Thursday, May 29, 2008

Family Activities

My friend Tara gave a link to this new weblog, Simply A Mom. It sounds like it will have a bunch of activities that you can do with your kids and other helpful things.

Which got me thinking...I should write about what we do with our kids!

We definitely like to do fun activities with our children. But due to schedules, naptimes, budgets, etc., our activities can't be big complicated all day events. The things we tend to do are simple yet at the same time fun for both parents and kids. So here you go...our favorite activities:

1) Orienteering - If you enjoy hiking, then I think you'll love orienteering. It's like hiking...but with a purpose! Orienteering events usually take place in large parks, although they can also take place in urban settings. You start with a map and a compass. The map tells you the location of several 'controls'. You have to use the map to figure out the best way to get to each control.
There are usually several courses with differing levels of difficulty. When we go as a family, we usually do the easiest course. The easier courses are pretty much all on trails, so you don't have to go off road at all.
Here's why we think orienteering is a great family activity:
  • We get to take a nice hike in a park - The shorter courses can range anywhere from 1 to 3 miles. For our kids, the 1 mile one was too short and the 3 mile one really tuckered them out. If the shortest course seems too long, there's nothing keeping you from just cutting it short and stopping midway.
  • Finding the controls makes it interesting for the kids - On the easier courses, each control is not too far apart. So they get to do something fun at regularly spaced intervals. In addition, you don't really know the exact location of the control from the map. So you are given a clue sheet that tells you what to look for when you get in the general vicinity. So finding each control can be like a little game (although on the easiest courses, the controls for the most part are quite easy to find).
  • Kids have fun using the map - Now, our kids are too young to actually be able to read the map. But they seem to love holding it and trying to navigate with it.
  • Not too expensive - At our events, the cost is usually $9 for the family ($7 for the 1st adult, $2 for any additional adults, kids are free).
  • Scores - At the events that we go to, they post the results on the internet. So when you're done, a few days later, you can go to the website and show your kids how well you guys did.
  • Local - There are several nice parks in our area. So most of the orienteering events are not very far away.
How do you start? Well, first of all, you need to find an orienteering club in your area. Try going here and see if you can find one. Then just find out when they're having an event. Orienteering events are kind of a big deal to set up, so there usually aren't too many a year. We probably only get to do this 3 or 4 times a year.

2) Letterboxing - Think your kids would like trying to find a hidden treasure? Then maybe you should take them letterboxing. In letterboxing, you're given a clue to the location of a 'letterbox'. It will be hidden in a public area. Some clues are pretty direct ('follow the path 100 meters, look at the base of the large oak tree') while some require you to use your brain a little bit.

When you go letterboxing, you need to bring a couple of things with you. You'll need your own personal rubber stamp and a notebook to use a letterboxing journal (and a stamp pad would be helpful as well). Why? Because each letterbox contains its own rubber stamp and journal. The journal in the letterbox contains a history of everyone who has ever found the box. The idea is that when you find a letterbox, you take your rubber stamp and mark a page in the journal, adding yourself to the letterbox's history. Then you take the stamp from the box and mark your own journal, so that you can keep track of all the boxes that you've found.

How do you get started? First go someplace like this to read up on the basics of letterboxing. Then go to a letterboxing website and look for clues in your area. When you find one that sounds interesting, get your supplies together and go find it! Pretty simple. Keep in mind that sometimes, you won't be able to find a letterbox. Since they're in public places, they can go missing every once in a while. Because of this, it might be a good idea to start with ones that have been recently placed (the clue lists should also have the placement dates).

Our kids really enjoy this. They call it 'treasure hunting'. There's something that's just plain fun about following a clue and actually finding a hidden box nestled under some twigs behind a bush, or underneath a park bench, exactly where the clue said it would be.

This is actually also a great activity for long car trips. When you're planning a trip, take a look and see if there are any letterboxes along the way. Maybe there's one at one of the rest stops or at a small park that's not too far from the highway. Fun activities like this can really break up a long road trip.

So yeah, I highly recommend letterboxing. One of the nice things is that you can really do it anytime. You don't need to wait for a special event, just pack up and go. And if your family gets really into it, maybe another activity that you could do would be to create your own letterbox!

There are other activities that we like to do, I'll save those for another post. But these are 2 of our favorites.

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