’ve met friends there: for the kids to play and us to attend to weeds and chat. We’ve loved our experiences here, and it’s for a good cause (the food being grown there is to feed those in the local community that may be struggling). So an amazing initiative, that I hope will spark conversations about community, and helping others, which we’ve previously spoken about, and charity and feeding others.
Forest school is a new addition to our outdoor life and we love it. We go for two hours once a week, and the one we’ve joined costs £4 per session. It’s pretty amazing: we are a group of kids and their parents/carers, along with someone who is trained to lead and facilitate the session. We all go off into the forest, and explore, play and enjoy doing new activities.
We usually light a fire every week and make something. The adults usually do the cooking part: the kids will knead the dough for the bread and then us adults will put it around sticks and cook it on the fire (we’ve also made apples with golden syrup and collected nettles from the forest to make nettle tea). Some of the kids have collected leaves and stuck them down on paper to make leaf pictures.
The forest we use is a small, gated one. The kids climb trees or play hide and seek. Last week, we had long bits of rope so the kids put it across tree branches to make a spider web. They’ve also made mud paint by digging up mud, putting that mud into a container and adding water. And then what do you get? Ta-daaa! Mud paint. The kids mixed it up with large paintbrushes. And then they were able to use it to ‘paint’ tree trunks with.
The children also usually pick the sticks for the fire too, and also chopped wood with the help of the session facilitator. It’s been UH-mazing, alhamdulillah.
To find out more about forest schools or search for a forest school, you can google forest schools near you. You could try the Forest School Association website as a useful place to begin your search. You could also try and enquire through your council; are they running any forest sessions? Finally, you can try finding one through environmental education centres such as RSPB or The Wildlife Trusts.
Weekend Days Out – Great Places to Visit As A Family (In And Around The London Area)
We enjoy the outdoors on our weekends as a family too, with my husband.
Aldenham Country Park
We’ve loved trips to Aldenham Country Park. Lovely landscape and woodlands, a lovely playground (the kind I dig…Less plastic and pristine things, more metal climbing frames, wooden balancing logs and the like). There’s a little farm which we adored as well, and where I purchased free-range eggs from.
The Garden and Bubbles Shows at The Science Museum
The Science Museum makes for a lovely family outing. They have an interesting play space in their basement named ‘The Garden’. It has a water play section; a darkly lit section that experiments with lights and sound, and massive lego blocks and a tall kind of building-like structure to climb. It’s a fun play-space for younger kids with a scientific kind-of twist. Here’s a link with more information:
The Garden is pitched at 3-6 year olds. However, we’ve been with my then 1 and a half year old toddler and I was expecting to sit in the cafe with him, but on both occasions, they’ve said it’s fine for him to come in and play, too. The museum also puts on a Bubbles Show for kids. It seemed like the show happens a few times a day (but I’d call and check, if you wanna catch it). We caught the show on two occasions and it was cool.
The Science Museum has a Multi-Faith room so salah is fine, masha’Allah. And it is free to play at ‘The Garden’ and to catch a Bubbles Show.
Kew Gardens is gorgeous and we love it. The boys run around and walk a little ahead or behind at times and we’re kind of together and yet they’re free to roam and explore. They have two playgrounds: Climbers and Creepers (indoor) and an outdoor, fun playground. The kids loved both. Kew has an entrance fee: a one-off ticket purchase for every visit or they have an annual membership you can purchase here
Northala Fields is also another lovely place that we’ve come to love this last year. It has four hills/’mountains’ to climb, so you can go on walks with the kids. It is very likely that you may need to carry younger ones or push them on the buggy for at least part of the hill climb to the top. The Fields also have two lovely playgrounds, one more ‘adventurous’ one, and one more conventional one. You can go fishing there, too (we haven’t done that, though).
Northala has lovely little watery bits. There is also a part we found that we’ve prayed in; kinda enclosed by some trees and bushes.
There’s lovely scenery in this park, and the kids love it. We take scooters, and, at times, a ball, chalk to write on the floor with and sandwiches: to eat lunch on the grass. Lovely day out.
Other Places For Days Out
Other places we’ve enjoyed include Queens Park in North-West London; it’s a beautiful park with a little ‘pets corner’ on one end; which is like a tiny zoo with about a handful of animal varieties. They also have a really lovely, well layed-out playground (think tyre swings, a zip line, wooden play equipment, etc). There’s also a lovely and decent sized sandpit area, and a paddling pool.
The Natural History Museum is another great location. My husband came up with the great idea of taking our dinosaur-loving son as a surprise there and I did spot a Quiet Room (or was it called a contemplation or prayer room?) for salah whilst we were there.
For Londoners who want a beach without driving out of the city, Ruislip Lido might deliver at least partially. Not as vast as a beach but water, check, sand, check, and play equipment on the sand and a little playground, check.
Indoor Playgrounds (especially as it gets colder!)
Indoor playgrounds work for days out and family life too, especially if it’s super cold outside. Though I’m totally down for just increasing the layers of thick/warm clothing and playing outside anyway (it’s the getting out the door part can feel harder when it’s cold, though!). Our children love indoor playgroups, and we all have fun there. There is a little section for little sport sessions in some indoor playgrounds too; a section with a hoop for basketball and sometimes little goal nets to facilitate football playing as well…fun stuff.
Swimming is another activity that parents can do with children. Again, indoors and great whatever the weather. We don’t do this too frequently at the moment. When we do, hubster usually goes in with the boys and I take my laptop and watch from the viewing room.
So…how can we use and explore the great outdoors as a means of assistance? (and fun! and enjoyment!)
Actionable Steps In Implementing The Tip
1) Get to know your local area and what play or natural/ recreational/educational spaces and programmes it can offer you and your children.
Do you have any of the following nearby?
- Parks or other natural or open spaces
- Indoor playgrounds
- Sports Courts. Parks sometimes come with courts of some sort (tennis, basketball etc, which can bring opportunities for sports play).
- A Sports Centre (Swimming! And other stuff)
- Local playgroups? (You should be able to find out about these at your nearest children’s centre and/or through the council).
- Libraries? (Books = whole new worlds and insights!) Also, libraries offer programmes for both children and adults (I’ve come across coding for slightly older children, healthy lifestyle workshops, story telling and rhymes and chess club)
- Local community initiatives or spaces. Do they run classes or activities? (such as cooking, art or sewing?)
Looking into these opportunities and taking some up can be really helpful and enriching to family life. They can help us in creating variety, gaining new experiences, meeting and connecting with others, developing our interests and having fun!
2) Could you use certain spaces (such as playgrounds and parks) in different ways?
You could do the following, for example, in a park:
- If playgrounds/parks have spaces nearby or muddy areas or areas with stones and pebbles, perhaps kids could play and explore there (my children enjoy picking the mud with sticks)
- Sometimes, there are water features such as fountains nearby; perhaps they could play there with wellies and scooters. If we have wellies and raincoats, I am a-okay with our boys doing (small to medium!) puddle jumping.
- Trees, logs or hilly landscapes bring about the possibility of climbing up and down
- They could ride scooters alongside you and discover different parts and features of the park
- If any fruits grow there, fruit picking becomes an option (we’ve loved blackberry picking in one of our local parks)
- Hills can be fun. Rolling or sliding down becomes an option
- Draw/write on the floor with chalk you take along
- Collect and play with fir cones, leaves, sticks, and sycamore seeds (so fun! these spin!) My kids like to do this and sometimes bring some home to store and play with (I have limits on this which I explain to them).
- Taking some toys and/or a book along. My kids request this sometimes; they want to put some of their toys down the slide or, less frequently, read a book with me at the bench
Changing things up keeps outings to familiar places fresh. I always take my headphones along as well, and if we’re in a playground, I’ll listen to my audiobooks on Audible whilst the boys play and scoot (as a form of self-care, and growth insha’Allah)
3) Resources to facilitate days out. I have the Hoop app (which to be fair, I haven’t used much at all). It can be helpful though as you can enter your postcode and your children’s ages and it finds fun things that are close to you, and age appropriate for your kids. Another useful website: https://www.dayoutwiththekids.co.uk/
4) Museums and Galleries – Are there any museums or galleries around? Perhaps you could plan a visit. They usually have some exhibitions or areas designated specifically for children, and they can make for great days out for ourselves and our children.
5) If you want to get out more with your children, it may be helpful for you to aim for a number of days out a week that works for you, your family and your unique circumstances. I didn’t get out much at the beginning of my motherhood journey and I wanted to change that. If you don’t already, start small and start with self-compassion (getting a toddler dressed, anyone?! You may need your self-kindness and you-can-do-this-insha’Allah self-talk and a dollop of patience!)
6) For Londoners, here’s a great list of free days out in London with kids: https://www.timeout.com/london/kids/101-things-to-do-in-London-with-kids-free-activities
My friend shared this (Umm Mas’ud shout out!) It’s a keeper of a list and where we found out about the Science Museum’s ‘The Garden’. (The Tate’s Liminal room, which is on the list, is no more though!)
7) Having playdates and meet-ups with other families outside. We mostly use parks and playgrounds for outdoor playdates; maybe an indoor playground would work for you? This kinda set-up can mean that the children get to play and explore with other kids. And us Mamas get to chat and replenish and connect. Which can often make parenting easier.
Side note: I don’t drive yet, so we mostly get about during the week by walking or taking short bus trips. Our buggy board has been amazing in facilitating this, alhamdulillah. My elder son stands on it and my little man sits on the buggy. We got ours on Amazon (the buggy board maxi), but this is the official website where you can see if it is compatible with your buggy (It’s compatible with most, apparently).
If you have two young children, the buggy board may serve you well. Howevs, I did bust some of the bottom of my abayyas on it at the beginning whilst I was getting used to it; kept getting the material caught on the wheels. I’m a pro on it now and my abayyas are intact, alhamdulillah 😀
I hope some of these tips help, insha’Allah.
Annnddd…I wish you great days with your children 🙂