Getting out in nature together is so good for kids and adults, but it can be a little daunting to take kids out to hike and play in natural places for various reasons. These are some of my best summer mom hacks from years of experience for adventure days and other summer fun.
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Summer fun isn’t cancelled this year, especially fun outdoors in nature. We are missing some of our regular playgrounds, pools, zoos, etc, but we are making up for it with extra time in natural watering holes, beachy areas, and new fun in the backyard.
While I know how amazing and fun (and free) getting out for adventure can be, I also know that it honestly be a little overwhelming or exhausting to take a bunch of kids out for the day/afternoon. I know that for many, just the thought of going for a hike with your kids, or taking them to play in a creek, or go fishing at a dock stresses you out. Or maybe, you really want to incorporate more outdoor time in your family life, but you don’t know where to begin, or possibly had a negative experience that now holds you back.
I just want to say first of all, that you aren’t alone in feeling this way! But I 100% believe that there are ways to make adventuring outdoors with kids (even babies and toddlers) fun and manageable– easy even!
After regularly taking our kids out for several years, I have learned through much experience (re: trial and error) a LOT of ways to streamline the process. Basically, my goals for outings are…
- more FUN
- less MESS
- more CHILL time for mama
- BETTER FLOW out the door and once we get back home
- all basic needs PLANNED FOR
In addition to my own tips and ideas, I asked for favorite summer hacks and tips on Instagram, and y’all did NOT disappoint. Find a list of handy, ingenious ways to simplify summer with kids at the bottom of this post.
Summer Mom Hacks & Adventuring Tips
Feeding the fam on long summer days…
Let’s start by talking about food and adventure days. It’s important to consider both what you will eat while you are out of the house (whether you are packing a lunch or just snacks), AND what you will eat when you get back home (because you are not going to want to do a lot of cooking!).
First, food while you’re out. One of the biggest, most important, things I’ve learned over the years is that if I don’t bring enough food to eat while we are out…we won’t be out for long. I HAVE to pack high-protein snacks/lunches, plenty of water, and food that is appealing when everyone is getting hangry.
I’ve shared a lot about how I simplify packing picnics in another post, so be sure to check it out for lots of food ideas that are both easy and healthy (which is important if you want everyone to have energy and avoid crashing from too much sugar or empty calories).
Dinner on adventure days MUST be quick and easy! If you do not have a plan when you’re leaving the park, you will find it very hard to resist drive-thru. (There’s nothing wrong with the drive-thru. We did it last night. But I can’t afford to do that every time we come home!). For me, I specifically plan one or two meals into my weekly meal plan that I know will be perfect for adventure days. I rely heavily on my Easy Dinner List for this. Another option is to plan and prep a crockpot meal before you even leave the house so you know dinner is waiting when you get home.
Here are some resources to help take the stress out of eating on adventure days ::
- Summer Lunch Menu
- Healthy Grab & Go Picnic Ideas (this list also contains our favorite gear for packing food and water)
- Mega List of Easy Dinner Ideas
- 75+ Frugal Dinner Ideas
- 12 Easy Healthy Crockpot Dinners
Packing for adventure days…
After packing enough (and the right kinds) of food, having gear that helps to maximize our fun is something that has made a big difference in our outings over the years. But, while I’m going to share a bunch of ideas, I am not saying that you have to buy all the things to have fun outdoors. That would be ridiculous.
However, just like having good kitchen tools can make your kitchen work more enjoyable, having certain adventure supplies can help kids enjoy exploring and interacting with nature, and help you to enjoy the time too.
Start small, grab a couple items now, put others on your wishlist, and make do with what you have. The most important thing you can have is a good attitude.
- A small, portable chair. My chair has been one of my best purchases of the summer! Even my four-year-old can be in charge of carrying it because it’s so compact, and I can comfortably sit anywhere while my kids play (which incidentally really makes me enjoy watching them play more).
- Kids backpacks. Kids can and should be in charge of helping to carry some of their gear. My older kids love these tactical day packs, and this backpack is perfect for my younger kids.
- Baby/Toddler wearing. My personal favorites are my Ergo carrier for hiking with my toddler on my back, and my mesh ring sling for baby wearing in hot/wet situations. Being able to baby wear can be HUGE in helping disgruntled/tired littles, and for helping mama (or an older sibling) be hands-free.
- Summer mesh beach bag. I have been carrying this bag all summer long. I keep it stored with our “summer box” so it’s so easy to pull it out and put what we need inside.
- Water bottles that keep water COLD! We all have stainless steel water bottles that we take with us anytime we go out. Mine, my kids, plus a larger one for refills (in the colder months, I fill this with hot chocolate to take with us!).
TOYS & ADVENTURE SUPPLIES
Another incredibly helpful tip I can share to keep all these things together in one centralized basket or box near the door or in the garage. We have a “summer box” in our kitchen where I keep everything summer related (with the exception of a few larger items like buckets and nets that stay in the garage). I also store our mesh bag next to the summer so it’s VERY easy for me to quickly pack up what we will need for an adventure.
One thing I try to regularly remind my children is that when items have a home (and are returned to that home), your life is made much simpler. Occasionally, they have to learn this the hard way– like yesterday when two of my kids were goggle-less because they had not returned them to the summer box after they last used them.
- Nets. Pro-tip: skip the cheap nets that are bound to break or be frustrating and invest in a few quality ones. Nets are so fun in rivers, creeks, etc.
- Buckets & shovels. I found these yellow buckets and shovels for $2 each at Target this summer, but these collapsible ones look amazing for tucking into a backpack! I also found a set of “mud kitchen” plates and pitchers (also at Target) that are small enough to bring with us. They’re perfect for sand, rocks, mud, etc.
- Small bubble containers. Bubbles are a simple, easy way to keep little kids entertained wherever you are.
- Frisbees. These are great for throwing, playing in sand, and in the water– plus they’re easy to pack and carry along.
- Ziplock bags or container for treasures. Kids always want to keep special finds, and starting a nature shelf can be a fun activity to do together.
- Small tractor/work trucks. I found a set of small tractors that have been great for my kids at beaches, in the dirt, playing with rocks, etc.
- Swim goggles. I keep all the kids goggles together in a zipper pouch so they’re easy to grab for playing in rivers and creeks.
I keep a first aid pouch ready-to-go whenever we go out for adventure days. Just be sure to replenish if you use up something while you’re out!
- hand sanitizer
- ointment (my favorite is CorrectX by doTERRA)
- tick repellant
- lavender roll-on
- activated charcoal* (helps with stings or if you swallow something poisonous)
- electrolyte packets*
- butterfly strips
- tick key*
Summer clothing for mom & kids…
Dressing well for time outside is the last piece in the trifecta of fun summer adventures. Again, I have learned from experience that what I wear can have a significant impact on how comfortable I am and how long I want to stay outside. In the summer, staying somewhat cool, being able to get my clothes wet/dirty if I need to help my kids, and wearing shoes that can easily go from creek to trail are my most important considerations every time I get dressed before an adventure.
Loose fitting tanks are my go-to tops, and comfortable shorts with deep pockets are next. I’ve shared this a few times already this summer, including in my last What I’m Loving post, but these shorts from Academy are my FAVORITE. If I know we are going to be near/in water, I try to wear quick-dry clothes just like my kids. I am loving Target’s quick-dry/exercise tanks, shorts, and sports bras for this!
As for my kids, they also have their own summer wardrobe of quick dry clothes. They know exactly what to put on if I tell them to get dressed for an adventure/water day, and they have enough tops and shorts that I don’t have to be doing laundry everyday.
Wearing clothing that can go from creek to trail (like my shoes) is another one of my favorite tips to share. It seriously simplifies the process of getting dressed, as well as laundry after a day outside.
- Quick-dry clothes. (All my kids’ water clothes are from the Breathe On line at Old Navy. Mine are Target’s All-in-Motion tanks, shorts, and sports bras).
- Good shoes. Keens, Chacos, Crocs, Natives, etc make great options for kids and adults. My favorite are these classic Chacos, and my kids live in their Crocs all summer long (we always save a lot of money getting our kids’ Crocs on Sierra Trading Post).
- Accessories. Hats can be a great idea when hiking because they can keep ticks out of everyone’s hair. (My own hats and headbands also just do a great job of dressing up my messy mom buns). Sunglasses are nice for anyone who is old enough to keep up with them.
Of course, my disclaimer is that you don’t have to buy a specific wardrobe to have fun outside. You don’t have to wear what we wear. My goal is to share what works really well for us, in hope that it can inspire and help you to be more comfortable and have more fun on your own adventures!
Mom hacks from real moms…
MY PERSONAL TOP FIVE ::
- Pack a coffee or special drink for you for the drive home. This has been AMAZING recently and I never plan to stop having hot coffee waiting for me when I finally get everyone back in the car and situated for the drive home.
- Extra bags! Having plenty of bags to keep wet clothes together, gear tidy, and trash/supplies contained really helps.
- Bring a special treat or fun snack for the walk back to the car when it’s time to say goodbye and leave. Fruit strips, lollipops, etc can sweeten the sting of having to leave, serve as a distraction, and can also give a little energy boost to help everyone get back.
- If your kids want to fish, bring something extra for younger kids (or those that don’t want to fish) to stay occupied. Watching people fish from the bank or dock is only fun for the first ten minutes 😉
- Find places to go by asking around, joining outdoor/nature groups on Facebook, getting a Day Trips book for your area, or finding a Wild & Free group near you.
YOUR FAVORITE HACKS ::
- Make popsicles with extra/leftover smoothie.
- Fill gallon jugs of water and leave in the car. Use the warm water to rinse sandy hands and feet.
- Microfiber camping towels to reduce packing bulk.
- Reserve certain audiobooks for listening in the car. Kids get excited about the ride home.
- Let young kids use spray bottles from the dollar store (instead of water guns). They’re easier, last longer, and there’s not much mess.
- Plan a crockpot/easy dinner for after adventures so you don’t have to leave early to come home and prepare.
- Always save a snack for the ride home! (I usually reserve apples for this because they’re filling and take a while to eat)
- Keep a laundry basket in the car or by the door for wet/dirty clothes.
- Soapy water play after sand play!
- Make a changing station in the trunk. Not only babies, but dry, clean clothes for the drive home.
- Keep a package of paper plates in the van just in case. They come in handy often.
- Keep a “summer” bag always packed with essentials. (I do this with a “summer box” we summer items in)
- Make a calendar for chores and schoolwork for kids to refer to in the mornings.
- Use cloth diaper wet bags for wet clothes. They never leak!
- Stand the bag of popsicles upright when freezing.
- Eat at least one meal outside everyday to reduce the mess inside.
- Keep a small soft cooler filled with snacks in the car for unexpected long outings.
- Always keep necessities stashed in the car!
- Ear plugs. (#nuffsaid)
- Use a caddy for school supplies to carry items like sunscreen, water, phone, etc, with you outside.
- Give each kid a fanny pack to carry.
- Sand cloud towels.
- Pop-up beach tents that pack small and light.
- Keep a spray bottle in the car to quickly cool down carseats when you get back to a hot car.
- Always keep a picnic blanket and extra swim suits in the car…just in case!
- Two meals out of the week I make a 4x batch and freeze for tough days
- Pack a makeup sponge in the beach bag for easy facial sunscreen application on kids!
- Use old peri bottle with clean water to spray/wash kids hands before lunch at the beach.
- Keep bottled water and packaged snacks in the car.
- Popsicles always buy extra time outside for kids. (This always works at our house too!)
- Let the kids paint with water the sidewalk, driveway, or side of the house.
Do you have any tips I’ve left off? Please leave them in the comments! We also share a lot of our adventuring and fishing fun on our family outdoor channel, MJ Adventuring, if you want to check it out and join us there.
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