Our family likes going out on the weekend.
To put it more accurately, we parents can’t bear the thought of being marooned at home for two full days or squeezing with the weekend crowd at the neighbourhood malls. Plus, visiting shopping centres on the weekend means that there’s a high propensity to spend money on toys and sweet treats or be faced with screaming meltdowns from two tiny tyrants – unless we can distract or cajole them out of it.
So in January this year, we embarked on a small family project titled ‘Going Public’, where we visit outdoor community spaces. Our outings cover places of varying scale, from simple neighbourhood playgrounds to scenic viewpoints like Henderson Waves.
In this series titled The Great Outdoors, we will be featuring an outdoor destination in each supplement, along with our assessment of each place’s suitability for small children, the programmes and activities available, and visit highlights.
Before introducing our first play destination in the next entry in this series, we would like to share some tips on planning an outdoor outing (many of which are learning points from our own experiences with less-than-successful outings!)
- Be On The Lookout
Dry on ideas on where to go? Sign up for e-bulletins and updates from various event organisers. NParks has a quarterly e-newsletter and a list of upcoming nature activities on their What’s On page. You can also sign up to be on their mailing list and have regular park updates sent straight to your Inbox. Facebook is also an easy and convenient source of event news from various interest groups e.g. The Nature Society of Singapore, walking groups, cycling enthusiasts, pet-lovers groups.
- Keep It Short & Simple
Small children crave familiarity and thrive on repetition. Don’t turn your nose up at that “boring ol’ playground”. Revisiting the same play areas allows your toddler to grow her confidence on familiar play structures and hone her newfound skill at scaling the ladder or faux rock wall. Sometimes we just head for the nearby dog park to toss a few sticks and balls for the friendly neighbourhood pups.
Also, it’s best to schedule one destination per morning or per afternoon. Being out for long hours at a stretch results in hot, tired and cranky parents. Oh, and grouchy children too!
- Be Age-Appropriate
Our little ones are only 1 and 2 years-old. They have little patience for long walks and lengthy, organised activities, and will either clamour to be carried or run off midway through a session. Even holding a picnic can be fairly challenging when chunky baby thighs bulldoze through the set-up and the chances of food spillage are high. Our most successful outings are those where the kids can run freely in an open field or splash around in a water playground.
- Mess Is OK
Remember that kids are 100% washable. I once invited a little girl to join us at sand play, to which her mother hurriedly interjected: “Cannot, cannot! No extra change of clothes.” Oh c’mon! It’s just sand!
- Stay Cool
The tropical sun can be brutally hot. Plan to leave home early to take full advantage of the gentler morning sun or head outdoors only at sundown. We like to tire the kids out in the morning so that they’ll settle down without a fuss for their afternoon naps. Also, erratic nap habits and toddler mood swings later in the day can put an end to any grand plans that you have been saving up for the evening.
- Protected & Prepared
Insect repellent, sunscreen, sun hats, umbrellas, ponchos and plasters (for falls) are some of the must-haves for an outdoor excursion. We travel around with a large blanket in our car boot, which comes in handy for sitting on grass or sand, or keeping us warm and dry when we get caught in the rain.
- Snacks Galore
Toddlers are like ravenous little caterpillars and are always asking for snacks. We pack lots of easy-to-eat, individually-wrapped finger favourites like Baby Bites, gummy bears, Honey Stars and cereal bars, along with mini juice or milk packets. Cut fruit and sandwiches are easy options too. Think easy, clean and dust-able: Coco once accidentally flung a spade of sand in the direction of another kids’ porridge bowl at the beach and ooops – that was the end of the poor tot’s dinner.
- Have A Back-Up Plan
Tropical weather can be erratic and so can toddlers’ emotions. If outdoor plans get upset by stormy moods or skies, there are always the free indoor playgrounds at Changi Airport or Westgate, children’s programmes at the museums, simple craft activities that you can do at home or if you’re feeling particularly lazy, then just pop into VideoEzy for cartoon DVDs.
- There’s Always Next Week!
When we started this family project, we set ourselves the ambitious goal of visiting an outdoor destination every week. After the initial weeks spent breathing down our kids’ necks to hurry up and brush their teeth, get dressed, put their shoes on, etc. we realised that part of the joy of the weekend was to just mosey / toddle around the house and lounge around in our pyjamas past breakfast. We have since learnt to take things easy and to not fret if things don’t go according to plan and if a week goes by without any outdoor outings. It really is OK!