1. Geocaching (If you haven’t heard of this, it’s because you’re a muggle.)
This one probably deserves a post of its own, in all honesty. It’s a frickin awesome trick for prying the kids away from their Playstations and getting them outdoors. It’s also an awesome family bonding experience as it encourages working as a team, and it’s a great way to discover some seriously incredible spots. (We’ve been led to the highest point on an island at sunset, some hidden lakes in a forest, and an abandoned New Zealand settlers’ graveyard, to name a few random locations.)
There are over two million caches hidden around the world, and by typing in “Auckland, New Zealand” on geocaching.com I managed to find 6356 caches waiting to be discovered in our area! Here’s a video to explain the basics.
For midyear holidays last year I created Half Shot his first “Adventure Survival Kit”, consisting of a magnifying glass, a first aid kit, a head torch, a Swiss army knife, a notepad, digging tools, an emergency raincoat, a compass and other essentials for exploring.
Sometimes your Geocaching experience can be a workout, a history lesson and a science experiment all in one. It’s heaps of fun and definitely worth having a go.
2. Icky, Grubby, Fantastic Mess
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt young kids love, it’s the feeling of squelching something gross between their fingers, getting it all in their hair and on their clothes, whilst letting out squeals and shrieks of excitement. Don’t ask me why. They’re just weird little creatures, and it’s what they do.
You don’t have to travel at all to have fun in your own back yard. To encourage “icky- play”, as I like to call it, in a safe and fun way which won’t wreck your walls, ceiling or lounge suite, here are a couple of tried and tested ideas:
Slime! Just mix together 250grams of glucose syrup, a cup of PVA glue and a dollop of water- based paint, preferably something which is easy to wash off clothes and skin and anything else it’ll get all mushed into. You can also add glitter, if you’re feeling brave. But be warned:
Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.
We had fun creating a target in the backyard, filling balloons with the slime recipe above, (alternatively you could simply use watered- down paint,) and flung the “slime bombs” across the lawn at the target and eventually at each other.
For Little Shot I filled pots on the stove with spaghetti and food coloring, and once they were wobbly and cooled he had a blast playing with his rainbow noodles. 100% safe and edible, so it didn’t matter that he’d put them in his mouth. (because at this stage, everthing goes in the mouth.) I gave them to him still warm, mixed in with a few colored ice cubes, which added another sensory element to the fun. It’s an awesome way for little ones to learn about wet and dry, soft and hard, hot and cold, as well as color and taste! Add some water for splashing and voila. Best. Parent. Ever.
3. The Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
I’m an artist myself, so of course being wickedly excited about spending an entire day gazing at paintings comes naturally to me. However, I find the Auckland Art Gallery can be an awesome place to take the kids and can be enjoyed by both the professional artist and the type who can’t draw a stickmen to save themselves. I really think there’s something to be found here for everyone, and remember- you don’t have to be an artist to understand art; it can be found in all things. Art evokes thought and emotion, and there’s nothing like seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Asking things like, “Why do you think they painted using those colors?” “What do you think the lady in the painting is doing?” or “Where do you think this was painted?” Are all the kinds of questions to spark up some good creative conversations and can lead to some hilarious theories. Check out their website for upcoming exhibitions.
4. Playgrounds, aka The Heart of Sugar Rush Kingdom
Children are these unreal beings with a built- in crazy huge energy storage capacity. You’d think by playing a game or two of hide and seek with them you’d be digging in to that energy and tiring them out for nap time, but you’ve got that dead wrong, Buddy. All playtime seems to do is rark them up and intensify that seemingly endless energy. That’s where playgrounds can become a handy sanctuary for those moments where you need them to burn off that iceblock overload and let loose on some kid- safe equipment. Diana Clement wrote a handy article in the New Zealand Herald of her top ten favorites in Auckland which are all awesome picks.
5. Board Games
Move over, Xbox. It’s time to bring that old school family fun back. I’m a huge fan of Hasbro’s Cranium games, as they’re all about unleashing your inner talents in acting, drawing, sculpting and more! Cranium Cadoo is a favorite in our household.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira is hard to beat when it comes to finding a fun, free outing for the kids. Make learning fun by picking out a specific name, ancient artifact or animal to research. Their “Weird and Wonderful” section is brilliant and gives kids the opportunity to touch, play with and explore science and history. I’d also recommend checking out smaller local museums around Auckland. We recently visited a museum to research our family history and were amazed with what we found.
7. Arts and Crafts
Kids love creating things. It gives their imagination a platform to roam wild in and helps them to express themselves. You don’t need to spend money on paints and brushes and expensive canvases to give your kids the tools they need to create. Recycled materials such as boxes, milk cartons and newspaper make perfect robot bodies, fairy houses and cars. The posibilities are endless. My favorite latest discovery is puffy paint. Mix a dollop of paint with a cup of flour, 2 Tbps of baking powder, 1 tsp of salt and a bit of water. Let your little ones paint to their hearts content, then set their paintings in the microwave for about 30 seconds and see their creations puff up before their eyes!
8. Beaches, Streams, Rivers and Lakes
We are so blessed to live in such an amazing geographical location where in most instances a swim is only a short walk away. Living in New Zealand, we tend to forget how awesome that really is! Swimming is good for you, as long as your safe. Pack up a picnic basket, grab some sunblock and beach towels, and head out for an afternoon in the water. A sandcastle competition is also a great idea. Find our favorite Taj Mahal mold here.
Getting the kids to help out in the kitchen is handy, and can be a lot of fun. Pick a recipe together online, (my favorite recipe site to use is www.kiwifaves.co.nz). Teach them about temperatures and how different ingredients react with each other. Let them tip in the flour, crack the eggs, mix it all up and lick the spoon! The best part, of course, is enjoying your creations together afterwards.
One of the most important things I would encourage kids to do is to read. As a parent, I find the most helpful thing I can do is to find ways to make reading fun and create a habit of enjoyable reading. Your local library is a great place to let your kids hang out and the responsibility of owning their first library card can be quite exciting for them too. Other ideas for fun reading could be creating a scavenger hunt with written clues or making up your own stories and characters together, complete with illustrations. Old school comics and Where’s Wally style books are fun for when we don’t feel like reading, but they still incorporate that habit of picking up a book in our daily life, which is important for kids to see. Our favorite storytime books at the moment are the Eragon series. Ya know, if dragons are your thing.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you do with your kids. Spending time with them is more valuable than any video game or new phone. Just get out there and have fun. There’s a lot we can teach these mini humans. But don’t be fooled; there’s a lot they have to teach you, too!