I am not great at sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the playroom floor with my daughter. I am the unruly guest who keeps bringing her laundry to the My Little Pony wedding of Big Mac and Cheerily. I never seem to be able to guess the flavor of "tea" at the Disney Princess tea parties. (It's ALWAYS banana flavor by the way). I am so bad at imaginary play that my daughter does not even send me invitations to those events anymore!
I may not be the most gracious observer of a pink guitar serenade, but I do have a special talent for planning family activities where everyone can enjoy a delightful day out of the house.
Here are my go-to places and brainstormed activities to keep the whole family interested and involved, even the older kids:
1 - BOTANICAL GARDEN
If you are lucky enough to have a botanical garden near you, make this your must see activity this weekend. They are usually enclosed and offer some of the most beautiful plant life and gardens you will ever see.
• "Midwest Grey" - is a color of sky that Midwesterners see from December to March. It is the color of boredom and stir crazy. I love to visit a botanical garden in the dead of winter because they are warm inside and the color of the plants reminds that yes, Spring will eventually come again.
• Scavenger Hunts - some gardens will have a scavenger hunt. We try to participate in the "Gnome Search" in the garden near us every year. It's a fun way to engage children and adults to look around and see things they might normally miss.
• Photography - these gardens are so beautiful it will be hard for your teenagers not to want to snap and share on Instagram. We bring our point-and-shoot camera and have been teaching our 5 year old some basic photography tips. It helps her notice plants around her and keeps her entertained.
• Art Exhibits - some gardens will feature artists' works scattered in and throughout the plants. So beautiful to see God's creativity mixed together seamlessly with man's creativity. In Chicago, we were fortunate enough to attend the botanical garden with a Dale Chihuly glass exhibit. It was breathtaking!
• Blooming times, waterfalls, coy ponds - check the garden websites for bloom times (irises, speciality plants, etc.), walk under a waterfall in the middle of January and observe the fish in a coy pond.
2 - DAY TRIPS
A day trip to me would be a destination that is 1-2 hours away from home. Day trips do not require an overnight stay at a hotel. They feel like vacations, but you get to sleep in your own bed!
• Outside parks - great way to get everyone outside and exercising and breath in nature.
• Activities - give each child a choice of 1 must see place or item while you are out exploring. A store, restaurant, playground, etc. We always hit up the "Gem Dig" activities.
• Photography - great excuse to get kids involved with photography and making them aware of their environment.
• Outside their world - day trips are a great way to explore your state. They help your children see that the world is bigger than their own town or city. Day trips help them observe different states of the human condition and will build gratitude and empathy.
3 - ZOO
I LOVE to visit zoos. I love to support them in their effort for wildlife conservation and education. Plus the animals are so amazing to study and observe.
• Special shows - feed a giraffe, a dolphin show, sea lion feeding. These are a great way for you to get up close and personal to a wild gorgeous animal and to learn more about them.
• Touch a shark/stingray - I use these as an opportunity to teach my daughter how we as humans need to be respectful to God's creatures.
• Walking - I love to sneak in exercise for my family anywhere I can.
• Train/Log Rides - after all that walking, it is nice to just get on a train or even a log ride and rest while still observing and learning about the animals.
4 - CHILDREN'S MUSEUM
We are lucky to have the World's Largest Children's Museum 15 minutes away from us in Indianapolis and we utilize it all the time. Anytime we travel near or far, we add the local Children's Museum to our must visit list. It is a great way for your kids to feel like they have an activity that is just for them.
• Must See Exhibit - give your children choices of what exhibit is their "must see." Make sure to visit these exhibits first while everyone still has energy. That way no one can have a meltdown that they did not get to do what they wanted to do.
• Burn off travel energy - every parent knows the feeling of getting out of the car after a long ride and witnessing kids who have plenty of energy to burn. Museums are a great way to let them climb, run, walk, explore and participate in events that burn off some of that travel energy.
• Holidays - check museum websites for special holiday events they feature. Halloween "lights on" haunted houses. themed run/walks, or Breakfast with Santa type of events. Always memorable for your kids. My husband likes to go down the 2 story slide that our museum features during the winter even more than my daughter!
TIP: Purchase a Membership - consider a membership to your children museum when your kids are young. Mom's morning out and they wear themselves out in time for a nap. Memberships save you the frustration of paying $20-$60 dollars to visit only to have a kid vomit 10 minutes in and then you have to leave. Save the money and frustration. Get the membership.
5 - YELP RESTAURANT
My family loves to go out to eat. Our daughter is extremely well behaved in restaurants so we are able to go out quite often. I know this one might be tricky for some families, but give it a try at least once.
• Take turns - empower your kids to have the opportunity to pick a new restaurant for family dinner. One dinner of junk food or strange eats will not kill them.
• New cultures - great way to introduce your family to new cultures and cultural flavors. My daughter loves Japanese, Mexican and Indian restaurants. Each month try a new culture's most popular dishes. Pick a theme or festival to visit and sample the local street food.
• Picky eaters - my daughter hates jelly on a peanut butter sandwich, but she asks for Miso soup when she is sick. Find a new restaurant and let your picky eaters explore new foods.
• Explore - wander around your town, city and neighboring areas. This helps your family get out of your comfort zone and ditch your go-to spots. Explore and try new things.
I am not good at sitting at home playing dress up, but I can brainstorm fun activities that get my family up and moving, learning and creating life long memories.
ACTION ITEM: Schedule one of these items to explore this weekend with your family. Create a scavenger hunt or download one from Pinterest. Let your youngest child choose your lunch spot. Have your teenager show you her favorite picture from your adventure. Play on a jungle gym with your husband and kids at a new park. Stand under a waterfall and breathe in the peaceful water sounds. Feed a giraffe a piece of lettuce.
Do some exploring this weekend!