Out & About

Getting them active

by Emily Sparkes

Play areas and parks, and all the fun that this brings,

These are a few of my favourite things…

Here are some of my tops picks:

Pensthorpe Natural Park
Pensthorpe, Norfolk

An extensive nature reserve with excellent facilities to encourage children and young people to be more active and enjoy the outdoors. Hootz House indoor adventure play is perfect for inclement weather and Wild Rootz eco-play area features a 30ft tower with slides, zip wires and underground tunnels. There’s even a stream you can paddle in!

Nicholas Everitt Park

Oulton Broad, Suffolk

There’s a playground with equipment to suit children of all ages, including a dedicated toddler area. This park also has an accessible roundabout and swing for wheelchair users. Great coffee and treats are available from The Old Dairy or the newly refurbished Everitt Park Café & Bar.

Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall, Norfolk

Set in beautiful surroundings that make an excellent destination for a walk or cycle-ride (bike hire is available on site). There’s also an incredible Woodland Play Area that’s free of charge. If all that activity works up an appetite, take a visit to The Courtyard Café or The Victoria Inn.

Sandringham Estate

Sandringham, Norfolk 

Since opening earlier this year, the new adventure play area at Sandringham Estate has been exceptionally popular and it’s easy to see why. There’s a specific toddler area and plenty to do for older children, including climbing the 26ft Water Tower. You don’t need to purchase a ticket to enter either. 

Carlton Marshes

Lowestoft, Suffolk

Another beautiful setting and the perfect venue for a stroll or scavenger hunt with plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities. An impressive outdoor play area opened earlier this year. With all the equipment made from sustainable materials and cleverly built into the natural landscape, this is a perfect park for older children – think 4+. Suffolk Wildlife Trust also hosts plenty of activities for children and families such as Wild Tots and Wild Families.

If you’re anything like me, January with its cold weather and dark days makes you want to curl up in a ball and hibernate until the clocks change and temperatures are comfortably in the teens. Whilst I’m currently sitting here in front of my SAD lamp, wrapped in a million layers, wearing fluffy socks and eating leftover mince pies; deep down, I am aware that the best way to beat the January blues is to get up and get active. The same is true for children, keeping active is intrinsically linked to mental wellbeing, physical health, improved concentration and sleep. In fact, the NHS recommends that children do 60 minutes of exercise per day. This leaves parents with something of a quandary, how best to ensure they get the exercise and activity without it becoming a battle? Well, I’ve had some ideas… 

Get Out

Since becoming a parent, I’ve pretty much lived by the motto “If in doubt, get out.” I’m one of those people that find parenting and life in general all together easier and more enjoyable when I’m out and about. For some reason, no matter how many toys and activities you have scattered across the floors of your house, toddlers and little people are so much easier to entertain beyond the four walls of your home. These trips out don’t even need to be desperately exciting either; sometimes just a walk to the pond down the road to feed the ducks or a visit to the playground is enough. 

Make it Fun (for them and you)

Getting children to exercise really needn’t be a chore. In fact, most kids are happiest when they’re active. I appreciate that weekly visits to the same playground might soon become samey, so how about making a bucket list of playgrounds to tick off over the course of a year or a month? The Instagram account @NorfolkPlayParks (they also have a website) has been invaluable for helping me find new playgrounds to take my son to. 

I’ve also discovered that as an adult, the secret to enjoying a trip to the playground on a cold day (besides thermals and the biggest coat you can get your hands on) is good company and a decent coffee. I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic mum friend and she and I often team up to take our toddlers to the playground. This has a plethora of benefits including, but not limited to: having someone to chat to and drink aforementioned coffee with (probably the most obvious but also my favourite); having a play-mate for the toddler to chase and run around with and having someone who might be a little more organised than you and always has a ready supply of snacks, nappies, spare clothes or even a towel (don’t ask!). Take a friend to the park – you wont regret it! And if you don’t already have a great friend who happens to be a fellow parent, chat to those who look lonely at the playground and you might find yourself a new mum-pal. 

Get Competitive 

One of the most useful lessons I learned in my previous career as a secondary school English teacher is that children (of all ages) suddenly become far more motivated when you turn something into a competition. I realised that even the most reluctant of Shakespeare students would become Romeo and Juliet connoisseurs overnight if they knew that there was going to be a “fun” pub-style quiz at the end of the week. Especially if they knew that there might be a prize involved (think small bag of Haribo, not top-of-the-range games console), my lessons became a hundred times easier to plan! The same can be applied to getting children to exercise. Having a dull afternoon? Create a mini sports day with items from around the home. One needn’t be Lord Sebastian Coe in order to arrange an egg and spoon race, a three-legged race or a little game of shot put. However, if your child is anything like mine, you might want to reconsider the heavy metal ball and swap-in something a little more window-friendly such as a tennis ball or a beanbag. 

Spice Up Your Walk

I’m the first to admit that taking children for a walk rarely (or never) is as much fun as you hope it’s going to be. I’ve regularly fallen into the trap of watching Mummy Influencers take their compliant and immaculately dressed brood for a leisurely stroll and imagining that I too, can be like them. The reality of taking my child for a walk (he’s two, for context) is that he: A. Very quickly becomes distracted by things, especially those that are unpleasant or inappropriate eg. Dog poo bin. B. Runs in the complete opposite direction to that in which we were travelling and suddenly becomes faster than Usain Bolt. C. Gets quite upset when we try to cajole him into actually walking with us. Who knew a two-year-old could already be embarrassed to be seen with their parents? D. Finds a large puddle or even better, a large body of dirty water and attempts to immerse himself in it. 

However, I like to imagine that as my son gets older, I’ll be able to make walks more fun by turning them into some sort of age-appropriate scavenger hunt. Again, this doesn’t need to be difficult – just give children a list of things to find, collect or look out for on their walk and offer some form of small prize if they find them all. For example, “Can you find an acorn?” “What colour is the door on such-and-such a place?” For younger children, this could be simplified further by using picture prompts.

Visit your Local Sports or Leisure Centre

One of the many pitfalls of January is that it’s not often sunny and it’s definitely not warm. If anyone knows whom we speak to about this then please let me know. As someone who needs to get out and about daily in order to maintain some semblance of sanity, I know all too well how frustrating it is when there’s rain bouncing off the pavements outside and it feels like there’s little or nothing to do. I’m also aware of how quickly the cost of those rainy-day activities stacks up. Therefore, since becoming a parent, I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for my local sports and leisure centres that offer a selection of children’s activities (and coffee) at a reasonable cost. The leisure centre nearest me boasts a soft play area – yes, I saw you shudder but there’s no denying that they’re a great way to get the kids active. In addition to this, they also offer specific parent and child swimming times so you don’t have to worry about your little angels getting in Barbara’s way whilst she does her fifty lengths of breast stroke; as well as a wide range of other activities that are all suitable for children. Check your local one out and thank me later!

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