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Guide to Outdoor Park Fun for Families

Planning a special family outing to the park can be surprisingly easy. Even with minimal preparation, parks offer children of all ages plenty of interesting things to see and do. If you put a little extra effort into planning the day, you can ensure an outdoor adventure that's fun for the entire family. The same principles apply whether you're taking a hike through an expansive wilderness park or just having a picnic at your local city park. Keep your children's interests and attention spans in mind whenever planning set activities. Plus, it's usually worth leaving the day's activities somewhat open. Your kids may dream up their own games on playground equipment with new friends, or you may all find that everyone is content to lie in the grass and stare at passing clouds, snacking from time to time on picnic fare.

Nature Trails

Nature trails run the full gamut, from rugged multi-day hiking routes to loops that you can traverse in 20 minutes. When planning a trail hike for your family, first assess everyone's energy and fitness level. Plan your route to suit the weakest member of the group. If you'll be walking with young children, expect to have a slower pace. Not only will their shorter legs carry them more slowly, but you'll also want to let them take their time looking at all of the interesting wildlife and vegetation on display. To keep younger children motivated through longer walks, let them take along a disposable or inexpensive camera for a "camera safari." Another good nature trail idea is to collect unusual items from the ground, such as pretty leaves or stones. Check before setting off about whether this is permitted at your chosen park. If you may pick up interesting mementos, use them to make colorful rubbings afterward. Remember to bring along paper and colorful crayons to make the rubbings.

Picnics and Cookouts

Whatever sort of park you visit, bringing along a picnic can turn a usual outing into something special. Involve your children in preparing the food and packing the basket. They typically enjoy the process, and their participation will ensure that they're excited about whatever you pack. Picnics are also a good time for some extra creativity and a break from normal fare. Use cookie cutters to form sandwiches into fun shapes, and skewer chunks of fruit to make sweet kebabs. If the park you're visiting has facilities for cookouts, grilling your picnic adds an extra degree of festivity. Whether you pack a ready-made picnic or barbecue once you're at the park, follow safe food storage practices. As a general rule of thumb, any perishable foods should remain hot or cold. Leaving them lukewarm for long periods greatly increases the opportunity for harmful bacteria to grow. For example, if you need to transport your picnic food for any length of time before consuming it, store any meats or dairy products in a well-insulated cooler. Traditional picnic baskets can work for some basic foods, but to stay on the safe side, mayonnaise-based or meat-based sandwiches should ideally be tucked into insulated containers along with ice packs. Before setting off on your picnic day, check with the park for information about available grills, picnic tables, and/or pavilions. In some cases, you may need to reserve your picnic space in advance.

Games and Activities

A fun day at the park requires no added entertainment. However, for an especially memorable time, your family might enjoy playing some park-themed games together. In wilderness parks or along trails, you can play scavenger-hunt-style games. Each person must count how many times they see a particular animal or plant. Another fun activity is to "explore" the park while wearing a blindfold. One person wears a blindfold, and the other person leads them around. The blindfolded person might feel a fluffy dandelion or the textured bark of an unusual tree, sensing everything more vividly. In a familiar park, the activity can become a challenging game, requiring the blindfolded person to identify where they are. Should inclement weather suddenly interrupt your day at the park, your family may need to huddle together under a pavilion or park refuge until the storm passes. While you wait, play the nature-inspired game "Animal Antics." Each person has to imitate a different animal, either in movement or with sound as well. The others must guess the type of animal. If the park features a jungle gym or playground equipment, encourage your children to think creatively. For larger groups of children, you can help them set up a playground Olympics, timing them as they come down the slide or cross the monkey bars.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart