parenting, kids activities, toddlers

Practical Guide: 20 Examples of Simple Kid Outings

parenting, kids activities, toddlersThere was such a positive response to our “In Support of Stillness” post, it seems many of you are dealing with the same struggle to slow-down family life and find space in the margins to just be still.

We had some questions asking for specific ideas for ways to preserve simplicity in your family activities.

Here’s a list to get you started.

Not a “take them to your local library” list.

Though you can do that too.  We do.

But more of “I’ve lived this and it works I promise” type of list.

1.  Local public school bus barn

I took my boys to the bus barn the week before school started the summer of 2012.  I simply went inside and asked them if the boys could take a tour of the buses.  For insurance reasons they said no, but they did have foldable cardboard buses that they distribute to people that wander in.

We stood outside the bus barn and counted the buses.  We watched them start and stop and a few honked at us.

The boys were in heaven.

Maybe where you live you can actually score a tour.  Let me know if you do.

2.  Tractor store

Let the kids climb on the tractors and pretend to drive them.  Take home some books (aka brochures) home that the kids can look through and point to the tractors they know or rode on.

3.  Construction site

I can’t tell you how many times I see a construction site and immediately pull over to watch.  Better than TV, better than snacks.  Depending on the site you may be able to get out and watch, or maybe just roll down the windows.  Always be sure to wave, the workers get a kick out of it as do the kids.

4.  Target (or similar store if not Stateside)

When you break it down, Target is really just a huge space with a lot of fun items.  Go play with the toys but don’t buy any.  Explain that “Nothing here is to buy, it’s just to play with.  Like at (church, school, Sally’s house, fill in the blank).”

DO NOT bring in a shopping list.  This has to be a looking and not errand running activity only.

5.  Library

Usually a play area inside.  Books to check out.  Storytimes.  Toddler times.

6.  Pee-wee football or baseball game

Why spend a lot of money to go to a professional or college game when:

a. The kiddos won’t make it through half of it

b. They will most likely be super far away from the action and

c. They will have to sit still in a seat.

Go to the local pee wee games and get in on the action.

Let the kids retrieve the soccer ball when it goes out of bounds.  Ask if you can play with the practice balls.  Run the bases when a game ends.  Shake the cheerleaders hands.  Climb the bleachers.

7.  Doggie daycare 

We go to PetSmart or any other dog care facility that has big glass windows.  The boys love watching the dogs play.  They name them and talk to them and laugh at them.

8.  Churches

Some have libraries with no late fees, most have playgrounds.  You don’t have to be a member at any of the facilities we visit and the people are usually super nice.

9.  Petstore

Play with the animals for free.  This is especially good if you really are thinking about buying a pet.  Or if you have decided you are definitely NOT buying a pet!

10. Baseball field

Kids love to run the bases.

11. Playground


12. Airport

In Dallas there’s a special area right outside the airport where you can watch the planes take off and land while listening to air traffic control.  The boys love guessing where the planes might be coming from or where they’re going.

13. Car wash

Again, you can go through, but you can also just watch the other cars go through as well.  Some have big glass panels that allow for viewing.

Last time we went Mr. B grabbed a broom and started sweeping the floors.

14. Grocery store

These places can really be fun and educational if you have time to let your kids observe and explore.

15. Boot camp

I use to attend a trampoline boot camp.  I worked out while the boys got the whole trampoline park to themselves to play with other kids and another adult that watched them.  They didn’t charge anything to watch them.  The boys got TONS of wiggles out, and we all got some good exercise.

16. Garden center

When we go I try to point out some new types of plants and flowers, but mostly the boys just like to play in the “little houses” aka sheds that they have there.  They could play for in those for 30 min. completely undisturbed.

17. High School

In the summer time the high school bands are always practicing in the parking lot for the upcoming football season.  Go and listen to them – dance, run and discuss all the different instruments.

18. Farmer’s Market

This is a great spot to discuss different fruits and vegetables and smell new things.

You don’t need to make a “Farmer’s Market Scavenger Hunt” board before you go or feel like you have to buy stuff and cook it together at home.

Just go without any plan and see what happens.

19. Gymnastics Center

You don’t have to do gymnastics or sign-up for a class to just go and watch.  The boys are always amazed to see how the kids can flip and swing and run.

20. Yours Workplace or Your SO’s

Our boys love nothing better than to go have lunch with Chris at his office. Plus, he gets to chow them what he does all day. The boys also love meeting all the interesting new people while they are there.

In Support of Stillness

parenting, simplicity, stillness, slowing down

My husband and I live in a fast-paced, affluent suburb where we are constantly bombarded with noise, information, and a current of family and kid activities available.

Living here I have always struggled against the feeling that I must rush from one thing to the next.

And that my children must do the same.

I could give in and sign my kids up for soccer and swim lessons and music camps.  But instead, I choose to listen to my gut and accept that for our family, less is more.

We spend more time at home snuggled up reading books, eating slow dinners together, and taking walks to the park to play.

The less packed our calendar is, the better we seem to feel.

It’s taken me years to be comfortable living where we live and keeping our lives calm and not filled to the brim with activities.

We don’t always have to be on the go.  Nor do our children.

I know you know this.

But sometimes it takes someone saying “I don’t subscribe to the status quo” in order for others to feel confident walking the same path.

I wish I had more mentors in this area.  I would love someone to teach me more about how to be still with my family.

There are few leaders and few pockets of our society where I feel like true peace can be found.

Ours is a culture that values doing and being busy and achieving.

So, without moving to another country, how do we learn to put more trust in stillness?

Here’s a few ways I try to provide our family with calm in the midst of the suburban storm of busyness.

1. Allow for quiet in the house

The TV is not on unless the boys are watching a show or two.  Reduced background noise makes it possible for them to concentrate fully on play or reading or just quiet contemplation.

2. Keep the extraordinary extra ordinary 

We do so much for our children that if we’re not careful, the bar for extraordinary can be re-set without us even realizing it.

Going to the zoo use to be a big deal for me when I was a kid.  Now with zoo camps and season passes and playdates, going to the zoo has become just a regular activity.

Same for water parks and concerts and sporting events.

It’s okay if your kids go to the zoo once a year.  Or once every two years.

Zoos are pretty incredible, but like anything, when not done in moderation, the special quality and feeling of excitement fades.

Same for eating out and trampoline parks.

We mistake activities and stuff for happiness, when really our children just want subtle routines and attention.

3. Feed Resourcefulness

Instead of trying to figure out what you can do for your child to fill their day, try to think instead of how you can help your child to be resourceful so that they may better fill their own days.

Since Mr. B and Mr. C were babies, I’ve used the word resourceful with them and now at 4, not only are they incredibly resourceful, they understand what resourcefulness means.

Just yesterday Mr. B asked if he could have an apple.  I said sure.  He went to the kitchen, got the apple then returned to our bathroom.  He proceeded to grab our hand soap dispenser and use it as a sort of grappler attachment to reach and turn on the faucet.

He washed his apple, then used a bottle of lotion to turn back off the faucet.

Then he went on his way.

While this isn’t necessarily an example of how a child can be encouraged to entertain themselves, it is a great example of how fostering resourcefulness will help everyone.

Children have to be guided a bit on how to play alone.  How to invent games and fashion new toys out of odd materials.

When I just tell the boys to go make a castle, they look at me like I’m crazy.  But if I spend five minutes showing them how moving boxes can be turned over and opened and stacked, before I know it they are lining them up and dreaming up intricate control centers and tunnels.

4. Inject spontaneity

The tricky thing about all these activities where you have to sign your kids up and then pay is that they tend to last a longer period of time than your kid’s interest will, and they cost more money than you might want to spend.

Try to find a new forest to explore.  Take a nature walk.  Go to the farmers market.  Take a soccer ball to a popular park and see if you can get a pick-up game started.  Cook a new snack together.

These might sound like crazy ideas, but crazy is relative right?  Kids do these things daily all over the world.  And a lot of them are happier than our kids are right now (or at the very least, much less medicated).

The great thing about spontaneous events are they are free.  They are real-life (which is becoming more and more important as our world changes).  They can be done with older and younger siblings as they are all easily modified for older or younger siblings.

5. Allow for Daydreaming

Being bored is okay.  We were bored.  Our parents were bored.  And our parents parents were definitely bored.

Daydreaming and staring and idleness can and should be celebrated. Boredom is often the spur to creative thought, stretching our abilities to fill in the precious gaps in time with words, worlds and wonder.

In Conclusion

Life doesn’t have to be so fast-paced, especially for our tiny people.

The pace that we are setting and demonstrating now is going to guide how our children move through their lives as adults.

Let’s teach them to embrace the stillness by doing it ourselves in small ways every day.

It’s Your Life. You Write the Story.

It's Your Life. You Write the Story.(I wrote this guest post on Joshua Becker’s excellent website Becoming Minimalist.)

New Year’s Day has come and gone. The toasts have been raised and the resolutions have been made. Another fresh batch of 30 dozen opportunities now stretch out before us.

But let’s fast-forward past all the days of 2015. Let’s imagine tonight is December 31st, 2015, the last night of the year.

The ball hasn’t dropped quite yet, but there’s a break in the revelry around you. The music and laughter of the party grows quiet, the celebration momentarily dies down.

In this moment of peace, your mind reflects on the events of your life during 2015. You relive your proudest success, your most embarrassing misstep, and everything in-between.

You pore through the year in your mind—like flipping through the familiar pages of a much-thumbed book.

Now you are back in the present.

Answer this question: Who wrote that book?


1. You Are The Protagonist

Humans tell stories to make sense of our world, to create meaning for ourselves, and to provide inspiration for others.

Being the protagonist in your own story is about accepting the role of “good guy.”

You are the one in 2015 who will make the conscious choice to drink one less soda per day, finish one great book per month, or buy one less object per week.

One of the greatest virtues that a website like Becoming Minimalistprovides for me and my family is the steadfast reminder that the meaning we ascribe to our stuff, our clutter, and the objects in our lives is created by us alone.

That reminder returns the power to us, where it has always been. It removes our illusions. It calls us to shape that meaning in a way that is best for us, our families, and our world.

It reminds us that in the screenplay of our lives, we decide what all these props will mean.

You are the hero who gets to decide which triumphs you will aspire and work towards for yourself and your family in 2015.

Nobody else.


2. You Are The Villain

Since 1962, Spider-Man has taught the world “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Through his arrogance and apathy, Peter Parker allowed a chain of events to unfold which resulted in the death of his beloved uncle Ben.

You are, always and forever, your worst enemy.

I am reminded of this in my own life all too often.

As my wife Sarah and I strive each week to create original children’s audio stories to improve the quality time of families around the world, we encounter our fair share of obstacles.

These obstacles often appear disguised as important meetings, fun social events, family obligations, fears, or worries.

They seem to come into our lives from the outside. But that is just an illusion. These obstacles originate from within.

When we don’t accept the responsibility of the power we wield over our own lives, when we give that power away to distraction or clutter or fear, we are the Villain.

You are the one who will trip yourself in 2015, the one who will make rationalizations, the one who will listen to the soft, familiar voice of fear.

Nobody else.


3. You Are The Author

We are creatures built to search for meaning. When we don’t find it, our hearts and our minds invent it automatically.

What 2015 will mean to you will ultimately come down to the kind of story you tell yourself each and every day.

The exciting news is that you always have a choice.

You can choose to turn off the printing press and rewrite your story with intention.

2015 offers 365 new opportunities (delivered one after another) to make little changes that add up to big differences.

We can choose to write the stories of our lives in 2015 to be filled with mindfulness, gratitude, and abundant love for each other and our world.

We can choose to write the stories of our families to be full of kindness and laughter; resiliency and authenticity; healing and hope.

We can choose to write the stories of our personal spiritual journeys to be guided by faith and forgiveness; wisdom and understanding.

We are the defenders and the scoundrels and the authors of our own story. It’s up to you and me to make 2015 a story worth reading.

Nobody else.

parenting, issues, favor bags

How to Create a Better Birthday Party by Doing Less

parenting, issues, favor bagsMy sister April called me this past weekend to ask me a 1st Birthday party etiquette question.

It got me reminiscing about Mr. B and Mr. C (our boys) 1st birthday party.

I was really proud of how simple we kept it, and how meaningful it felt.

Simple and meaningful are two words that, when infused into most any situation, will almost always yield positive results.

It’s hard in these days of Pinterest and Facebook and blogs to keep things simple and meaningful.

So, if you’re planning a 1st (or even 2nd or 3rd birthday party) here’s some tips and tricks on how to buck the status quo, and have a memorable party, without any added stress.


1. Maintain Perspective

Here’s your primary goal for your child’s 1st birthday party – the child makes it to their 1st birthday party.

How’s that for setting the bar low?

But let’s think about this from a meaningful point of view.

You GAVE BIRTH. You and your tribe kept a human being alive for a year. This human being knows nothing about this d
ay except what he or she will see in photos many years down the road.

What do you remember about your 1st birthday party?

I’m going to guess you only “remember” what you’ve seen in photos.  And there were probably two photos of that event, maybe a handful more.  A shaky video if your parents were really into the latest technology.

Have you ever once judged your parents for what they did or didn’t do for your 1st birthday party?

Do you remember the people that were there?

And if they weren’t there, do you or your parents remember their excuse for not being there? Do you care?

What your children will care about when they are older is the love and education you provided them with in that 1st year.

That you changed their diapers. That you bathed them. That you let them fall asleep on your chest and that you fed them what they needed to be fed.


2. Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Who are the monogrammed cupcakes and DIY pinatas for?  Your baby certainly doesn’t know what those are.

Who knows what they are?  – The adult attendants of the party know what those are.

And they know that perfectly sculpted turtle toppers made from green food colored marshmallows means you must love your child a lot.  And be super creative.  And have time to “do it all.”

But if we’re being authentic, and honest with ourselves, what it really means is:

Hostess: “I’m exhausted. I hope everyone notices my handcrafted Elmo’s made from Twizzlers and thinks that I’m so creative and fantastic because if not I just wasted 9 hours of my life and will feel like I’m not a good mom.”

Guest mom: “I’m so exhausted.  I hope no one notices those hand-crafted Elmo’s made from Twizzlers over there and thinks that the hostess is creative and fantastic because if they do I’m going to have to waste 13 hours of my life handcrafting gumdrop caterpillar cake pops or no one will think I’m a good mom.”

And on, and on it goes, until what?  Until we have bounce houses for two year olds who can barely jump?  Check.

Until we have catered one year old parties?  Check.

I’m not going to give the disclaimer you want me to give right now “yeah, but some people really like to craft.” Because you will hang on to that as your excuse as long as you can.

If you like to craft, craft something for under-privileged children in a homeless shelter and celebrate their birthdays as a group monthly.

Craft some pillows and art for a battered woman’s shelter.

Craft for people who will appreciate it, view it with the wonder and the admiration it deserves.

Don’t waste it on 1 and 2 year old’s birthday parties.

So if not that, then what? Well how about this:

Go into your child’s (or children’s) nursery, and take decor from their room to use as decorations.

I pulled the hanging poms from my boys ceiling and put them to use in the dining room behind the food table.

I used leftover fabric to make a small banner with their names to go across their cake (not as simple, but meaningful).  I took a pendant banner down from the wall in their room and strung it across the dining room.

I also used some of their baby clothes, shoes, stuffed animals, etc. to decorate around the house.

The “theme” of the first year party is the nursery.  Done.


3. Keep Gifts Simple

Next up, presents.

Again, take advantage that they have no idea what is going on, and buy them bigger bottles, or sippy cups if they need them.  More bibs.  Clothes.

Sure, buy one toy.  But keep it to just one.

Let friends and family spoil your children.  That’s what they love to do anyway.  And you’re never going to be able to convince Aunt Candy to buy the boys things they need, so why not just let them work in their strengths and buy them blocks and toy guitars and things that light up and make noise?


4. Home is Where the Party Is

The party is at home.  Wherever that may be.  Your apartment, condo, single family home, duplex.

It’s going to be okay, because you aren’t going to go overboard, and you’re working on authenticity, so you’re not going to worry that the house is perfectly clean, and you’re not going to worry about sculpting sheep out of cauliflower.

It’s special events like this that inevitably make your house feel more like a home.

And one day, when you move, the thought of this first or second or third birthday party will flash through the movie reel in your head of fond memories and love of this house.

Simple, but meaningful.

If you still aren’t convinced, if you still think that failing to deliver a Pinterest-y birthday party for your kid means you’re ruining your child: Steve Jobs, President Lincoln, Mark Twain and myself did not have elaborate 1st birthday parties.

And they all turned out pretty great.