It can be intimidating to take a very young child or a child who isn’t yet walking outside to play. Will they enjoy it? Will there be activities they can participate in? Will it be engaging? I had these questions and more.
My child, Charlie, was a late walker due to medical reasons.Together, we have visited thirty of the thirty six state parks. Through trial and error, we were able to discover what worked (and what didn’t). Here are ten activities she enjoyed before she was able to walk.
Hiking: Charlie started hiking when she was a few months old by riding in a jogging stroller with an infant seat attachment. Baby wearing is another popular option for hiking with an infant or small child. Charlie liked to see the flora and hear the sounds of leaves crunching, birds chirping, and the babble of creeks.
The park staff was helpful in selecting suitable trails and pointing out areas of interest at the different parks we visited.. Additionally, each trail in the park system is rated: easy, moderate, or difficult to assist in planning adventures. Some parks even have accessible trails.
You can learn more about individual trails such as information on a trail’s surface or reason for a trail rating on the High Bridge Trail State Park.
Water Play: Whether it’s an ocean, river, or lake, many of Virginia’s state parks have a body of water within its boundaries. One of Charlie’s favorite activities was to sit at the water’s edge (with assistance and under close supervision) and play in the water. She splashed, poured from cups, threw in stones, floated leaves, and dug a little in the mud.
A few of her favorite spots are: the boat ramp at Smith Mountain Lake State Park.
Play In The Sand: Several of the state parks have sandy beaches. Charlie started by learning to tolerate the texture of sand. As she got older, she moved on to playing on the beaches like it was a sandbox.
A few of our favorite beaches are at Fairy Stone State Park.
Swim: Charlie still has not mastered swimming but she still enjoys getting in the water. When she was a very young infant, we sang songs like The Wheels On The Bus, splashed, reached for floating toys, and worked on kicking. Now she’s older, she floats with an inner tube (my husband and I continue to hold on to her) and she practices swimming motions in our arms.
We enjoyed the water park at Pocahontas State Park were fun too.
Lay a blanket and explore: Some of my favorite memories occurred when we played with Charlie on a blanket. We looked for a quiet spot in whichever park we visited, spread out a blanket, and relaxed. Charlie explored the surrounding grass, pinecones, leaves, acorns, dandelions, sticks, dirt, etc at her own pace. Together, we listened and watched for area birds and wildlife.
Playground/Natural Play Area: Many of the state parks have playgrounds with infant swings. Additionally, Natural Tunnel State Park has an accessible swing.
A playground may sound ambitious for a child who is not yet walking but, it can work. Charlie loved to swing, play in the material used to pad the playground, and used the slide with help. The natural play areas had even more things she could do. She practiced pulling to a stand in a stump garden, dug in a sand pit, played peek a boo in a teepee, and played a drum.
Fish: Most of the state parks offer fishing. Occoneechee State Park all had fishing piers that we were able to easily push Charlie’s stroller up to. Some of the parks have accessible fishing piers. She enjoyed seeing the fishing line cast, pretending with her own little fishing pole and was excited whenever someone reeled in a fish.
Programs: Did you know that Virginia State Parks offers activities led by park staff? Many of them are geared towards children. Charlie has helped make a wreath (she mostly liked smelling and touching the flora), pet a pig and goat, sat on Santa Claus’s lap, listened to a violin played up close, made a trail mix necklace, and many other things at programs at the state parks.
These are fun activities and the park staff is great at helping the smallest kids get involved. You can find programs of interest by clicking here.
Eat: Camp and picnic foods are a blast to cook and fun to eat. We’ve made many wonderful memories cooking out at state parks. We love to discover new foods to grill and novel ways to prepare picnic food.
Our favorite picnic areas are at Hungry Mother State Park.
Visitor Centers/Discovery Centers/Museums: A state park’s visitor center or discovery center have fascinating displays related to the area’s history and/or wildlife. Charlie likes to visit the turtle and frog that live at the Southwest Virginia Museum was a big hit as well.
Virginia State Parks offer wonderful opportunities for all kids to get outside and explore the outdoors.