Disclaimer: This post was written to motivate parents to bring their kids out more. It is in no way meant to offend anyone nor be overly preachy on the benefits of spending time with children.
For more ideas on fun things to do and fun places to go with kids in Singapore, check this out.
I often find myself completely exhausted at the end of every outing and all I want to do is flop on the sofa and fall asleep there. My kids however, are energetic throughout, from the time we set out, on all the modes of transport we take, at all the places we go, and finally, even when we're home, they've still got some energy reserved for their books and toys and perhaps even a little whining.
But that said, we do have fun when we're out, and even though it's getting easier, it can sometimes still get quite challenging, particularly because there are many occasions when we are out with the kids on our own, outnumbered 2 kids to 1 parent. I know of parents who have never brought their kids out on their own, and those who try to avoid it as much as possible because they think that it is too overwhelming for them.
So here are some pointers, tips if you may, that have helped us; I hope they will help you too:
1. Bags for everyone
If we're out for a big day, I try to make the kids carry a backpack each. In each of their backpacks, there is a bottle of water (their own), a hat, and some small toys or books (they choose). I have my own backpack too which holds my own water bottle, their snacks, and a change of clothes. Backpacks are my new favourite because the last thing I need when I'm chasing two kids is to have a sling bag sliding off my shoulders.
2. Hold hands
We always hold hands when we're out. We've used one of those "cute backpacks with a long tail" (i.e. child leash) only once for each girl - Poppy at age 2 when we visited the zoo for the first time and Calla at age 2 at Disneyland when Max didn't come with us. If you see the value in those backpacks, they are useful especially if you have more than two children to care for. Don't bother about what others say or think; the safety of your children is more important.
3. Travel light
The reason I like backpacks is that our hands are kept free. Plus, it's easy to just get up and go with a backpack stuck on you. We don't go out with a stroller and very seldom bring our kick scooters out on long distances. It's just tricky having to manage two kids and two scooters on trains and buses!
4. Fill up
Our bottles are filled to the brim when we leave the house, and we refill each time there is an opportunity. Coolers are great, but this is Singapore, so tap water is ok too. Keeping hydrated in this very sunny country is so important!
5. Take time to appreciate things
Many times, we rush to reach places and then rush to play and rush to eat then rush home for bed time. After a while, I thought that was a bit ridiculous! So now we sometimes stretch our time to check out things that catch our attention and just to appreciate the things around us (within reason!). It could be watching a squirrel jumping from tree to tree, picking rocks or simply checking out a temporary toy fair!
6. Wear something with pockets
I kid you not. Because they are so useful. My pockets always have tissue because you never know if there's something you have to very quickly wipe. Like a snotty nose before mucus becomes a yummy snack. But seriously, pockets serve as temporary bins well, until you can find a real one for that snot-containing tissue.
7. Plan your route beforehand
We do not drive so we rely heavily on public transport. Websites like gothere.sg and phone apps like MyTransport.SG, Iris NextBus and Bus@SG are helpful too - they provide estimated bus arrival times so you know how long you have to wait. Sometimes that's important because then you know if you have enough time to make a quick toilet visit or if you have half an hour to spare to browse around in a shop.
For long train rides (especially routes that are mostly underground), books and small toys come in handy. We like our Toobs animals - they are cute and hardy and the kids make up stories with them. Puzzle books are a favourite too. We play I Spy (I spy green shoes, black bag, brown hair, orange shoelace etc) and hand games (scissors/paper/stone, oh pay som, cherry cherry lom jiam pas) and sometimes I create little scavenger hunts for them and put them onto small clip boards so they can tick the items off - that's only when I know we're going to be on empty trains.
9. Use what's available
Do you remember 'driving' the sky train at the airport as a child? I do. And my kids? They love the Circle Line because they get to 'drive' the trains. I play along with them and ask them to 'not go too fast' or 'Quick! Brake! We're almost at the station!'. They've even worked out a system - one of them is in charge of the actual driving and the other is in charge of the other things like turning on the lights and opening/closing the train doors. Most times, they entertain the other train passengers too.
They also like when I tell them where we're going and how many stops it would take so they help me to look out for our stations.
10. Set boundaries
The first thing we do when we arrive at our destination is to set physical boundaries. If it's somewhere we've been before, I will start this conversation with the kids before we arrive, and remind them to "stay only on the soft ground (for playgrounds for instance)" or "no going out of this room (if we're at an event)". If it's a new place for us, I quickly survey the area and squat down and get their full attention before explaining the rule of the day. Then I ask them again "What's the rule for today?" and they are not allowed to go off to play until they can tell me the right answer.
11. We look out for each other
The kids are reminded often to look out for each other and to stick together. I tell them that there are two of them and one of me and I cannot possibly split myself into two different direction. I remind them to play together or at least close together, and they like to come say hi to me often if I'm not playing with them. If they run to me alone, I always ask "Where's your sister?" (even if I know the answer) which makes them look. I think that makes them mindful of their responsibility to keep an eye out for each other. Yes, they are only kids, but we feel they should always have each other's backs.
12. Put on your eagle eyes
I keep my eyes on them constantly. I'm not at the stage yet where they can play and I can sit on the bench and read a book. Perhaps one day!
13. Check opening hours
I like being spontaneous but when out with two young children, I have to limit that to a certain degree. So I always make sure I know what time the places we want to visit open to minimise disappointment. We learnt the hard way that the water play area at Children's Garden/Gardens by the Bay closes at 6pm, and that most stand-alone libraries open at 10am (those within shopping malls mostly open at 11am). I like spending time with my kids but walking around aimlessly with bored kids while waiting for something to open is not fun for any of us.
14. Find out more
Like I said, I like spontaneity but I also want to be prepared. So checking out a venue's website beforehands lets me know if I need to bring swim gear or jackets for the kids to fully enjoy the day. When there is the option for water play, our wet bag is absolutely necessary - it keeps all the wet stuff in and everything else dry. We have the Bummis wet bag and it's big enough for 3 towels and 3 sets of swim suits. While finding out about the venue, I also expand my search to include food options so that after play, I know I won't have to walk around searching for food (incidently, dragging two hungry and tired kids in search of food doesn't rank very high in my list of fun things to do).
15. Visit the toilet often
Everyone goes to the toilet just before leaving the house and it is also the first thing we do when we arrive at our destination, the last thing we do when we leave, and just before meal times. We also go whenever there is an opportunity at places where there are few restrooms (like Macritchie Reservoir for example).
We like taking photos to remind ourselves of our trips - the photos get printed and go into our scrap books after a while - but I remind myself that it should not always be about photos. A few token pics are fine but the outing should be enjoyed through my eyes and not through my phone.
17. Being fair
Sometimes when we're out at certain places, there are things that each child wants to do that the other isn't interested in. In the case of Universal Studios Singapore or Kids Stop at Science Centre Singapore for instance. When that happens, I present the options to them - we can either take turns and do what each other likes, do something else together, or if we can't all play happily together, we'll have to leave. Usually they choose to take turns. Phew!
(By the way, I never say "If you can't behave yourself, we'll go home now!" Because I don't want them to associate home with being boring and negative! Instead I say "Shall we leave now since nobody is having fun?")
18. Bring food if necessary
I always make sure to check if the places we visit have food options and if not, either plan our trip such that it doesn't coincide with meal times, or bring our own munchies.
19. Choose food options wisely
Each food outlet has its pros and cons - at food courts, you get your food very quickly, which is good news for hungry children, plus prices are always reasonable. The down side is that everyone thinks the same way. So if you find yourself stuck in the lunch crowd, you might want to consider other options. We quite like Hans and Saizariya for reasonably priced food.
20. Choose your meal times wisely
We eat our meals early - lunch at 11.30am and dinner at 5.30pm. We also like to eat before play, just to get it out of the way. That also motivates the kids to eat quickly because I tell them that the faster they eat, the more they can play.
I hope these tips help to make it less overwhelming and scary to bring kids out on your own! Don't forget to have a good time yourself! Enjoy the venue and smile too! Because you deserve to have a good time too :)
If you have any more tips, feel free to leave them in comments below. I'm learning too!