With the older kids back at school, now is a great time to take your toddlers to one of our parks and spend some quality one-on-one time together exploring nature!
Best time to go? A weekday during the fall. There are fewer people after Labour Day, and more animals, birds, reptiles and insects to see. And don’t forget the fall colours.
We chatted with Pinery Provincial Park naturalist Alistair MacKenzie and Carlin Thompson, the children’s programmer at Sandbanks Provincial Park – both with toddlers of their own – to get their tips on how to get the most out of your visit.
Before you go to the park:
Prepare your toddler
Tell them where you’re going and what you’ll be doing there. Anticipation is half the fun!
Pick a park that’s close by
You’ll have more time to enjoy nature – and less time in the car. Call ahead to the Park Office to see whether washrooms are available (some park amenities close after Labour Day) and whether stroller friendly trails are open (if you need one).
While you’re chatting to park staff or browsing the web, find out what park amenities are available. Is there a beach? A playground?
Plan a few fun activities
With summer over, our parks have fewer education programs available, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach your little one about nature.
Carlin suggests giving toddlers a brown paper bag and getting them to collect things that interest them as you walk along. Or give them a pictorial list of things to collect, more like a scavenger hunt. At the end of your walk, you can look at the treasures, talk about them in terms your toddlers understand, and explain why they have to stay in the park. (If your kids picks up any litter, there’s an opportunity to discuss why it’s important to leave the park exactly the way you find it!)
Another good activity? Alistair gets his kids to take photos with a simple point-and-shoot camera. When you get home, go over the pictures together and relive the day! Or bring crayons and paper, and invite little ones to draw what they see.
Get your toddlers involved
Help your toddler pack a small backpack. Great items include:
- a rain shell (weather can change quickly this time of year)
- a magnifying glass (you can buy one at the dollar store)
- laminated children’s field guides (Friends of Provincial Parks and Lee Valley stock them, as do many bookstores)
- a little pail and shovel (if there’s a beach)
- healthy snacks (bonus: invite your toddler to help prepare DIY trailmix before you set out)
- paper and crayons
- a little whistle to use in case of emergency
Your own backpack might hold basic first-aid kit, sunscreen and bug spray, as well as any supplies you need for the activities you’ve planned. Stock up on snacks and drinks.
Also, make sure your toddler wears long pants and a long-sleeved shirt tucked in, comfy closed-toe shoes, and a hat. It can never hurt to bring rubber boots, a warm jacket and a change of clothes for your little one!
When you get to the park:
Check in at the Visitor Centre or Park Office
Introduce yourself and your toddler to the staff. Ask if there are areas to avoid or specific trails / shorelines that are better for young nature lovers. You may discover there’s an appropriate interpretive program you can take part in.
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’ve brought! Be familiar with what poison ivy looks like and be on the look-out for it.
If you do get separated, make sure your kids know they should stay put and blow their whistles until help arrives.
Enjoy treasured family time in nature
Alistair says: “Have fun! Spending time in a park with toddlers is a great way for your children to connect with you – and with nature.”
Carlin adds: “That means you’ll keep coming back to enjoy all that our parks have to offer.”