We loved the National Trust list of 50 things to do before you are 11 3/4. But our children have now graduated from this stage of learning and are ripe for new challenges. We do live in the wild, so some of the activities on the Natural Trust list were quite easy to achieve. It remains a great list with our firm favourites being dam a stream and camping out. We are keen to nurture our children’s wilderness warrior spirit and so we have developed the ultimate list of 50 slightly more adventurous things to try out.
This list of 50 activities is intended to be about the life affirming freedom and independence gained by just being outside. I really believe that children gain therapeutic value from the challenges and stimulation of nature. Our natural environment is also in dire need of protection and if we want future generations to safe guard it, we need to get them off their devices and outside to experience it from a young age.
Safety. The benefits of an active life and physical fitness are clear, but free-range parenting is increasingly difficult and allowing children to have natural play does involve some risk. I would recommend that you assess all of these activities individually and conduct your own personal safety assessment balanced against your child’s stage of learning and ability. Remember that life is also full of risk and there can be no better preparation for this than that found outside in nature.
All activities are achievable within the UK. The 50 activities are organised into the following headings
GO WILD ~ NAVIGATE ~ BUILD ~ GET WET
GET CLOSE TO NATURE
STAY AT HOME ~ ORGANISED ACTIVITIES
Have a look at my recommended kit list, which you can test and adjust for each activity.
1. Go wild camping. There is no better feeling than waking up in the wilderness, away from the noise of other campers. There is something magical about the solitude and awesomeness of nature that you cannot experience unless you are completely immersed in it. However, wild camping is not actually allowed in England and Wales, apart from inside Dartmoor National Park. In Scotland you are entitled to camp on the majority of unenclosed land. If you want to wild camp in England and Wales the law states you should get prior permission from the landowners to avoid trespassing. This shouldn’t put you off and in remote areas, where it is not practicable to seek permission, you can practice wild camping if you follow the countryside code. The Lake District and Snowdonia are both good locations and have their own guides which can be found along with other useful information at the great campsites.co.uk site for wild camping.
2. Sleep under the stars. If your children enjoyed wild camping, then the next logical step is to ditch the tent and go fully feral. If you have made the effort to get out into the wilderness, then why not experience the wonder of sleeping under the stars. Grab a Bivvy bag to keep your sleeping bag dry and pray for a dry clear night. You may also want to build a shelter from branches to keep the wind out. The advantage to going tent-less is that you should have less kit and equipment to carry. I recommend having an exit strategy in case you need to evacuate tired wet children.
3. Try whittling. Once you have established your wild camp site you will need to occupy your campers. Normal routine such as food preparation and shelter building will take some time, but once you are settled why not try some whittling. Most children will need help getting used to operating their knifes safely. Start small by getting them to learn how to use penknives to strip bark off branches and make marshmallow roasting sticks or tent pegs. Be careful that they don’t use the knives or sticks as weapons to fight each other when you are not looking.
4. Forage for a meal. You will probably be naturally cautious about encouraging your children to identify, collect and eat herbs and other plants that grow out in the wild. As long as you follow some guidelines, this can be another great way to experience nature and to eat well. I recommend that you don’t allow children to forage without close supervision to prevent them picking anything poisonous, rare or endangered. If you can’t identify exactly what it is, then don’t eat it. Have a look at the Hedgerow Food Guide for more information.
5. Drink stream water. One of the heaviest things that you will need to carry on your trip will be water. So why not collect and purify it yourself when you get to your wild camp site? I always treat my water, even if it has come from the cleanest of mountain brooks, as you never know if there is a rotting putrid sheep’s carcass a few hundred meters up-steam. The last thing you need on a wild camping trip is a family dose of D&V. There are many options for water purification. Boiling water kills off bacteria, viruses and parasites and should be fine for mountain streams. You can buy purification tablets, but I find these add a fairly disgusting chlorine taste. I use a bottle with a filtration membrane and carbon block to remove chemical residues.
[TIP – tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to be back. Take the right kit]
6. Lead an expedition. Getting children interested in using a compass and learning to navigate is an essential life skill. Getting them to take responsibility for leading the family walk could be the ideal next step. A good option might be to have a map each, so that you can navigate together and discuss the route you are taking. Once they are in charge, they should feel empowered and this is a great way to build self-confidence.
7. Build a scale model. Getting the children to build a model of tracks, streams, relief and easily recognisable landmarks to explain the route that you are going to take is another great way to hone their navigational skills and spatial cognition. It might be a good option to start small and get them to draw their own maps.
8. Go on a night walk. Once you have mastered the fundamentals of navigating using landmarks, it’s time to graduate to relying on a compass. There is no better way of doing this then going out at night and walking on a bearing.
9. Learnt to navigate by the stars. Using the stars to navigate is probably much easier than you think. Start small and learn how to find the North Star using the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Have a look at this handy ordnance survey guide to work out how to do it.
10. Go orienteering. Another great way of practising micro navigation and getting fit is to take part in orienteering. It doesn’t have to involve dressing your family up in weird clothes, unless you want to. It’s a really social sport and takes place all over the UK every weekend. It is a bit like park run, but in the woods, with a map. There are also night events, just to add that extra level of complexity. Most clubs cater for all levels and ages. Have a look at the British Orienteering website to see where events are happening close to you.
11. Visit a local landmark. Britain has loads of historical landmarks from Stonehenge to Hadrian’s Wall. There are some great castles, hill forts and monuments throughout the countryside. There is probably stuff near you that you didn’t even know was there. Do a map search using your own postcode with the Historic England website to have a look and then go and visit what you find.
12. Visit an archaeological dig or site. If visiting local landmarks has piqued your children’s interest, you might be interested in visiting or taking part in archaeological digs. This is also a great way to learn about Iron Age, Roman and Saxon history. There are loads of ideas on the Visit England website.
13. Bury a time capsule. Create your own history by identifying somewhere suitable and close by on your map. Write letters to your older selves and put some objects in that will survive the test of time. Seal everything up in a waterproof container. Bury it and mark with an X on your map. Come back on the children’s 18th Birthday and dig it up.
14. Climb a mountain. Now that your family are navigation ninjas, how about climbing an actual mountain? The UK Mountain Guide of peaks over 600m (200ft) is a good place to look. The highest mountains in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon) are all excellent and achievable for children in good weather and if you have the right kit and equipment. Mountains can be treacherous and the weather can turn quickly, but don’t let this put you off. With a bit of planning and an understanding of the dangers they can be the most wonderful places on earth.
15. Build a rope swing. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most awesome. All you need for this is a tyre, some rope and a big tree. Build it next to, or over, a stream or river for added enjoyment.
16. Build a rope ladder. If making a rope swing was too simple, then try your hand at building a rope ladder.
17. Build a tree house. Now that you have the swing and the ladder, the logical progression is to build a tree house.
18. Have a water Fight. There is something exhilarating about being soaked with cold water. Fill up the paddling pool and break out all the water pistols, buckets and sponges. Make sure you don’t’ miss the afternoon in late June which passes itself off as the UK Summer.
19 Build a home-made water slide. Take the water fight to the next level with some tarpaulin and a garden hose and make a slide.
20. Practice a river crossing. Learning how to cross a river when there is no bridge is an important skill and worth practising in controlled conditions. Spend some time looking for the ideal spot, which should be a wide and straight point in the river. Strip down to your pants, grab a probing stick and jump in. If you have a rope, the first person across should tie a butterfly loop around their chest and take it across. Face upstream and slightly sideways, leaning into the current. Shuffle your feet along the river bed rather than lifting them off and take small steps. Cross at a slight downstream angle to go with the current. Use the probing stick to find your way and as extra support.
21. Go wild swimming. There are hundreds of secluded and beautiful places to swim around the UK. If you want to swim outdoors have a look at the UK wild swimming map to find a location near you.
22. Go snorkelling. Snorkelling is an amazing way to learn about marine life and make trips to the beach even more awesome. The sea in the UK can be chilly, so you may need wet suits. Have a look at the nearestbeach.co.uk interactive map to find good snorkelling locations.
23. Go Body boarding. If the weather is a bit too choppy for snorkelling, how about a spot of body boarding? This is the perfect introduction to surfing and can be mastered pretty quickly. The surfing-waves.com site has good information about UK surf spots.
24. Visit a Wibit. Wibit describes itself as an aquatic playground and is basically an inflatable obstacle course found in lakes and oceans around the world. Use the Wibit finder to locate one near you.
25. Go on a Canoe safari. One of the best ways to spot wildlife along the river is from the river itself. Some nature reserves also offer canoe safaris to get close up to bird life.
26. Go Stand up paddle boarding. Stand up Paddleboarding (SUP) is a fast growing and popular water sport in the UK. It also acts as a low impact exercise that is a combination of balance, strength and endurance. You get a work out from balancing and from paddling and its great fun. Expect to fall in a fair bit at first. Check out the SUP Hub for locations where you can get tuition or just hire a board.
GET CLOSE TO NATURE
27. Go tracking. Getting children to be nature detectives is a simple and great fun way to get them to connect with nature. Looking at tracks and trails in snow and mud is a great way to start and will teach them to be inquisitive about their surroundings and get a great insight into wildlife. Try making plaster casts of animal tracks.
28. Practice camouflage and concealment. Wear dark clothes and a hat and don’t wear any perfume. Try and wear clothes that haven’t just been washed and try not to smell too clean; this shouldn’t be too much of a chore for most children. Camouflage yourself with local foliage. Create a hide with branches and leaves and make yourself invisible.
29. Go badger watching. Badgers are amazing and watching them at dusk with my Gran on a summer’s evening is one of my most treasured childhood memories. June and July are the best months to try this as it will be warmer and you might see cubs. Use your tracking skills to locate the sett. Look for the very neat Badger latrines which are a good indicator that you are close. If you can set up off the ground and downwind of the sett, you stand a good chance of remaining undetected. Get comfortable and wait to be entertained.
30. Visit a nature reserve. If you are not having much success tracking and watching animals on your own, then visit a nature reserve. The Wildlife Trusts has 2300 nature reserves across the UK. These sites protect rare and threatened species and are an amazing gateway to the natural world. Find one near you with the Wildlife Trusts Nature Reserves map.
STAY AT HOME
31. Make a giant bug hotel. You can attract all sorts of creatures into your garden and increase biodiversity by building a multi storey bug hotel. The RSPB has a good bug hotel guide.
32. Photograph insects. The best thing about macro photography of insects is that you generally have a captive subject (as long as you have built a massive bug hotel). This is also a great way for children to start understanding some of the techniques of wildlife photography.
33. Grow a living willow wigwam. Plant willow whips in winter in a circle, leaving room for a door. Tie them together at the top. Plant shorter whips as diagonals and weave them around the verticals to make a criss-cross pattern. If you didn’t manage to do this during the winter, then use bean poles and runner beans instead in the spring or early summer.
34. Make wild jam. Take the wild fruit that you have foraged from the hedgerows and remove all stalks and leaves. Add a couple of cooking apples cut into quarters. Add water to cover and boil until soft. Rub this through a sieve and then weigh the pulp. Add in the same weight in sugar and stir to dissolve. Boil hard until setting point and then put in pots, cover and seal.
35. Make outside pizza. Outside cooking is great fun and everyone loves a BBQ. A great way of getting the whole family involved is to make pizza from scratch. Start by getting everyone to make the pizza bases from dough mix. Then have a bunch of ingredients that everyone can choose from to create their own pizzas. If you are cooking pizza on a BBQ, you will need a Cadac Pizza Stone. Go one step further and use a portable garden oven over a wood fire for that authentic taste.
36. Raise some chickens. Chickens are one of the easiest animals to look after. If you have a bit of space, then you can do it. Do some research on their needs and requirements and how to keep them healthy. Select your breed, build a coop and get some chicks. It’s great for the children to help raise them, feed them, clean them and collect the eggs fresh for breakfast. There is also a whole on-line community of chicken bloggers that you could join to discuss your new family hobby with.
37. Feed the birds. If you can’t fit a bird table in your garden, then just hang feeders from a branch. Getting the children involved in keeping the local birds fed throughout the year is a great way for them to experience nature flourishing around them. A good wheat free seed mix will attract a variety of small birds. Meal worms, fat balls and some kitchen leftovers will also help attract a good crowd. Ensure you place any feeders out of reach of other garden predators.
38. Breed stick insects. You can learn about nature without even going outside. You can buy a Living Twig Stick Insect Kit which comes with eggs and a small netted habitat. They are easy to look after and eat bramble, hawthorn, oak, rose, privet and ivy (avoid any with pesticide on). If you are lucky, they may even reproduce and lay their own eggs.
39. Take part in an Adventure race. Adventure races, mud runs and obstacle courses are not just for adults. Check out Mini Mudder, Spartan Junior, Dirty Rascals and the Nuclear Rookie Rush. If they all seem a bit too extreme, then start off with a Bubble Rush event in support of local hospices all over the UK.
40. Visit a High ropes course. High ropes are a great way to build confidence, team work and communication skills. Getting out of your comfort zone amongst the tree tops and shooting down zip wires can be an excellent bonding family experience. There are lots of high rope companies and you should be able to find one near you. We want to visit Zip World in Wales this year which has the longest zip line in Europe and the fastest in the world.
41. Go to a music festival. There are a whole lot of festivals aimed at the entire family. Here is the UK Family Festival Calendar 2018. If you are worried about looking after your children in a crowd read my blog about large crowd protocol.
42. Adventure caving. Many of the large caving attractions offer the opportunity to don a helmet, grab a torch and venture beyond the crowds of tourists. Your family can be guided by experienced cavers through a labyrinth of tunnels to emerge wet, muddy and with a great sense of accomplishment.
43. Go Coasteering. Coasteering is a chance to experience adventure swimming along sea cliffs, exploring caves and gullies and jumping from ledges into the water. There are great companies in Pembrokeshire, Cornwall, the Jurassic coast in Dorset, Newcastle in County Down and Oban in Scotland.
44. Go Canyoning. Canyoning is a combined water and rock activity and involves using ropes, jumps and slides to climb down waterfalls. This activity needs canyons, so Wales, Scotland and the Lake District are all good places to give it a go. Get in touch with Vertical Descents if you need more information.
45. Go River tubing/white water rafting. White water river tubing and rafting doesn’t have to be completely extreme. Many companies offer a more sedate version for families who just want to float along.
46. Go husky sledding. You can ride behind a team of huskies without having to leave the UK. There are a number of husky experience companies that operate all year round in the UK. If that is a bit too commercial for you, try cannicross which is running with your own dog in a harness (not ideal for pugs). There are canicross events throughout the UK.
47. Try Laser tag. If you are struggling to drag your children away from modern warfare games on their computers, why not offer them a taste of the real thing at an outdoor laser tag venue. Laser Tag is safer than paint ball and air soft, but it still brings out the competitive spirit.
48. Go dry tubing or tobogganing. Many UK dry ski slopes now offer all weather tubing and some even have custom made metal half tube toboggan runs.
49. Go Power kiting. Having now mastered the basics of elementary kite flying, its time to progress to Power Kiting. Start with a bit of kite jumping and then progress to kite buggying or kite surfing. Join a recognised Kitesports School to learn the ropes.
50. Go off road mountain biking. Take biking to the next level at one of the UK’s designated Mountain Bike Trail Centres.
If you found this useful then check out my other posts in the ‘101 thoughts on raising children’ series:
I will add one every week, so follow me if you don’t want to miss out. I’d also love to hear any ideas, comments or feedback that you would like to share.