Just in case you are under the misapprehension I am one of those supermoms who always has a power line-up of cultural and/or highly unique and creative events and outings at all times, leave that laughable idea at the door. The best example I can give of my style of mothering is that one time on a really long, hot summer day that felt tremendously oppressive and even kinda blue for both me and my one-year-old son, I literally made use of a long stick with a cluster of dead leaves on the end of it to try to lift us from our doldrums.
We walked around our little wooded enclave for an hour pretending that there was some sort of animal attached to the end of the stick, as though we were walking it on a leash. I tried to “animate” the cluster of leaves by shaking the stick in different ways to make it seem life-like. You kind of had to be there to see how magical this was—at least for my toddler. I tried to describe it to my then-husband when he got home from work, but it didn’t translate.
My main point is that, sometimes, kids are just THAT easy to amuse. All that is required is the willingness on our part to dive into the moment and be fully present. Sometimes a tall order, but worth it.
What activities you choose depends entirely upon the age of your children, of course. For this article, I will take into account the ages of two to 13. Some activities are better for the two-year-old, some are better for the ‘tween.
- Animal Rescue, Big Cat Rescue: There are days that the local animal shelter or rescue preserve has been our “outing.” I love animals. They love animals. If we can scoot through without getting overly attached, it is a fun afternoon. Or, in the case of the big cat preserve near us, the outing can be transformative. It is beyond amazing to stand ten feet away from a Bengal tiger and look straight into its yellow eyes.
- Flea Market: Our city has a full-on, rain or shine, every weekend of the year, flea market. A two-year-old might not last long, but my tween and teen girls like it, and, we actually have fun together. So, the flea market is my friend. Great for people-watching, too.
- Anywhere with a fountain or water feature: This is more for the five and under crew. But, honestly, anywhere you can find a fountain or other public water feature that is designed for people interaction, you’ve got yourself at least 30 minutes to an hour of free entertainment and it will have taken up a morning or afternoon.
- Outdoor movies: Granted, this only happens fairly late into the evening, but I have such fond memories of watching Finding Nemo on a starlit summer night when all of us huddled together under a fleece blanket to keep the mosquitos at bay.
- Anywhere with shade and some grass (and maybe a Frisbee): Recently, I had all three of my children home at one time. This includes a college-aged boy, a 17 year-old girl and a 13 year-old girl. As awesome as they are and as much as I think they hung the moon, they are not necessarily known for their ability to agree on one activity that suits all. But, somehow, the stars lined up just right and on an early summer’s day, the mercury nearing 90 degrees, my son pulled out a Frisbee and asked if we wanted to join him. Parenthetically, do you play Frisbee or throw Frisbee? These are the things that confuse me, but I digress. Anyway, we had lots of fun doing that one simple activity for quite some time—far longer than any of us would have predicted, I am sure.
- Libraries and bookstores: They are free. They are air-conditioned. Most importantly, they contain thousands and thousands of books. Both libraries and bookstores will have a calendar of events and readings for all ages, usually.
- Farmer’s market: This one is a stretch for kid enjoyment, but I continue to add it to our agenda (at least every once in a while). The more fun alternative is to take them strawberry, blueberry or apple picking. I like the connection to the land and where the food comes from since we are suburbanites and city-dwellers.
- Fire Station (or big building project where there is a safe place to watch): The play group I joined when my children were toddlers took a trip to the local fire station and it was a big hit. The guys at the station were great. You are not imposing, in most cases, if you ask for a tour. It is a part of what they do for the community.
- Be spontaneous and without expectation: When kids are under the age of maybe eight, I swear you could pull over at an abandoned parking lot that was beginning to disappear under weeds and get the kids into the awe of discovery by simply placing their attention on the abandoned lot as unique. I love how full of wonder children are. Each experience is new and it can be simple, completely free yet keep them engrossed and even enchanted. We have pulled over at creeks or rivers by the side of the road and spent hours just puttering around on the rocks and sand. Recently, I took my youngest to look for bald eagles. We didn’t see one and my daughter was a little pouty about the excursion, saying she didn’t feel like walking, etc. Her phone wouldn’t get reception, blah, blah, blah. But once we got through the woods to the lake, we had fun just doing dumb stuff and making silly, fake bird calls. True, we scared off all wild-life in a mile radius, but we had fun.
- Trick them into going to outdoor opera: This was a last resort, recently. I myself was restless and wanted to do something different, yet outside—and EASY, meaning all I had to do was to get us there. I told my daughter we were going to a “concert” (true enough, right?) and that she could bring a friend. Then I threw, and I mean it when I say threw, together a fast picnic while flying through a local grocery store in five minute’s time so we could make curtain call. As we carried our soccer chairs and picnic baskets down the trail that led to the outdoor venue, the orchestra—hidden by trees—began and my daughter and her friend looked at me and said in unison, “What kind of concert is this?” The point of this example is that if you allow them to bring a friend, anything is bearable—even opera.