I am an urban person; a true city dweller. I don't even drive a car. I like all the cultural advantages of living in a city and don't hanker for wide open spaces. Lots of people want to retire to the country; I want to retire to a small flat in London where I can spend my days in the great museums and libraries for free.
My kids are also fairly urban. They aren't remotely sporty, prefer books to forests and would stay inside every minute glued to a screen of some sort if I let them. However, the more time they spend indoors the more ratty and squabbly they get. It can't be good for them. It certainly isn't good for me.
We are lucky enough to have a large garden, and on sunny days the kids play on the trampoline, the swing, and have complicated Nerf Dart battles with their friends. We strong-arm them into helping with the garden a little from time to time and they do love a campfire. But, being the urbanite I am, I'd rather die than take them camping and I'm not terribly proactive about muddy days out.
I thought I could do better. I heard about the National Trust's challenge to kids called 50 Things To Do Before You're 11 3/4. Some things are as simple as running in the rain while others are as hard as learning to ride a horse or canoeing down a river. The National Trust is challenging children to do 25 of the 50 during the summer holidays. We decided to have a go at upping our personal tallies.
The first day we went to Lotherton Hall just outside of Leeds to take advantage of the activities the city council and National Trust were jointly providing. The kids did some orienteering with the compasses available, they baked flat breads and toasted marshmallows on a campfire, made masks based on animal camouflage pattern, pinched apples from the orchard (sorry, Lotherton!) and tasted them (a bit sour... I did warn them. Our own apples will be ready soon) and made and flew kites. And, of course, ran around a lot enjoying themselves.
Shortly afterwards our lovely city council brought its free festival for young people to the park down the road. Stroking the Burmese Python that was visiting from the Exotic Pet Rescue Centre definitely ticked of the "hold a scary creature" challenge! They scrambled over obstacle courses It was a fantastic day for the kids - even my I-Hate-Exercise teen managed to find some fun - a good book in the mobile library and meeting the exotic animals.
My lovely 11 year old then went away with the Scouts for a week, camping near Bristol. His outdoor activity tally couldn't get much higher, and judging by the photos they've posted on Twitter, he couldn't be enjoying himself more if he tried.He may need cleaning with a power hose when he gets back, though.
We headed to Bolton Abbey for a day with the other two. They tried skimming stones - Mark is very good, 14yo is pretty good, Miss B is fairly hopeless but trying, and I am lucky not to murder ducks with my disastrous attempts.
The big lad got to the very top of a huge old oak tree and discovered it was hollow. Miss B got about 6 feet up before deciding she'd had enough, but both were impressed to discover they could fit inside a hollow in a wide branch and disappear from view.
Playing in the river caused its own excitements. Eventually - inevitably - one of them fell in. I was only surprised it was Miss B, as the big lad had been leaping from stone to stone in a most precarious fashion. However, being soaking wet only added to her merriment, and she walked back to the car park in a state of undress that is part of summer days, kids and adventure.
Having wondered what the point of the day out was when we sprung it on him, the big lad found himself having a fantastic time. Climbing, sliding, swinging on tree swings, rolling down hills with his little sister to 'show her how it's done,' rearranging rocks in the river with her to dam a small area, and generally forgetting he officially Wasn't Keen On That Sort Of Thing. The pair of them got on brilliantly and we all had a wonderful, if exhausting, day.
Miss B liked ticking things off her 50 Things list so we did some more when her friend came to visit. We made daisy chains, found snails to race, hunted for caterpillars, identified butterflies and got soaked in a brief rain storm.
Despite my comfort zone as a parent being to take the kids to cool events and visit new cities, exhibitions and other town-based activities; despite their inclination to play online games all day they their pals (older ones) and watch telly or bounce on the trampoline with her mates (youngest); we have had some wonderful days getting mucky and tired outside. The kids were noticeably more engaged and cooperative. Mark and I felt better for a day outside but away from the garden chores. All of us just had more fun together. Plus, of course, there are always ice creams.