Friday, 25 July 2014

Golden rules for a family day out

Happy Families!

It's the summer holiday, so naturally your thoughts will be turning to ways of entertaining the children. For all that is written about how boredom is good for children, the reality is often utterly intolerable forcing the average parent to resort to highly expensive and inconvenient amusements. Hence the decision to do a family day out - be it to a theme park, to a stately home or just to anywhere other than under your feet - there are some simple rules I have discovered through painful trial and error, which should go some way towards making the experience more bearable.

So here are my golden rules for a successful family day out:


I realise this appears to be a rather contradictory rule, but while bored children within the confines of your home are hard to take, imagine that distilled to the inside of car for several hours on a hot day. It doesn't really bear contemplation and at least at home you are in close proximity to drinks, snacks and a toilet.


If you insist on pressing ahead with this harebrained scheme then you do not, whatever you do, leave the house without a proper supply of food. It amazes me how leaving the house appears to create an insatiable hunger in my boys. It's as if as soon as they are out of range of the fridge their stomachs start to panic. Even a short walk is accompanied by whines that they are hungry, no matter how recently they were fed, and who can forget the soporific effect of a breadstick on a testy toddler? I know that  boxes of raisins were the only way to survive a shopping trip when mine were still buggy bound. For a long car journey the rule is pack as many snacks as you can physically fit around you in the footwell of your car, and you will still run out before you get there.


I know the reason that you got them out of the house in the first was to get them away from screens, but if your trip is likely to take more than an hour, then sink your principles and plug them right back in again. We have travelled across Europe in blissful silence all courtesy of the combined forces of an iPad and an in-car DVD system. It really is the only way to travel without dumping at least one child beside the motorway when their bickering becomes too much to take.


When I was a grown up, as opposed to a parent, the idea of a child-friendly destination filled me with dread. What constituted a good day out was perhaps a brief flit around an historical site, a long walk in the gardens and a slap up lunch in a top notch restaurant. Or maybe there would be live music and a bottle of fizz on a stretch of manicured green lawn, or perhaps an indulgent picnic and some open air theatre.  Essentially the key to it was that these activities actively discouraged the participation of small children, what with their requirement to pay attention to something for more than a few seconds without shouting, screaming or getting bored.

Now, when selecting a destination there are only two things that are essential: 1. a cafe serving child friendly food, for which read chips and anything in breadcrumbs and 2. a play area, or preferably two, one indoors and one outdoors, so you are covered for all weather eventualities. Other than that I'm easy.


If I am going out for the day I need a phone, keys, money and a pair of sunglasses. If I am going out for the day with my sons I need the aforementioned trailer load of food, wipes, suncream, bottles of water all round, a change of clothes or two, towels if we are likely to go anywhere near water, toys, aforementioned entertainment devices and yes, more food. It is better than when they were tiny and you had to add a buggy, nappies, milk and several more changes of clothes to that list, but still getting the boys out of the house is like a military exercise and I still always find I have forgot the one crucial thing I really need.


By this I am not referring to the previous point, instead I mean you need to prepare for your return. This is very simple. Make sure that you have a chilled bottle of white resting in the fridge, ready to be cracked open the second your children have been herded into bed. After the first glass or two the post traumatic stress following a family outing starts to fade and blur into a false memory of a lovely day out. This can be the only explanation as to why we are sure to put ourselves through it again next school holiday.

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