10 Ways to Turn the Local Park Into an Adventure Wonderland for Kids
Do your older children complain that they’ve outgrown the playground?
These community resources have a lot more to offer than just swings and soccer fields (and sand in your shoes).
In fact, a visit to the park can be a brand-new adventure each time you go.
In this article, I’ll give you 10 ways to transform an ordinary park visit into a fresh family adventure that you’ll all enjoy.
Why Plan a Park Adventure?
Parks are great—don’t get me wrong. Visiting the park is one of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy an afternoon together. Nothing beats a park for inexpensive outdoor fun.
But while the little ones never seem to tire of playing on the playground, by the time kids get a little older it seems that they’d rather plug into their electronics than play outdoors.
What’s a family to do?
Plan a new park adventure!
A park adventure isn’t fancy or expensive. It just requires you to look past the playground and find ways to turn an ordinary day at the park into something extraordinary and fun for everyone.
A park adventure doesn’t take a lot of money or effort. Simply take advantage of the natural settings and free resources at your park, add one of the easy adventures you’ll find below and you’ll end up with an activity that even your older children won’t want to end.
#1: Hunt for Treasure
Everyone loves a treasure hunt. They’re great fun for little kids, big kids and even grown-up kids at heart. A park is the perfect place to have a treasure hunt.
To start your quest, you’ll need to gather some treasure to hide. Plastic gold coins or costume jewelry work perfectly, are inexpensive and can usually be found at a local craft store. No time for a trip to the store? Dig through your kids’ toy boxes (Hot Wheels cars are a possibility) or your stash of office supplies (Post-it Notes are super easy); any small, similar objects will work.
Once you’re at the park, find a quiet area where your treasure won’t be disturbed. A grassy section works well. Have your children close their eyes while you hide the treasure.
You can hide the treasure all together in one hiding spot (think pot of gold or treasure chest) or you can spread individual pieces over multiple hiding spots (like an Easter egg hunt). Choose according to your own kids’ ages, interests and abilities.
Tip: Count your treasure before starting so that you can be sure to pick it all up before leaving the park.
Once the treasure is hidden, point out the boundaries of the game and let the hunt begin! To add another dimension of fun, set a time limit and watch your treasure hunters race to see who can find the treasure the fastest.
Your kids will want to play again, so take turns hiding the treasure and searching for it.
#2: Create an Obstacle Course
Playground equipment, ball fields, walking paths and even trees provide endless opportunities for you to create obstacle course challenges that are fun for everyone.
Some parks even have fun fitness ideas posted on signs that you can easily incorporate into an obstacle course race.
To set up an obstacle course, all you have to do is plan a series of physical tasks, memorize the route and then race against the clock or each other to the finish line.
Here’s a sample obstacle course that will work at most parks:
- Climb a ladder
- Go down the slide
- Go up the steps—backwards
- Slide down the nearest pole
- Run down the path and touch the nearest picnic shelter
If your park is too crowded to safely race on the playground equipment, map out your course in a wide-open space and set physical activities such as jumping jacks as your “obstacles.”
#3: Fly a Kite
Head to a park on a windy day and fly kites together. It’s the perfect activity to do as a family, because it usually takes at least two people to achieve flight.
How to make a homemade kite. Adult supervision required.
Be sure to find an empty field or grassy area away from trees and power lines.
#4: Discover a New Park
Last summer, my city hosted a citywide Park Hop to encourage families to visit our local parks. I was amazed by how many parks my family had never visited, and the different types of play areas and nature paths that we discovered.
This park near the airport has become a new favorite that we wouldn’t have known about. My kids love its aviation-themed playground, sidewalks painted as runways and amphitheater for plane watching.
Create your own park hop. All you need to do is search your city’s website to find local parks that you haven’t visited.
Find one or two new parks and plan a visit. Older kids will enjoy rating the different parks and publishing a local guide.
Be sure to research the amenities of each park and identify the best entrance for your family before you go. My kids were disappointed when we entered a new park through the back entrance and totally missed the playground. We did find an interesting observation tower, though.
What will your family discover?
#5: Go on a Nature Walk
Many parks have wooded areas with walking paths for families. A family hike is a great way to spend time outdoors and teach kids to appreciate nature. Wear appropriate clothes and shoes and go on a short hike.
Here are some simple ways to add fun to a nature walk:
- Find a park with a creek suitable for wading or another fun natural setting to play in.
- Research local flora and plants and identify them while you walk.
Any time you go on a hike, be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks and keep the walk short enough to be fun for all the hikers.
#6: Pay it Forward
Teach your kids to be good caretakers of the earth and to make the park a nicer place. It involves more than just properly disposing of your own trash but also helping to pick up trash left by others.
Bring a trash bag, some gloves and hand sanitizer to the park and clean up trash for 15 minutes or a half hour. Remember to separate out the recyclables.
It may sound dirty and gross, but my kids love this activity! And it can open the door to several meaningful conversations about: the environment, service to the community, safety and more.
Tip: Be sure to wear gloves and use hand sanitizer to keep hands free from nasty germs. Remind younger children not to handle broken glass or metal.
#7: Ride Bikes
Parks are a perfect place to enjoy a family bike ride without having to deal with the dangers of street traffic.
Research your area to find a park with bike trails or tracks, and head out for a couple of hours of fun bike riding.
Remember to bring your helmets and a first-aid kit.
#8: Pack an Old-Fashioned Picnic
There’s something special about eating outside. It seems to make any meal taste a little bit better. Enjoy a delicious picnic in the park with your family.
Pack a quick picnic lunch or dinner, head to your favorite park and set your temporary table. Most parks have picnic shelters or tables, but it may be more fun to spread a blanket down in a dry grassy spot and eat on the ground.
Pack a Frisbee or ball and take advantage of the wide-open space at the park to play a game after your meal.
#9: Observe and Identify Wildlife and Insects
Check out a guide to local wildlife and insects from the library or download an app to your phone or tablet, and head to the park to see what kind of animals or bugs you can find.
To increase your chance of seeing living creatures or to see a wider variety of critters, choose a park with nature trails, observation towers or water.
Explore the park slowly and use binoculars or a magnifying glass to observe the life that you see.
Encourage your kids to try to identify the insects and wildlife you discover using the guide.
Take photos of the wildlife that you observe and create your own local guide at home using the photos. Or make casts of their tracks and start a collection.
#10: Go on a Scavenger Hunt
Ready… Set… Search!
Give your kids a list of things to find at the park and let them loose to go search for them. Be sure to provide small bags to collect the items or a pencil to check things off the list as soon as they’re found.
You can customize the list for your favorite park, or create a more general list of things that can be found at any park.
Here are a few versatile scavenger hunt ideas:
- Color scavenger hunt: Find an object for each color of the rainbow and record it.
- Nature scavenger hunt: Use a local guide to make a list of animals, insects and plants that your local park might have. Have your children mark down each type of nature listed that they see.
- Letter scavenger hunt: Try to locate as many objects as you can find that begin with different letters of the alphabet.
- Photo scavenger hunt: Instead of checking items off their scavenger hunt list, give each child or team a camera and have them take photos of their discoveries.
Some Final Thoughts…
With just a little planning and creativity, you can turn a simple trip to the park into a memorable family moment that everyone—even the big kids—will enjoy. The park is a perfect place for a family adventure. Make the most of it!
What do you think? What activities does your family enjoy at the park? How many of the 10 adventures have you tried? I’d love to hear about your adventures. Please leave a comment or a photo below.