Friday 15 May 2015

17 Out-of-the-House Activities for 1 to 3 Year Olds

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I spent the first decade of my life in a rustic community, affectionately known as 'kampong' in pre-modern Singapore. I count playing in the drain, climbing trees and exploring an abandoned ship by the sea shore as among my regular childhood activities. As the youngest of 10 children in the family, I was never without a playmate. There were also numerous childhood friends who were always game for spontaneous play right into dusk every day. We were young, wild and free not zombified by sophisticated gadgets which didn't exist then. In fact, the lack of material possessions pushed our creativity and sense of wonderment to infinity.
Unfortunately, the sylvan surroundings which was the canvas of my childhood is now long gone. It has paved the way for an ultra modern metropolis that Singapore is known for today. I hold my awesome childhood memories close to my heart like they are valuable treasures.

Singapore's ultra modern skyline at night
When Cookie was born, I wasn't sure what the temperate climate and surroundings of her birthplace Canberra, Australia would contribute to her childhood but I knew I wanted her to be in and with nature as much as she could. I came across a research evidence which said exposure to natural environment improves children's cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills. I can't remember now from which source that information originated.

As it turned out, her three and a half years of childhood thus far has been no less thrilling than mine, perhaps even better. I couldn't be more delighted with God's beautiful creations that abundantly surround this place we call home.

In case you too are seeking ideas to fill the memory bank for your 1 to 3 year olds - inexpensively - here are 17 out-of-the-house activities to consider, which Cookie enjoys (and we enjoy doing them together as a family):

1. Exploring Nature
Cookie (left) and friends in their make-believe world as farmers tending to their bumper crop
From fallen acorns and fresh blossoms to mud, when in nature, Cookie will explore everything around her. I watch as her creativity flows. Enjoyment is evident on her face after each outing in nature, no matter how heavily soiled her clothes and shoes become in the aftermath.

2. Joyride to the Countryside
(Photo credit: Feel Grafix)
The nearest farmland and picturesque countryside is a mere 5 mins drive away from our house. The road also leads to a quaint village of less than 20 houses with a vintage 1950s gas service station and coffee shop to boot. Along the way, herds of cattle and sheep can be spotted grazing the meadows with majestic hills and mountains lining the background. I often do live commentaries for Cookie as she shoots endless questions on what she sees along the way.

3. Feeding Water Birds
Water birds eagerly obeying Cookie's instruction to gather for lunch
One of the most stunning pond and parks (to me) is located at our doorstep. Well, 2 minutes drive away, to be exact. The generous sized pond is home to numerous ducks, purple swamphens, black swans and geese. Cookie always looks forward to coming here and reminds us to bring pieces of bread so she could feed the water birds. She chases the ducks around the grass area and hears the goose let off an intimidating "hiss" when he isn't too pleased with not getting his share of the bread lunch.

4. Walking in the Park
Cookie soaking in nature's beauty at the park near our house  
This is our family's favourite activity. Walking in nature gives children a great opportunity to observe and learn, as they connect their senses to the environment. It is also a free and healthy activity which guarantees everyone a first class ticket to slumberland at night!

5. Riding Bicycle/Tri-Scooter
Cookie (right) and her best friend cycling at the park in front
of our house
When Daddy gave Cookie a bicycle for her 3rd birthday, she took to it like duck to water. It's amazing how cycling can boost children's confidence and physical strength. It is undoubtedly a fun activity that empowers them with the sense of independence they desire. 

6. Visiting Petting Zoos, Bird Aviaries and Farms
Cookie giving her favourite lamb a gentle stroke at the
petting zoo
I find these places to be more exciting than the bigger and more commercialised zoos. Children get to be up, close and personal with friends from the animal kingdom. They learn to feed the animals and overcome any fear they might have about them. Cookie never gives up on the chance to touch and give the animals gentle strokes. Very often, petting zoos exhibit for free at community events and during the school holidays. So, it's a winner for the wallet too!

7. Amusement Rides
Daddy and Cookie at Luna Park, Sydney
Every child desires a ride on the giant ferris wheel or merry-go-round. While they can be big on fun, amusement parks can also be impractical budget- and age-wise. I look for the kind which offers a wide selection of rides suitable for Cookie's age. You know how it is with big name attractions that charge astronomically but do not cater very much to preschoolers or younger. I avoid them until such time when Cookie is older.

8. Indoor and Outdoor Playground
Cookie climbed to the very top of this 5 metre high web
for the first time and unassisted. My heart raced to my throat!
Playgrounds, indoor or outdoor, and adventure parks offer children endless fun and thrill. Cookie's favourite at the playground is the swing. She always pleads with us to push her high "into the clouds". She also loves exploring obstacle courses like this giant cobweb, flying fox and wall climbing. 

9. Fruit Picking

Australia's "Cherry Capital" is located just 2 hours drive away from us. Cherry picking is one of our highlights in summer. Loads of delicious and succulent cherries to haul home, all freshly picked directly from the trees at the cherry farm. Cookie takes pride in those that she picks. She also helps to pick apricots and plums from our backyard trees in summer. From tree to tummy - it's truly organic. Fruit picking is also a teachable moment, as children can learn about the ecosystem, tree planting and life cycle.

10. Playing in the Snow
Cookie and Daddy having snow fun at Perisher Valley, NSW. 
Every winter, we look forward to a trip to the snow mountains, which is a short drive away from home. In addition to hours of fun, the surroundings make for a picture-perfect memento - no professional photography skills necessary, just a water-resistant camera will do. This is also the time to build as many Olafs as Cookie desires!

11.  Seaside & Swimming
(Photo credit: Sudocream)
There are no beaches where we live but a trip to the nearest coast takes only 2 hours by car. It is our must-do activity in summer. Soaking in the blue water, listening to the waves crashing and building sand castles are always fun for the whole family. Summer is also the time when Cookie will ask for repeated trips to the swimming pool. It is hard to reject such requests especially when the cold seasons here can plunge to below freezing point, leaving us with little hope for a dip in the water then. 

12. Library Activities
Cookie tuning in attentively during a reading session at the library
The benefits of reading are well known. Even though we read a wide variety of books at home everyday, I bring Cookie to the library every week for the reading and crafting programme as well as to borrow books. It is a good social activity which also trains children in listening and attention skills.

13. Joining Playgroups
Cookie at her weekly multicultural playgroup
Playgroups are a great place for children to socialise with peers of similar age as them. They also learn to follow a routine albeit informally (play, sing, read), which is an early training for preschool and beyond. Cookie attends 3 playgroup sessions every week, each with a different theme such as multicultural, backyard farm and sports, all of which she enjoys.

14. Ballet Lessons
Pink is the order of the day at Cookie's ballet class
Although I was actively involved in sports and music as a child and knew the direct benefits of such activities, I promised myself I would not jump on the bandwagon of signing up my child for every music and movement class including ballet at a very young age. But look at me now. Never say never. My main intention of enrolling her in ballet is to give her a head start on a leisure activity that will hopefully shape her into an all rounded individual. I am glad that Cookie adores going for her ballet lessons. She also shows potential in singing and has a good sense of rhythm.

15. Junior Gym
The more challenging the obstacles, the more Cookie enjoys
Cookie's sense of adventure continues in her weekly kinder gym. I enrolled her in this sporting activity as a means for her to follow a disciplined structure and be physically active in a fun and informal setting. It is also an activity which helps to build children's confidence and agility.

16. Grocery Shopping
(Photo credit: Brunch & Budget)
This is not possible all the time especially when I am rushing for time or when Cookie needs her afternoon nap. Otherwise, it is an educational trip where I get asked tons of questions such as "why are some food in the freezer, some on the shelves?" or "why do capsicums come in so many colours?" Admittedly, I do not always have the answer to all the questions. These days, she also relishes the chance of playing cashier at the self-checkout.

17. Movie at the Cinema
(Photo source: Pinterest)
A few weeks ago, I brought Cookie to watch "Shaun the Sheep The Movie" at the cinema for the first time. I had expected her to last for only the first 30 minutes, as "threenagers" are notoriously fidgety. To my surprise, she remained in her seat for the entire duration of the movie, asking if we could catch another one at the cinema soon. She enjoyed the big screen and surround audio. "It made me feel like a big girl," she confessed.

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