Wandering aimlessly and admiring nature is fine if you’re an 18th century Romantic Poet. Active young kids usually need a bit more purpose to persuade them into the great outdoors, especially if the weather’s less than lovely. But you don’t need to pay for the pleasure of someone else’s idea of adventure, there are dozens of great free places to play where all you need are imagination and enthusiasm.
Fantastic Forest Fun
The UK has over three million hectares of forest, that’s the equivalent of 40 million football pitches covering 13% of the country. In the past 100 years, forested land has increased by 400% and it’s still growing. So the chances of finding a local wood worth exploring wherever you live in the UK are fairly high. Forests are ready-made adventure, the original fairy-tales and, from the Brothers Grimm to Harry Potter, always where the magic happens. Plus, they’re free for everyone to enjoy. Woodland trails and bike paths are almost as common as trees now and seeing how many you can ‘do’ gives kids a great sense of achievement. Den building is another forest favourite to fill days and days with exhausting fun. And woods are teeming with birds and wildlife so are perfect settings to slip some learning into playtime and teach a few of the more tricky life skills, like patience (it’s amazing how still a five year old can be on the promise of a cute creature). The Woodland Trust will find your nearest wood in seconds, has loads of useful information and points you in the direction of forests with ranger and visitor centres where you can pick up free maps, nature guides and even activity packs.
Excitement On The Doorstep
When you’re little, the great outdoors is basically anywhere that isn’t inside, so you don’t always have to travel for adventure. If you’re teaching your kids to cook, make it even more fun by growing some ingredients too. Even if you don’t have an enormous garden you can still get great results. A patio with glazed, exterior bi-fold doors is only the perfect place to start planting and it’s accessible, so children can keep an eye on their crops. And, unless it’s sub-zero or torrential rain, container gardening gets them outside almost all year round. Birds and mini-beasts can turn your patio into an adventure playground too, especially for toddlers and under 5’s. Recycled bird feeders are easy to make, endlessly entertaining and brilliant for teaching a tiny bit of responsibility (kids need to keep them filled). And if you really don’t think calling bugs, ‘mini-beasts’, makes them any less horrific, the combined adventure of container gardening and bird feeding could be good for you too. Most UK insects are harmless and getting your kids used to them is smart because they’re more fascinating than frightening. So be strong and if something really creeps you out – just avoid it.
Brilliant British Beaches
There’s hardly anywhere in the UK where a day on the beach isn’t doable. And we might not have Southern European weather but we do have some truly amazing sand and sea to make up for lack of sun. Between the clambering around and discovering secret creatures, rock pooling at low tide can keep curious kids busy for hours and all you need is the right beach, wellies, a small net and a bucket. Find a big, breezy bit of sand and learn how to fly a kite for real. Technical beach kites are beautiful, but a simple, home-made diamond can be just as much fun if you get kids involved in the construction as well as the flying. And beaches couldn’t be better for wild ball games, put some lines in the sand and you’ve got an instant volleyball court or football pitch. To hunt down your perfect day at the seaside check out The Beach Guide for detailed information on hundreds of UK beaches, covering everything from toilet facilities to awards, dog friendliness and even water quality.
And don’t forget there are huge, adventurous parks and gardens all over the UK too. Most of them are free and many have fantastic galleries and museums if it’s too cold or wet to be outside. And lots of City Farms and Community Gardens are open to the public now and they make a wonderful day out for kids – quite a few keep animals and if you go in spring you can pretty much guarantee cute new babies to add to the excitement.