As a parent, one of my favorite things is taking family outings. It’s the perfect time to get away from household chores or the lure of the computer, and to make some fun memories together.
Over the years, we’ve had lots of fun ones (and a few . . . less successful ones), but as we get more practice as parents, we’ve learned some tricks to make sure everyone comes home at the end of the day gushing about the highlights instead of sobbing in their carseats.
Here are a few of our family’s tricks for making the most a family outing or adventure, most of which we’ve learned the hard way:
8 Secrets for a Fun Family Outing
- Prep your kids for what you’ll see. When we went to San Diego in 2015 for a few days to kick off Christmas vacation, and went to the San Diego Zoo on one of those days. For weeks beforehand, we’d go around the table at dinner and talk about what kinds of animals we most wanted to see at the Zoo. We watched videos about the different exhibits, looked at the map so everyone could pick out what sections we were most excited about, and pulled up pictures from our previous zoo visits. By the time we went, everyone had a feel for what our day at the Zoo would look like and was excited about what we’d see.
- Bring a jacket. I learned this growing up in Las Vegas, where I’d go to movies and it’d be 113 degrees outside, but so freezing inside the theater that I’d be uncomfortable nearly the whole time and instead of enjoying the movie, I’d spend the whole time wishing I’d brought along a jacket. W’ve been on plenty of trips where we spent one day wearing sunscreen at the beach and the next day wearing coats while it drizzled. I can’t stand to have our trip derailed because I just didn’t think to grab a few sweatshirts.
- A stroller is always a good idea. My children are always swearing up and down that they won’t want to ride in the stroller, and then forty minutes later, we’re trying to figure out how to get three children into our beloved double stroller (no ways that are approved by the stroller manufacturers, I’ll tell you that). Especially if you’re going to a zoo or amusement park, that thing is worth its weight in gold. I imagine that someday we’ll visit Disneyland without a stroller, but it’s hard to imagine that day will be anytime soon (I still remember our first trip to Disneyland and as we left the park at midnight, my six-year-old sister was the one in the stroller).
- Don’t rush your children along. I first started noticing this at Christmas a few years ago, when the urge to say, “Don’t play with that present! Let’s open the next one!” is strong. Now I try to fight that urge when we visit somewhere new too – if my girls want to watch a baby giraffe for thirty minutes, I try not to rush them along so we can also hit the koala exhibit. I’d rather they remember having all the time in the world to watch a jaguar with their nose smashed up against the glass than their main memory being me hustling them along to the next exhibit.
- For a special occasion, be willing to adjust your child’s schedule. I generally am pretty strict about nap times and bed times, but I think this makes it even more special when occasionally you toss the rules out the window. At Disneyland last year, Ella was thrilled to be up hours past her bedtime, riding rides and watching the fireworks. On the other hand, the other three girls were so dead by 6:30 that Bart took them back to the hotel for pizza and a normal bedtime.
- Don’t stay longer than your kids can handle just to “get your money’s worth.” I’m definitely one of those people who wants to feel like I got my money’s worth, but Bart always reminds me that once you’ve paid an entrance fee, it’s a sunk cost. If nap time is approaching or someone has a complete meltdown or whatever, there’s no gold medal for staying longer. Be happy for the fun time you’ve had and know when to call it quits. I need this tattooed on my arm.
- Snacks. Always snacks. I’m that mom who never has snacks along (because it’s so annoying to me when my children don’t eat at meals), but when we’re going on a family outing, we always pack snacks so that everyone is fueled for more than five minutes. I know this is a ground-breaking tip, right here. And of course, I’m always the one downing half the snacks (the other reason I don’t generally pack snacks . . . ).
- If you don’t have time for everything, let everyone pick one thing. We started doing this years ago in Boston when Bart’s brother came to visit and we went to an enormous museum we knew we’d never get all the way through. We looked through the map and everyone picked two sections they wanted to see. Now we do the same thing with our kids – even if we don’t get to the whole museum, the whole zoo, or the whole amusement park, at least everyone got to see at least the one thing they were most excited about (and if you’re not that thrilled about what your child picked, at least you get to see YOUR biggest priority).
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