How to improve holidays with children
Hey, Mum, let's follow the nature trail
Sunday 26 March 2006
One of the most successful holidays I've ever had with my kids was a glorious week in the Isles of Scilly. The highlight of the trip, apart from the helicopter to get there, was a blustery boat ride to the outermost rocks to see if we could spot a seal or two.
To our delight they obliged, popping their heads up to stare back at us, albeit looking slightly affronted. ("They look like they're saying 'What's your problem?' '' remarked my son, and he was right.) We did feel like voyeurs, but it was worth it for the photos.
The Scillies offered everything we could have wanted, and more. For a true Enid Blyton-style holiday this is the place to go - my Famous Two spent days at a time exploring rockpools and learning the names of all the molluscs. (One was even called Fred.) And, yes, we all drank lashings of ginger beer - although the sugar rush made them a bit too hyper for my liking.
But it was the free entertainment that made this holiday such a success. Without a PlayStation in sight, my city dudes had to make do with nature trails in the rain, chasing butterflies in the sun, and spotting stars and planets at night.
It took a while for them to get over their withdrawal symptoms, but by the end of it, they didn't want to go home.
The cold turkey treatment was a success, but there are other, gentler ways of getting kids involved in the natural world. The National Trust (0870 458 4000; nationaltrust.org.uk) is on a mission to do just that, providing lots of activities for families in every corner of the country. From "bat and moth barbecues" and badger watches in Wales to "wellies and water" days in Yorkshire - you name it, the National Trust runs it. Wildlife Watch (0870 036 7711; wildlifetrusts. org.uk), the children's section of the Wildlife Trust, also provide tons of activities for kids, as well as a range of nature holidays.
If you'd rather go a bit further afield for your nature fix, some interesting offerings for families can be found in places as exotic as the Caribbean and South America. Take the kids on a back-to-nature holiday with Virgin Holidays (0870 220 2788; virginholidays.co.uk), for example, and the kids can get down and dirty in swamps and rainforests, explore bird sanctuaries, flora and fauna in abundance, as well as see animals in their natural environment.
Reef and Rainforest's (01803 866965; familytours.co.uk) Naturally Family Friendly holiday in Costa Rica is also worth checking out - it includes volcano trips and hot spring baths, and your kids get to learn all about the life of butterflies at the same time.
But to earn some big brownie points, why not try a conservation holiday, and do your bit for the planet? A few, such as Sunseed Conservation Holidays (00 34 950 525 770; sunseed.org.uk), welcome children. Sunseed runs a project in southern Spain to improve the quality of life and the environment in the near-desert areas of the world. Your kids get to do everything from sowing seeds to sign painting - a great way to keep them out of mischief - and, with any luck, off the ginger beer.
Katy's top tip
The Woodland Trust (01476 581135; naturedetectives.org.uk) funds a 'Nature Detectives' scheme that aims to inspire kids to learn about their environment. Log on before you visit the countryside for tips.
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