I love going on adventures with my kids and finding ways to inspire their creativity and encourage new ways of playing. One of our absolute favorite activities is going to the park. We like traveling close by and far away to try out new places and regular old favorites. Parks allow kids to explore, be creative, develop social skills, and play. If "Play is the work of childhood," according to Jean Piaget, then I feel like parks should be the "office" of childhood. Parks are a great place for children to "work" at learning.
Going to the park with a toddler can be filled with a range of emotions. Playing in the sandbox can lead to tantrums and some teaching moments about taking turns. Leaving the park can also result in some big emotions because transitions and leaving fun activities can sometimes be hard.
Today I'm going to share a few of my favorite helpful ideas for taking a toddler to the park. Just hopping in the car and going to the park totally works... being prepared and bringing a few extra things or doing a little research might make your trip even better. If you have any additional tips to share, please add them to the comments!
This post is sponsored by CAPRI SUN Organic.
1. Bring a towel!
The first thing I always throw into my stroller or over my shoulder when we go to the park is a towel. It can be tossed on a wet bench or a damp spot on the grass for sitting. It can go in a baby swing underneath a little one if the swing is hot (or wet). You can also use it to wipe down slides or playground equipment that is covered in morning dew or sprinkler residue. You may also want to use it after you wash off a super sandy kid who has had way too much fun in the sandbox. I have never regretted bringing a towel (or two) to the park.
2. Wear park appropriate shoes
Parks are created with of all sorts of materials. I still haven't totally decided which materials I dislike the most, but tan bark and wood chips are some of my least favorite options. Wearing crocs, flip flops, and other shoes with holes can result in constant trips to take shoes off, dump the tan bark out, and then put them back on again. If we are going to a park with tan bark or other bumpy particle pieces, we make sure to wear close-toed shoes. There is nothing worse than slipping while climbing on the bars or a play structure wearing flip flops as well. We know from experience.
3. Do a little research ahead of time about the park
Questions I like to ask friends (or search online) before going to a new park include...
- Where is the closest bathroom? (especially for newly potty trained kids, or pregnant mamas!)
- Are there water fountains? (just in case my beverage stash runs out)
- How far away is the parking lot? (if two kids have meltdowns... is it close enough I can carry both?)
- Are there any water features? (if so, we like to bring swimsuits)
- Is there shade/picnic areas?
- Is there a sand area? (otherwise I don't usually like to lug all my sand stuff)
- Is the park gated? (this is especially helpful to know when I have a toddler who runs... I might avoid any that are not gated!)
- Are there swings? (If so, I like to sit AWAY from them... otherwise I spend 2 hours pushing my toddler on them)
- Does the park have any specific rules that are different from your regular park? (ie. one park we go to doesn't allow ANY food, because of squirrel problems... good to know so we don't get attacked by squirrels!)
Knowing this information ahead of time totally helps me as I plan. If I have a potty training kid or I am pregnant, I'll just skip a park with no bathroom and pick a different one. If my friends and I want to chat at the park and one of us has a toddler who likes to dart into traffic, we'll pick a smaller park that is gated versus a large sprawling park.
4. Bring a picnic blanket
We have a waterproof foldable picnic blanket that is easy to carry and is perfect for park trips. I like to set it down when we arrive at the park and create a central location where the kids can come and rest if they get tired. We are "park people" and can stay at the park for hours chatting with friends and playing. I love it when my kids will come and find me and sit and chat with me and their little friends and snack away on our blanket. I have two kids that never sit down at the park and one kid that would sit next to me and eat snacks and listen to me chat with friends for a long time.
5. Pack a few snacks and beverages
Our favorite park snacks are easy to grab fruits (apple slices, apple squeezers, bananas, cubed cantelope, etc.) and crackers. Sometimes we'll bring sandwiches as well if we are staying for lunch. I always pack extra snacks because we usually meet up with friends and it is always nice to have extra to share. I have totally shown up with a family sized bag of snacks before and fed the most of the kids in our park group and gone home empty handed. When kids are moving a lot they get hungry!
Kids also get thirsty at the park, so we make sure to bring water bottles and some other yummy beverages to keep kids hydrated, including CAPRI SUN juice drinks, like the new CAPRI SUN Organic.
CAPRI SUN Organic comes in several flavors (fruit punch, tropical punch, apple, grape) and is available nationwide. I especially love to freeze the pouches before we go to the park when it is hot so that by the time kids are getting thirsty they are thawed out and still cold and perfect for drinking.
CAPRI SUN Organic contain no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and are sweetened only with fruit juice, which I love. I've liked CAPRI SUN juice drinks since I was little, but I love them even better now that there is no added sugar. Yum! Drinking a CAPRI SUN juice drink next to your buddy and then blowing them back up once they are empty is also a hoot. My kids love to trick their other friends into thinking they have a full drink left for them. Ha!
6. Meet up with a friend
Friends make the park extra fun. My kids love playing alone at the park and making new friends, but the park is extra exciting when their friends come. I also love hanging out and chatting with my friends at the park. We swap stories about kids, share tips and advice, and learn from each other. I love seeing how my friends handle different challenging park situations (sharing trucks in the sand, pushing or fighting over a swing, kids getting injured, etc.). I am a much better mom because of our weekly park dates with friends!
One thing to note is that going to the park with friends is not as much fun when you both have kids running in the opposite direction. If I have a kid who runs and moves a lot, I love to invite friends with babies or older kids to hang out. They walk around with me while I follow my toddler, and I still get some "adult" chatting time.
Play is hard work and kids need to be dressed to get messy, create, explore, and MOVE. I am not opposed to kids choosing their own clothes or even leaving the house in costume, but I highly encourage my kids to choose comfortable clothes to wear to the park that they can move around easily in and that feel comfortable. We dress in layers since it is often cold at 9 or 10am where we live and then by 10:30 or 11:30 it can get hot! Playing in long sleeves in the heat is no fun! I usually encourage my kids to wear long pants (even in the summer) since our playgrounds get hot and I want to avoid any burns!
8. Avoid bringing special toys
Often the reason I meet up with new friends first at the park is because it is a great way to get kids together in a non-threatening and fun way at the toddler age. It also alleviates some stress because you aren't having to worry too much about special toys that kids usually keep at home and the anxiety that can come with sharing those with new people. I usually encourage my kids to leave their special toys at home and enjoy the park toy free. They tend to be more creative without their favorite stuffed animal or Batman action figure. We have also lost several very special toys at the park (or they've been taken), so I always recommend that kids bring shovels and buckets, but leave other special toys at home.
Do you have any other helpful tips for taking a toddler to the park that you can share? What did I miss? What do you skip?
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by CAPRI SUN Organic. All opinions are mine.