Illustration-dadventures-2

How to get your kids excited about the great outdoors

Dad of three and former Olympic rower Alex Gregory shares his favourite family adventure activities

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How to get your kids excited about the great outdoors

Here’s a surprising fact: kids in the UK spend just 16 minutes of leisure time outdoors each day*. But how do you actually get your kids to see the benefits of being outside? Alex Gregory – dad to Jasper, eight, Daisy, four, and Jesse, two – has written Dadventures, a book packed with activities to encourage kids to go outdoors and have some fun. Here he shares his tips...

"My partner Emily and I realised how much our family used electronic devices when our daughter Daisy, who was two, would come into our room to watch cartoons on our smartphones two years ago. It’s not a major thing, but we’d slipped into the habit. We decided to make a pact to do something outdoors every day as that would soon become a habit, too!

"One trick we discovered was to plan things to do on the way home from school, so the kids didn’t have a chance to switch on their screens. For us, being outdoors isn’t just about staying active – it’s about instilling a love of nature. It’s also brilliant for family bonding. You’re not distracted by work – you’re focused on playing a game or creating something. And you’re making lasting memories together.

"Keep scrolling for some inspiration. Whether you only have half an hour or a whole day free, there’s plenty of fun to be had..."

Make a den

What you'll need:

  • A 'roof' for the den, such as a tarpaulin, coat, blanket or branches
  • Something to eat and drink inside the den

 

1. Scout out the ideal spot for a hideout – a wood, field or your garden** (or indoors, if it’s rainy!).

2. You don’t need lots of equipment. Whether it’s a coat hung over a branch or a hole in a hedge** that’s big enough for you to crawl into, it’s a den!

3. It’s super-important that the den keeps everyone hidden from view – this is the golden rule of dens – they need to be private!

4. Your den doesn’t have to be structurally impressive. The point is it’s somewhere different where you can spend time away from distractions. Why not take a mini picnic in there with you, or read a book together?

Build a hedgehog house

What you'll need:

  • A wooden box, about 30cm long x 20cm wide x 20cm deep
  • A saw
  • Plastic sheeting or a few sturdy bin bags, to cover the roof and sides of the hedgeog house
  • Drawing pins
  • Straw, hay or dry leaves, for bedding

 

1. Remove the lid of the box if it has one. Saw a square ‘doorway’ into one of the shorter sides (a grown-up will need to do this).

2. Check that when the box is on the ground, open-side down, the doorway is large enough for a hedgehog to crawl through.

3. Place the box, open-side down, on grass or dry earth, in a quiet, sheltered spot in the garden – somewhere the hedgehog can hide away and not be disturbed.

4. Cover the roof and sides of the box with the plastic sheeting to waterproof them, securing it in place with the drawing pins (again, a grown-up will need to do this).

5. Push the bedding in through the doorway to fill the box – now it’s ready for a hedgehog to move in!

NOTE: It’s OK to feed the hedgehogs in your garden, especially in autumn as they prepare to hibernate. Put out a small dish of cat food a couple of times a week, with a shallow dish of water. However, it’s important not to feed them too much as they could lose the ability to find food for themselves. Or they may not bother to gobble up slugs and other bugs that eat your garden plants if they’re full up!

Set off on a scavenger search

What you'll need:

  • A bucket or strong carrier bag for each team
  • A list of things to find
  • A camera for each child or team (optional)

 

1. Make a list of outdoor items*** for your little ones to find, such as stones, twigs, bark, pine cones, conkers and acorns, depending on the season. These should be easy to carry, with enough around that each child can get everything on the list.

2. Set a route*** that will allow them to find everything easily.

3. For extra difficulty, list a few more things along the route for them to photograph.

4. The search is over when everyone has collected all the items and taken all their photos.

5. The first to collect the entire list wins. Make it even more exciting by awarding extra points for interesting finds, such as the biggest conker or prettiest stone.

Cloud spotting

What you'll need:

  • A picnic rug

 

1. Everyone should lie down outside and look at the sky.

2. Then look at the unusual shapes and patterns in the clouds – the kids’ imaginations will run wild!

3. Look out for Cumulus clouds – these are the fluffy, cauliflower-shaped ones – and Cumulonimbus, which are those big, dark clouds that can produce thunder, lightening and hail. Cirrus clouds are the wispy ones.

Look for insects

What you'll need:

  • A glass jar
  • A small spade
  • Some bait, like fruit
  • One large, flat rock and three small rocks

 

1. Find a quiet and earthy spot in the garden.

2. Dig a hole in the earth as deep as the jar. Pop the fruit bait in the jar and place in the hole.

3. Next, put the small rocks around the jar and place the large rock on top of them to stop rain getting in. 4 Leave overnight, then check back in the morning. Don’t forget to release the insects after you’ve studied them – and try different bait to see what works best.

Be a stargazer

What you'll need:

  • A picnic rug

 

1. After dark on a clear night, spread a rug on the ground, away from street or house lights.

2. Get everyone to lie down and look up into the sky.

3. Keep an eye out for the North Star and see if you can spot the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. You might be able to see the International Space Station, too. It looks like a bright star moving across the sky. Search your postcode to find out exactly when it will be passing overhead at spotthestation.nasa.gov.

Dadventures by Alex Gregory is out now.

*Source: Office for National Statistics (Jan 2018).

**Make sure your den is in a safe location and, if it’s in a public place, take care not to cause any damage to plants or property or leave any litter behind.

***Ensure that it’s OK to hide the clues or take the scavenger items – ask permission where necessary – and make sure the route is safe.