Summer time in Canberra is the perfect opportunity to get the kids entertained, stimulated and socially engaged in the great outdoors and there is no shortage of fun and free things to do in Canberra.
If your house is anything like mine over the summer school holidays it can be a real juggle policing sibling squabbles and finding the right mix of activities to keep the kids occupied without spending a fortune. Funnily work days are a welcome relief from the pressures of filling the diary with fun to dos that will tick the happy boxes for your kids.
So how can we learn from our travel experiences to enjoy our holidays when we aren't actually away from home? For me, travel is epitomised by the 'feeling' it creates so how can we recreate the chilled out easy days that travel brings. Days where we focus only on spending time together and relaxing over simple activities. With the warm weather and long days it is the perfect time of year to get back to basics.
This list of ideas should save you money and may even save your house from complete and total destruction by the end of January.
1. Water Play
The perfect way to spend a hot summers day is to cool off at one of Canberra's shady outdoor pools. Dickson is a favourite for us with plenty of green shady lawns, warm pools and easy parking. Jamison Big Splash is another great option particularly if you have older kids who love the slides.
If you want to avoid the crowds consider heading to Canberra's river reserves where you can spend a relaxing day having a picnic or bbq with some swimming. Uriarra crossing is a great swim spot for all ages with nice sandy banks and is also dog friendly if you want to take the family pooch on the outing.
The cotter reserve has some lovely spots for swimming along with a great kids playground and plenty of green lawns to throw a frisbee or kick a ball.
If heading to the rivers for a swim, make sure you keep a close eye on the kids as river currents can vary dramatically and hidden debris is something to watch out for.
Another option to cool off on the water without necessarily swimming is to hire a paddle boat or kayak at Lake Burley Griffin or head out on the water if you have your own. There are a couple of small islands which make interesting stops for kids, and if you are feeling energetic you could paddle over to Yarralumla yacht club for an ice cream break at Snapper by the Lake before heading back.
2. Getting from point A to B by any kid-friendly means
Often for kids an outing is not about what they will see but what they will do once there. For that reason I try to integrate some interesting means of transport for the kids to occupy themselves. By doing this you can plan to get yourself some exercise at the same time. By putting the kids onto bikes or scooters you can turn any outing into an adventure whilst you go for a run, ride or walk.
My favourite spots include Weston Park in Yarralumla where you can start at the park and head towards the Governor Generals residence via a leafy and scenic lake trail. Commonwealth park also has some great little stops along the loop that kids turn into their own little obstacle course with tunnels, waterfall stepping stones, balancing across bridge walls and climbing on sculptures.
Don't forget that Canberra is the bush capital which means a plethora of kid friendly bush walks right on our own doorsteps. A climb up Mt Ainslie beginning from the steps directly behind the War Memorial is an exciting option for kids and you can bribe (sorry reward!) them with a milkshake or pancakes at Poppy's cafe (inside the grounds of the war memorial) once you return back down the hill.
Alternately, the pinnacles nature reserve which can be accessed from multiple points in hawker has fantastic views over the Brindabella mountain ranges and is a great spot for hiking with a picnic.
At this time of year kids aren't involved in as many structured extra curricular activities and parents have a little extra time on their hands so it is an opportune chance to pull out the sports gear. If you have the numbers, a game of cricket is a welcome summer tradition and my girls also love a hit of tennis.
Thinking outside the square a little you could fly a kite, play some frisbee or just practice catching and throwing balls.
Watch out though, you might just discover some fierce competitiveness like I have discovered in my four year old over the past couple of weeks.
4. Animals and pets
In Canberra you have some obvious tourist icons to indulge in all things animals such as the National Zoo and Aquarium and the reptiles and bird aviary in gold creek. There are plenty of other options though to nurture your kids love of animals.
Horse riding is a great confidence builder for kids and can be done at a number of riding schools around Canberra or nearby regions.
Tidbinbilla is a fantastic day trip from the city and has a great variety of native birds, animals and reptiles including the koalas who are cared for in their own reserve.
If your kids are 7 or older RSPCA ACT have a fabulous holiday initiative (www.rspca-act.org.au/services/kids-n-kritters) called Kids n Kritters teaching kids all about animal care in a hands on, fun and interactive way.
If you are happy to venture a little further you should consider a farm stay/visit with the kids. We have stayed at Hillview Farmstay a few hours away on the Hume Highway (www.hillviewfarmstay.com.au/) and found the hosts to be extremely friendly and welcoming. Our kids had a complete ball the night we stayed with access to a pool, tennis courts and heaps of animals including alpacas, cows, goats, chickens, dogs and a pony. Top it off with really comfortable cabins and a yummy breakfast supplied as part of your stay and this place is a gem for a cheap and easy night away to entertain the kids.
I haven't tried this one out yet but am super keen to visit Tatum Hills in Bywong which is a kid friendly farm experience (http://tatumhills.weebly.com/). I would love to hear any comments locals have who may have visited this place!
5. Reconnect with friends
I lose count of how many times throughout the year I rue my lack of effort with friends. I don't lack effort due to any dislike for my friends but instead out of sheer chaos and the effort to keep all the plates spinning in the air during the rest of the year. I love that school holidays provide a little bit of time out from the hectic schedules and it means that other friends with kids are usually free too.
Who can argue that kids are far more easily occupied when they are hanging out with other kids. A play date at home or at a park or cafe is a great way to fill some time and keeps kids connected and used to being around other kids which makes the transition back to school that little bit easier.
6. Kid friendly restaurants Canberra
When you travel it means you get to enjoy plenty of relaxed evenings dining alfresco. Once back home it is easy to fall back into the trap of kids routines where you are tucking them in each night and sitting in front of the telly whilst the world keeps ticking on outside without you. I often have to remind myself that we used to have a life after 7pm!
Whilst fancy dining is off the cards for us with a four and six year old I do love going out for dinner as a family. In summer a highlight for us is to spend the evening at Kingston foreshore where you can blend a really tasty, casual dinner from a great selection of restaurants followed by a stroll for the kids to burn off some excess energy on the grassy foreshore. As the sun starts to go down that becomes the cue to top the night off with a sweet temptation from Max Brenners.
A less expensive approach of course is a simple bbq or some take away eaten on the shores of any of Canberra's lakes, gardens or nature reserves.
For some daytime options you cant go wrong with a catch up with friends at Rodneys at Pialligo. Good food in a beautiful garden setting with kids play equipment and a great selection of kids food options makes for a relaxing meal.
Mentioned earlier in this post was Snapper by the Lake for fish n chips served casual from the Yarralumla Yacht Club whilst you set up a picnic on the lawns of the lake. No need for time consuming self catering here, just set up the picnic blanket and relax until your dinner is ready. This place is simple, easy fun and a great spot on a warm summers evening to watch the sun go down with a cool glass of wine.