Cool things to do with the kids this summer
Camping is a great way to get closer to your kids without them getting on top of you.
All that fresh air and wide open spaces means there’s plenty of room for fun and freedom and if the weather is less than ideal, with the right clothing you can still head off in search of adventure.
They’ll run you ragged, but don’t worry, they will soon make new friends on site and the vast majority of campsites are safe enough to let them off the leash a little, giving you time to unwind in the evenings.
Here are our top things to do with the kids this summer – where are you going to start?
Pretend you’re Chris or Michaela and take a visit to your local nature reserve to watch the wildlife. Pull on your wellies, grab a still or movie camera and see just how many different types of flora and fauna you can capture on film. Log onto wildlifetrusts.org, rspb.org.uk or naturalengland.org.uk for a reserve near you, details of the sorts of creatures you’ll see and loads of ideas of what you can do while you’re there.
Listen to the dawn chorus
The dawn chorus reaches its peak in April and May, but is still pretty impressive in June and July. Find a campsite close to woodland and if the children wake up as soon as it gets light, suggest a walk in the woods before breakfast and marvel at the soundscape. Try to isolate as many different calls as you can, and whoever identifies the most birds gets an extra sausage at breakfast back at the tent! For advice, locations and help with identification, go to idcd.info
Explore the rockpools
The rugged, rocky coastlines of our favourite holiday destinations are blessed with plenty of rockpools to explore once the tide goes out. Wear waterproof sandals and take a bucket and fishing net. Better still, make your own glass-bottomed bucket for peering into the depths by cutting the bottom out of an old bucket, stretching heavy duty cling-film over the hole and securing with a rubber band. Try the British Marine Life Study Society website glaucus.org.uk for advice and the best rockpooling locations.
Make a proper picnic
When was the last time you had a proper picnic? With plates and cutlery and proper sandwiches and sausage rolls, strawberries and cream all laid out on a big blanket? Roll up the picnic carpet, pick up some fresh bread, pastries, cooked meats and fruit from the local farm shop, pop it all into a big basket along with the plates and cutlery from your camp kitchen and head off to the beach or the woods… and don’t forget the teddy bears.
Sit around a campfire
Unfortunately, many campsites discourage campfires these days, but there are one or two more traditional sites that permit and even positively encourage fires. Some sites even sell firewood for the express purpose of making campfires. Before lighting up, check you are allowed to, choose a spot well away from tents or flammable undergrowth, have plenty of water to hand. Once lit, enjoy the warmth and tell ghost stories and before leaving it, make sure the fire is properly extinguished.
Lead an expedition
Suggest going for a walk and most kids will bolt for the safety of their bedroom but ask if they want to go on an expedition and most will prick up their ears. Dig out the binoculars, invest in a couple of small rucksacks and fill them with snacks, drinks a notebook and nature book and dust off an Ordnance Survey map of the area. Discuss the route with the children and explain where you are going and what they might see. Try to incorporate a café, ice cream shop or child-friendly pub along the way and award points for spotting wildlife or landmarks along the way.
Track down some mini-beasts
Head for the woods or your local lake or stream and you’re never very far away from some mini-beasts. Root around in the leaf litter and under fallen logs to find crawly critters and turn over stones in the stream to reveal slithery things. Many toyshops sell little plastic observation jars with a magnifying lid in which less intrepid little explorers can observe mini-beasts at not-such-close-quarters.
Catch a fish
If you’re at the seaside, look out for charter boats taking parties on short mackerel fishing trips just a mile or so offshore. Tackle will be provided and as long as the skipper knows what he’s doing you are almost guaranteed to catch. Inland, many campsites have fishing ponds where you can fish for free.
This variation on the fishing theme needs no fancy tackle: a spool of string, a crude weight and some pungent bait (the smellier the better) are all you need to lure a greedy crab from the murky depths. Piers, jetties and harbour walls are all promising locations.
Spot shooting stars
This is a great way to while away a clear summer evening when the nights start to draw in again during August and a campsite in the middle of nowhere - well away from any light pollution - is the ideal location. Simply drag your sleeping bag out of the tent and either lie on it or in it and gaze up at the heavens. You might have to wait a few minutes, but be patient and eventually you will catch a fleeting glimpse of streak of light as a meteor whizzes across the sky. Some offer little more than a quick flash, others leave a trail across the sky before burning up in a silent explosion.
Plot the planets and constellations
If the meteors are few and far between, you could learn to find your way around the night sky by the constellations that appear above us. You should also be able to spot the odd planet or two – especially if you have a pair of binoculars handy. Buy a star chart from your local bookshop or log onto nightskyinfo.com