Fun Educational Outings with Dad
Field trips are one of the rights of passage for children. For years they were called "airing the baby" when proud English nannies wheeled tiny tots around in dignified prams. This tradition made a comeback with Dr. Spock, who felt that babies and small children should be taken outdoors every day, if possible. Most parents now feel that outings are essential elements of child rearing, and when Dad is in charge of the trip, it lends the entire proceedings a festive air.
Dan Berger, stay-at-home dad from Libertyville, Ill., believes that field trips are right up a child's alley. "It's a big world out there and children are hard wired to explore as much of that world as they are able," says Berger. "I think that field trips help a child to develop a sense of scope and adventure."
Where you go on an outing depends on what you hope to get out of the trip. You wouldn't take your children to a museum if you wanted them to get exercise, nor would you take them to the gym if you wanted an educational field trip. Plan your goals ahead of time and your outing will be that much more successful.
There are a lot more places geared toward helping your child get some exercise than there used to be. Gyms promote physical fitness even in the very young. Make sure you check the age limits before attending, as some are geared for smaller children while others want your children to be over 13 for insurance purposes. If your children span a wide age range, look for family athletic clubs or YMCAs that cater to all ages.
Gyms can also be a great place to head during the winter months. "Chicago winters can make going outdoors iffy between the months of December and March," says Berger. "The local park district is a real life saver during this time. There are several area park district facilities that offer 'open gym' programs. The price is right, the gyms are well stocked with equipment and the kids really seem to enjoy it."
Local parks are always a favorite when it comes to getting active. Keeping a tote in your trunk with sports equipment is a wonderful way to get a variety of exercise at the same place. Sometimes children just want to play on the play equipment, but if you bring out a soccer ball or a Frisbee, it can change the whole outing.
Another wonderful outing with great physical benefits for children is your local swim center. They often have classes for children to take with a parent, which can be fun and instructive for the both of you.
If you want to mix learning and physical activity together, try the zoo or taking a walk downtown to look at the shops or outdoor art. Walking is a wonderful physical activity – just keep in mind that a small child who is distracted by everything may cause you to progress at a snail's pace!
It's easy for Bill White, a stay-at-home dad from Huntington, N.Y., to name his favorite educational outing for children. "The local library seems to be the hands down best location for us dads to promote the idea of learning," he says. "The libraries here offer kids story time as well as craft classes. It's a great way to introduce the love of reading, and my son always looks forward to a trip to the library."
Second only to the local library is your town's local bookstore. Many bookstores have a user-friendly children's section and offer story times as well. Make sure your children understand how to treat books gently or else the outing might be more expensive than you anticipated!
Pet stores are another wonderful learning opportunity. Beyond just your normal array of barking puppies and cute kitties, pet stores now carry a variety of animals such as exotic birds, rodents and reptiles. Depending on the age of your child, you can find out what kind of care each pet needs or where they originate from. Most of the personnel are more than happy to give mini tours and talk about the animals.
The Social Scene
"Any place where other kids congregate is a wonderful place to teach kids social skills," says White. "Playgrounds, 'Daddy and Me' classes, libraries, bookstores all involve socialization. I think the simplest and most frequent social activity is just play dates at other stay-at-home dads' houses."
Restaurant play areas are another good place for your children to meet and play with other children. Learning to make friends with children they don't know is a good skill for your child to develop. Just remember that it may take a while. However, fast food isn't the healthiest food alternative, so you may want to go after lunch and enjoy a yogurt parfait with fruit instead.
Social outings are perhaps the easiest to arrange for your children, as any public activity geared for children is bound to have a social component. Playgroups, library programs, athletic clubs and classes offered through your local parks and recreation district will offer your children valuable social time as well.
Having an objective in mind can help you get the most out of your outing, and even those that don't turn out exactly the way you planned can be a wonderful learning tool. Fun family outings are a wonderful way for dads to teach their children about the world around them and can create family memories that can last a lifetime.