Now that the older kids are back in school, now is a great time to take your little ones to one of our parks and spend some quality time together exploring nature.
Best time to go? A weekday during the fall. There are fewer people after Labor Day and more animals, birds, reptiles and insects to see. And don’t forget the fall colors.
We chatted with Pinery Provincial Park naturalist Alistair MacKenzie and Carlin Thompson, children’s programmer at Sandbanks Provincial Park (both with young children of their own) to get their tips on how to make the most of your visit.
Before going to the park:
Prepare your toddler
Tell them where you are going and what you will do there. Anticipation is half the fun!
Choose a park that is nearby
You will have more time to enjoy nature and less time in the car. Call ahead to the park office to see if bathrooms are available (some park amenities close after Labor Day) and if stroller-friendly trails They are open (if you need them).
While chatting with park staff or browsing the web, Find out what park amenities are available. Is there a beach? A playground?
Plan some fun activities
Now that summer is over, our parks have fewer educational programs available, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach your little one about nature.
Carlin suggests giving young children a brown paper bag and making them Collect things that interest them while you walk. Or give them a pictorial list of things to collect, more like a treasure hunt. At the end of your walk, you can look at the treasures, talk about them in terms your young children understand, and explain why they need to stay in the park. (If your children pick up litter, there is an opportunity to discuss why it is important to leave the park exactly as they found it.)
Another good activity? Alistair gets his children take pictures with a simple point and shoot camera. When you get home, go through the photos together and relive the day! or bring crayons and paperand invite the little ones to draw what they see.
Involve your toddlers
Help your child pack a small backpack. Great items include:
- a rain shell (the weather can change quickly this time of year)
- a magnifying glass (you can buy one at the dollar store)
- laminated field guides for children (Friends of Provincial Parks and Lee Valley stock them, as do many bookstores)
- a small bucket and a shovel (if there is a beach)
- healthy snacks (bonus: invite your toddler to help make trail mix before you leave)
- paper and crayons
- a small whistle to use in case of emergency
To be prepared
Your own backpack can contain a basic first aid kit, sunscreen, and insect repellent, as well as any supplies you need for the activities you have planned. Stock up on snacks and drinks.
Also, make sure your child wears long pants and a long-sleeved shirt tucked in, comfortable closed-toe shoes, and a hat. It never hurts to bring rubber boots, a warm jacket and a change of clothes for your little one!
When you arrive at the park:
Check in at the Visitor Center or park office.
Introduce yourself and your toddler to the staff. Ask if there are areas to avoid or specific trails/coastlines that are best for young nature lovers. You may discover that there is an appropriate interpretive program in which you can participate.
Keep your toddler within arm’s reach at all times
Make sure your toddlers understand that they can’t put ANYTHING in their mouths except the food you brought them! Become familiar with what poison ivy looks like and be on the lookout for it.
If you become separated, make sure your children know to stay still and blow their whistles until help arrives.
Enjoy precious family time in nature
Alistair says: “Have fun! “Spending time in a park with young children is a great way for your children to connect with you and nature.”
Carlin adds, “That means you’ll keep coming back to enjoy everything our parks have to offer.”