If you think back to your own childhood, it probably involved exploring, riding your bike and playing outdoors away from the watchful gaze of your parents.
All too often, today’s children don’t have the freedom to play outside unsupervised, because we fear for their safety. The joys of fishing in a stream using a lump of bread and some string, building a den, playing tennis against a wall, or just rolling down a hill till you feel dizzy, are lost.
Yet playing outside is important. It allows kids to develop independence, to discover new skills and make lasting friendships, as well as getting a bit mucky and gathering an impressive collection of dirt and grazes. Without the chance to go outside, we make nature an alien place, we raise children with little awareness of danger, or the ability to reason independently. Since the 1970s, children’s roaming areas have been reduced by 95%, according to Natural England, who also note that those without access to nature often suffer a greater incidence of depression and mental health issues.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways for kids to get out and about without causing parental anxiety.
First up, Aberdeenshire and the city have over 200km of coastline with some magnificent beaches. Some are often deserted and offer plenty of opportunities for gathering shells, guddling about in rock pools, netting small creatures and playing games. Balmedie offers dunes and golden sand, Cruden Bay is popular and Aberdeen Beach offers the chance to walk along the sand, then head to Queens Links for some food in the cafés and child-friendly restaurants, or a trip to the funfair. Further south, Lunan Bay is great for flying a kite or having a picnic. The café also offers a welcoming haven if the weather turns.
If going for a paddle at the beach seems a little chilly, try Stonehaven’s Olympic-sized heated open air pool. The season starts around the end of May and the water is heated to a comfortable 29oC. There’s a paddling pool for small children, a chute, sessions with inflatables and even some midnight disco swims, which would appeal to teenagers. The sun terraces and Splash café are popular with parents too.
Inland offers plenty of forest walks on land owned by the Forestry Commission or the National Trust for Scotland, which also offers a programme of activities led by the rangers over the summer months. These are often free or inexpensive, but need to be booked in advance. Crathes Castle, near Banchory, offers a range of laid out trails that take from thirty minutes to three hours to cover and which make for an interesting family walk. There’s also a playground, café and gift shop as well as the castle and world-renowned gardens, or, for the adventurous, Go Ape offers a screamingly fun time on the zip wires.
How about golf? It’s a great way to let the kids roam more freely in a safe environment? Golf Aberdeen manage the four public courses, MacKenzie Championship Course, Hazlehead Pines, Balnagask and Kings Links. Seasonal memberships and pay-as-you-play options are available.
Many private golf clubs welcome junior members at reasonable rates. Peterculter Golf Club, for example, has family membership packages and several family fun golf days planned over the next few months. You can find out more at petercultergolfclub.co.uk
Park life also has it’s attractions for youngsters. There are nine parks in the city alone and most towns have a park or green space for kids to run around in, use the play equipment of just have some fun.