Free things to do in Whanganui: Gordon Park Scenic Reserve (local content)

Gordon Park Scenic Reserve is also known by locals as ‘Gordon’s Bush’ or ‘Gordon Park’.  Situated on the corner of No. 3 Line and Kaimatira Road, Gordon Park is a 10 minute drive from downtown Whanganui.  There is a small car park on Kaimatira Road, and there is a picnic table near the entrance to the walkway.


The reserve is small, only 14.5 hectares, but it is the perfect place to take your tots on a nature walk.  Despite the small size, I still felt like I was away from the hubbub of the city. Oh, the entire walkway is wheelchair accessible.  Let me say that again. THE ENTIRE WALKWAY IS WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE!!!  How awesome is that?  The track is perfect for people with mobility issues, or tots in a stroller.

Off we go

Off we go

The reserve has a wide loop track that meanders around the bush.  Normally you could probably walk it in 10 minutes, but with little kids it might take you 30 minutes or more, depending on how much they want to explore.

There are many wonderful things to see and hear during your visit.





The forest has Kahikatea, Tawa, Matai and Kowhai, and is a popular place for native birds to hang out, judging by the raucous birdsong on the day we visited.

A perfect wee spot to stretch wriggly little legs.  I can see us going back here again and again.


Virginia Lake, Whanganui

If you are a visitor to Whanganui, or merely a local in need of a nature fix, Virginia Lake is a must.  The lake is most certainly my happy place; my favourite bit of my home town since childhood.  On the rare occasion I get some time to myself, a walk around the lake does wonders for my soul.  It’s also my go-to place when I have scratchy kids as the lake never fails to cast its spell of fun and excitement.  And it’s free, of course.





Situated in St John’s Hill on Great North Road, Virginia Lake is a 5 minute drive from the centre of town.  Popular with locals, it’s the number one place in town to have wedding photos taken.  For good reason.  It’s blimmin’ beautiful!  There are three walking paths around the lake, with the most popular path being the lakeside path which meanders all around the lake and would take most adults 25 minutes.  If you’re with kids, expect to take much, much longer.

The water fowl alone will amuse most kids.   There are ducks, geese, swans, pukeko and more.  The birds are used to being fed bread by their daily visitors so if you take the lower path PREPARE TO BE BESIEGED BY BIRDS.  Sausage loves it until they get too close for comfort and scolds them vociferously.  The birds are a great part of the lake experience, but I find if I want a nice, peaceful, meditative sort of stroll, then I take the middle path.

Who can resist this face?

Who can resist this face?

A cheeky pukeko

A cheeky pukeko

I like this sort of black swan a lot more than the movie...

I like this sort of black swan a lot more than the movie…

There’s plenty at Virginia Lake to keep everyone happy.  Besides the beauty of the lake itself, there is a bird aviary, a child-friendly cafe, free gas barbeques, a fountain which lights up like fireworks at night, an amazing Winter Garden complete with a wishing well and a tunnel(!), a band rotunda, a small pier, and a toddler playground.


The Winter Garden (image credit)

The Winter Garden
(image credit)

I love visiting the lake at any time of year as the greenery never fails to delight me.  Sausage is flower-mad and we spent a good hour at the lake just looking at all the different flowers on show, and touching tree bark.  Because tree bark is just begging to be touched.







Basically, Virginia Lake is awesome.  Go there.










Free things to do in Whanganui: Titoki Wetland (local content)

Just on the Tawhero/Castlecliff border lies a hidden gem waiting to be discovered by gaggle of tiny explorers: Titoki Wetland.  I don’t know why this place isn’t to be found in any ‘what to do in Whanganui‘ blurb because these wetlands are a great place to take your kids as soon as they can walk.

Titoki Wetlands entrance on Titoki St, Tawhero/Castlecliff

Titoki Wetlands entrance on Titoki St, Tawhero/Castlecliff

The entrance to Titoki Wetland is located on Titoki St, and was developed into an area for all to enjoy by the residents of Titoki Street and the Whanganui District Council.  I had no idea this place existed until we drove past it a few weeks ago when I accompanied some friends who were looking to buy a house in that area.  I filed it away as a ‘thing to possibly do with my toddler’, et voila!  Today was the day.

The wetland is not huge, about the size of a couple of generous paddocks.  Sausage and I had loads of fun and I’m sure we will come back many, many times as she gets older to look at the different foliage, bugs and to stomp on the boardwalk like the Billy Goats Gruff.

Here we go stomping, stomping, stomping...

Here we go stomping, stomping, stomping…


The boardwalk goes off in a loop around the wetlands and is in definite need of repair.  It looks like a giant stomped a little too hard on several boards as they are very broken.  However, Sausage is fairly deft on her feet so the broken boards weren’t a hindrance to her fun (I must ring the Council though…).

Because of its small size the wetland is perfect to take very young children to.  There’s no chance they will get tired or lost walking around.  I’m sure it gets boggy in Winter, but at other times the boardwalk isn’t necessary.  You don’t have to worry about your tot falling off the edge into water because the boardwalk is almost entirely surrounded by grass.  We went ‘off piste’ and had no trouble at all.

Look Mum, no boardwalk!

Look Mum, no boardwalk! 

The wetland is teeming with wildlife and filled with all the interesting plants that just love swampy ground.  Sausage spent ages touching the ‘spiky’ flax and bracken, and went home clutching an array of flowers in her little fist.DSCN9591



There is a pond (although hard for little ones to see over the foliage) which had several water birds taking a dip.



And when you’re done exploring, there’s even a picnic table to rest on and recover.




  • Quiet and peaceful
  • A really different environment for kids to explore in all seasons
  • Reasonably safe for those new to walking
  • Should keep toddlers and primary school aged kids quite happy


  • Broken boards are a bit of a hazard
  • Probably not exciting enough for 10 years +



Tots in Tawhero rating: 9/10


Whanganui Playground Review: Peat Park

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!

Ah, Peat Park.  It’s one of Whanganui’s oldest playgrounds as evidenced by the Art Deco entrance.



Tucked away at the foot of St John’s Hill, the park is located on the corner of Halswell St and Peat St, and is next to Cullinane College.  The play areas are unfenced but are a reasonable distance from the road.  The streets were relatively quiet while we were there, although I imagine it gets rather busy around school drop off/pick up time.  Outside of those times you should find ample parking space.

Peat Park is sometimes used as a sports ground as the place is huge.

So much space!

So much space!




The original playground equipment is long gone, and there are now two play areas for children.  There is a massive climbing frame structure for older kids.


It has an obstacle course sort of feel to it, and will probably appeal to older children as there are arm grinders to test their strength on as they go from one end of a bar to another.  This structure however, left me cold.  It seems rather characterless, and is definitely more the sort of structure I would expect to find being used in a school for P.E.


There is a small toddlers area with two swings (one bucket, one regular), a cool bug-shaped see-saw, and a spinning pole with a platform.  Sausage needed my help to use the spinning pole, but I reckon in a few months time she will be capable of using it on her own, which is always a plus in her books.  This area could do with more play equipment, such as a slide or a toddler-sized climbing frame.



One of the reasons I have always loved this park is it lined with really old trees (mostly oak).  The trees are huge and provide plenty of shade (hoorah!) for parents to sit and watch their children at both play areas, and for those watching team sports on the playing field.  There are two picnic tables – one near each of the two play areas.  There are toilets on-site, but they were closed when we visited and looked like they had been for some time.





As a kid these were my favourite reason to come to Peat Park.

DSCN9557DSCN9561 The foot of the hill is used as a deer sanctuary, and it is a delight to be able to view these graceful creatures up close.  At the time of writing there were several baby deer.  The deer are quite used to people and were not in the least perturbed by my noisy toddler squealing ‘REINDEER Mummy!’ when she saw them.



  • The park is beautiful.  Lovely established trees, wide open spaces, what’s not to like?
  • Deer!  A great chance to get your tots up close.
  • Shade!
  • Picnic tables
  • Play equipment suitable for toddlers and school-aged kids
  • Reasonably quiet location and good parking


  • The play equipment is just a bit boring (but that’s just my jaded, world-weary adult opinion 🙂 )
  • No rubbish bins
  • No toilets

Tots in Tawhero rating:7/10 because I love deer…



* My eagle-eyed readers will notice the smudge on my camera lens.  The culprit shall remain nameless but I’m sure you can guess whodunnit…


Whanganui Playground Review: Whanganui River Holiday Park

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!

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The Whanganui River Top 10 Holiday Park in Aramoho on Somme Parade, is adjacent to the playground where my brother, cousins and I were allowed to play in BY OURSELVES.  We were permitted to walk there – a whole block away ON OUR OWN.  Such freedom!  My old stomping ground is now bereft of its flying fox, thus rendering it a rather limp and lukewarm version of the original.  Fortunately the holiday park next door has stepped in to fill the gap and has a pretty good playground all of its own.

Cards on the table: it will cost you $5 per person so it’s a special occasion sort of thing.  We went there in the name of research for this blog and I’m so glad we did, as Sausage and I had a ball.

Firstly, I apologise for the rubbish photos.  When we got there I realised I’d left the camera behind so these were taken on my phone.  Anyway, back to the playground.

$5 gets you all-day entry to the holiday park, which includes the playground, pool, games room, kitchen and dining facilities and use of the gas barbeque.  The holiday park is neat and tidy and was quite busy on the day that we were there.  There are plenty of picnic tables and shady trees, and fabulous views of the Whanganui River.  If you have school-aged kids you could probably hole up there all day, just for something different.

The main attraction of the playground is its gigantic ‘pillow’ trampoline.

Sausage on the pillow

Sausage on the pillow, bird aviary in background

You could fit a whole classroom of kids on that trampoline and still have room for more.  It’s perfectly fine for adults to use (hurrah!) so Sausage and I spent most of our time at the park jumping up a storm while Chip slept in his pram.  Sausage LOVED being able to play with me in this way and I got an awesome workout.  The trampoline is surrounded by sand, and the park owners have thoughtfully supplied some sandpit toys for tots to play with while they are there.  There are a couple of kid-sized picnic tables and a bench nearby.  The trampoline is well-shaded by nearby trees.

There is a small bird aviary (visible in the photo above) filled with brightly coloured birds who all looked well cared for.

Next to the ‘pillow’ is a regular trampoline with mats and a safety net.  Going by the amount of injuries I inflicted upon myself on our trampoline as a kid, I think those nets are a genius idea.

There are two swings – one bucket and one regular, and a cool climbing frame which has a swinging log to access the platform, and two curly/wavy slides.

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The holiday park also has a range of trikes that can be hired ($5 for 30 mins), and offers paintball (from $30) and kayak hire ($20 an hour) as well.

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  • Wide range of activities on offer which would suit every age
  • Lots of shady spots to sit/have picnics
  • Access to barbeque and kitchen, showers, toilets etc.
  • Neat, tidy place


  • It costs money.  Fair enough, it’s a business, not a council-run playground.  But if it wasn’t for the giant pillow, I probably wouldn’t go there just to use the play equipment.  It was cool, but there are plenty of just-as-cool free playgrounds around.
  • The other cool things on offer there cost money too.  I was lucky to escape demands to go on the trikes.

Tots in Tawhero rating: 8/10 (deducting points for cost)


Prices correct as of Jan 2015


Whanganui Playground Review: Kai Iwi Beach

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!

Kai Iwi Beach was my favourite place to go swimming as a kid.  Situated at the small settlement of Mowhanau, Kai Iwi Beach is a mere 15 minute drive from Whanganui.  It’s very popular with young families due to the playground and gentle stream flowing out to the beach.  The stream is perfect for tots to muck about in and for older children who aren’t confident swimmers.  My  family and I whiled away many a summer’s day at this beach.

So it was with a great deal of dismay that we were greeted with this sign:



Umm, what?  I can’t find any information online as to why the stream isn’t currently safe for swimming (Jan 2015), but I did find an article from 2012 which blamed toxic blue-green algae producing high levels of E. coli in the water.  Come on Whanganui District Council!  This is absolutely disgraceful!  Kai Iwi is by far the most popular beach in the area.

We didn’t go into the stream at all as I didn’t want to risk it with a baby in tow.

Anyhow, rant over.  Onto the playground!


While the slide of my childhood has been replaced by a bigger, better structure, I am convinced that this witches’ hat is still the same.


The original slide has been replaced by an awesome boat structure which has several climbing areas, a flying fox, a swing and of course, a slide.


Ahoy me hearties!

Ahoy me hearties!


There is a really cool standing see-saw (see picture above in foreground) and a toddler’s area with a climbing frame and bucket swings


Chip having a swing with his Uncle

Chip having a swing with his Uncle


There are regular swings and a rope climbing frame, a couple of charcoal barbeques, and several picnic tables close to all the action.





  • Next to Kai Iwi Stream
  • Spitting distance to Kai Iwi Beach
  • Toilets at the car park
  • The unique play equipment will keep a range of ages happy
  • Lots of seating and rubbish bins
  • Old-school barbeques
  • You must cross a footbridge to get to it – loads of fun for the little ones


  • With the stream being out of action, this is suddenly a less attractive place to come for those of us with wee ones
  • No shade!!!  Sigh.  Once again, there are no trees anywhere near the play equipment for parents/babies/tuckered-out tots to sit and watch

Tots in Tawhero rating: 6/10 without the stream, 9/10 if stream is safe


Whanganui Playground Review: Castlecliff Domain

This is part of a series where I review local playgrounds in and around Whanganui.  Non-locals will want to skip this!



Castlecliff Domain is one of Whanganui’s absolute gems for families and large group events.  Located on Seafront Road in the suburb of Castlecliff, the Domain is a hop, skip and a jump away from the beach.

The Domain play area is a fantastic spot for all ages.  I highly recommend this playground if you’re having a big get-together with a mix of ages.  There is something to keep absolutely everyone happy.

There are bucket swings for tiny tots and regular swings.


Sausage and friends enjoying a swing



A toddler climbing frame



An older kids climbing frame



A witches hat swing



A net, huge slide and a flying fox (not pictured)




A skate park, a basketball court, a couple of gas barbeques, and plenty of benches and picnic tables.




Just past the play area is a long expanse of grass which is perfect for games, or just to sit somewhere shady.


  • Wide range of great play equipment will keep a range of ages occupied
  • Free gas BBQ’s!
  • Loads of seating and rubbish bins
  • Toilets
  • Some shady spots near the play areas
  • Super-close to the beach



  • Could do with more shade near one of the BBQ’s
  • Some of the play equipment is looking tired and needs a paint

Tots in Tawhero rating: 9/10


Dollar Diet: one week in

One week down, 51 to go!


It’s been a case of so far, so good this week.  It’s summer holidays here in New Zealand, so schools, kindergartens and playgroups are closed until the school year begins in February.  School holidays can be an expensive time of year for parents, but I’ve managed to keep Sausage occupied for almost-free this week.

One of my BFF cousins is in town with her school-aged children.  Sausage has loved getting to know her cousins, and they have provided her with her favourite form of entertainment – a captive audience to watch her antics.  Our cousins are on a limited budget, so we’ve enjoyed a few meals at home together, a walk around the lake, watched a DVD, and had a brilliant time visiting the excellent Whanganui Regional Museum (free entry) which meant sticking to the Dollar Diet was easy.


Taking a break during our walk around Virginia Lake – my favourite free place in Whanganui (that’s me in the blue hat)

I’m a very organised person, but the Dollar Diet is already making me plan ahead a lot more than I have before.  I’m good at making sure I have enough food and drink for my tots, but often don’t take anything for myself when I’m out and about.  I keep sugar to a minimum (which I blog about over at Giving Up Sugar) but hunger can make any sugary food waved in my face look tempting, so this week I made sure to pack a piece of fruit in the baby bag for me, which also stops me from needing to buy a quick snack at a cafe.

Here’s some other things that I’ve done this week:

  • Removed several ‘lines’ in our budget, such as our clothing allowance, date night allowance, eating out allowance, and some of our gift budget (I will probably still need a little $ to make gifts).
  • Our weekly clothing allowance was $6.92 (D) and $11.54 (me) per week so that will potentially save us $959.92 this year.  I thought our allowance was pretty darn frugal and got us used to saving up for items of clothing that I wanted, but seeing it in a lump sum like that makes me reconsider just how much I might be overspending on clothes I probably don’t need.
  • Our weekly date night allowance was a generous $35.00 a week and has generally always been well in credit because we haven’t gone out every week, or always spent money on our dates.  Occasionally we’d treat ourselves to an expensive dinner and a movie, but D and I have always been pretty happy with fish and chips at the beach, or cuddling up on the couch to watch Foyle’s War.  As our date night budget is now zero, I’m really looking forward to getting my thinking cap on.  D and I take turns planning our date night so I can’t wait to see what he comes up with too.  Anyway, that’s a massive $1820 in potential savings this year.
  • Even though we meal plan, we’re not always the best at sticking to it or at taking food with us when we are out and about (see above!), so our weekly eating out budget was $40.00.  This was also pretty generous and has always been in the black.  The other day I had forgotten to take meat out of the freezer for that night’s meal, and my mind went ‘Oh well, I can just make a tuna pasta thingee, or we could get Fish and Chips.  No, wait!  I forgot we’re on a Dollar Diet!  Tuna Pasta Thingee it is.  Oooh, Dollar Diet, you are good…‘  Eating at home, and ensuring we take food with us when we’re out will potentially save us $2080 this year!
  • I was going to cancel our subscription to our local newspaper, but I haven’t quite.  The man I spoke to asked me why I was cancelling.  I could have told a white lie and said I was moving (it would have been easier) but I decided to be truthful and told him all about the Dollar Diet.  He was actually really interested and we had a great chat.  He then offered me the paper at a greatly reduced rate.  I know many businesses will do this rather than lose customers, but I was so pleased that he did.  Supporting local businesses is really important to us, and we were feeling quite stink about cancelling, so our discount is kind of a happy medium.  While we won’t save as much money as simply cancelling the newspaper would do, our discount will save us almost $100 this year.
  • I’ve unsubscribed to any emails that want to sell me something.  There have been more times than I care to remember that I’ve seen an email advertising a sale that’s made me go ‘Oooh!  60% off!  I must have a look…’  This way I will be completely oblivious to all the things I am missing out on that I most certainly don’t need anyway.
  • I sold some boots ($11) and a dress ($10) on our NZ trading website Trade Me.

One ‘unnecessary’ thing we spent money on this week was taking Sausage to our local pool.  The admission price of the pool is a bit of a bug-bear of mine as I think it is outrageously expensive compared to pools in other cities.  However, I want Sausage to be used to deep water so I do plan to take her swimming every now and then throughout the year.  It will still be a couple more years before she can really learn to swim, but mucking about in the pool with Mummy or Daddy is a step in the right direction.  D bought a plastic bread slicing thing (you know, those things that help you cut uniform slices) as he is now a bread-making king.  It turned out to be completely useless at helping you slice breadmaker loaves, so that was a waste of $10.  D also wants you to know he spent $2 on a cheeseburger, but he was feeling faint and was worried he was going to pass out (it was a hot day, so I think he can be forgiven 🙂 ).


Whanganui Playground review: Lundon Park

This is the first in a series I will do of all the playgrounds in and around Whanganui (sorry overseas readers, you’ll want to skip reading these unless you have a burning desire to see New Zealand playgrounds 🙂 ).

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Okay.  Let’s crack on.

Lundon Park is on Carson Street and is opposite the back entrance of Castlecliff School.

The park has heaps of green space, enough for a game of cricket or an epic battle of Bullrush.  There are several areas of play equipment dotted around the park.

There is a decent climbing frame. that Sausage had a great time playing on.  It’s not too high off the ground, and is surrounded by bark for a soft landing.2015-01-03 11.05.48

It has several seesaws and swings.

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And a weird hanging hoop structure that you can see in the background of the picture above if you squint.  The park also has a slightly derelict-looking skate/scooter ramp area.


  • Heaps of green space, lots of play equipment so it’s good for a big group of kids.
  • Toddler-friendly climbing frame
  • Play equipment is all in good working order
  • Quiet street (when school is not in session)
  • There is some seating for tired parents
  • Skate park area is attractive for older kids


  • The playground looks TIRED.  The paint on the play equipment is faded and peeling and just looks a bit meh.  There was nothing wrong with any of the equipment when I visited, but the Council needs to tart this baby up.
  • There is NO SHADE anywhere near the play equipment.  Sigh.  This is a major grumble of mine as most of the playgrounds in Whanganui have little to no shade.  It’s not such a big deal if you have older kids who can be watched from a distance while Mum or Dad takes a break under a tree.  Unfortunately I visited on a blazing hot day with Chipolata in tow who was in need of a feed, and the only tree was quite a way from the play area.  Sausage is too little to be left to her own devices on play equipment at the moment, so Chip and I got rather hot and bothered while he fed, and I had to cut the outing short as a result.  Most parents like to play with their kids for a bit, and then chill out while watching them have fun – so come on Whanganui City Council, plant some trees!
  • There were some toilets there, but they looked scruffy and were locked when I went there, and looked like they hadn’t been in action for some time.
  • The playground is not fenced so if you have a renegade tot who likes to take off, this may not be the park for you.
  • No picnic tables (not that they are necessary, just a nice-to-have.

Tots in Tawhero rating: 4/10

I apologise for the rubbish photos, it was such a sunny day most of the photos I took were too washed out!


Outdoor fun for free: Under 2’s

There’s a heck of a lot of pressure on parents to entertain their kids, to be ‘creative’ and ‘fun’, and ‘make memories’.  While I don’t think there is anything wrong with thinking outside the box and giving your child some wonderful experiences in life, always bear in mind that with really little kids – LESS IS MORE.  You don’t have to set foot outside your front door in order for your under 2’s to have a great time.  In our case, we went out the back door!

We are blessed to own a home with a very big backyard.  All that space was one of the reasons that we bought our house.  Our house is on a sort of wedge-shaped section, so that the front yard is reasonably small, but expands the further back you go.  Most people turn up to our house and think it’s pretty modest until they see the view of the backyard from our kitchen and their jaws start to drop.

Sausage is now 16 months old and has recently started walking.  She’s gaining more confidence by the day, but is still rather wobbly on her pins.  As we’ve started to move into the colder months, her wibble-wobble-walking highlighted the fact that learning to walk over Autumn/Winter is a pain in the butt.  Cold, wet ground makes for a mucky child.  But I believe children should be given the chance to get outside as much as possible and have therefore invested in several pairs of waterproof pants (I sourced some great trousers with polar-fleece lining from T&T clothing, and also found some at my local riverside market) so Sausage can fall over and muck about in the dirt to her heart’s content.

Sausage goes to playgroup two times a week, and a music group one day a week so I like for her afternoons and non-activity days to be low-key whenever possible.  If you ever feel lots of parent guilt about staying at home remember these two things:

  1. Home is the most awesome place on earth for under 2’s.  It’s safe, familiar and not over-stimulating.
  2. Most people can’t remember a damn thing about their life before the age of three (and even then, a lot of our memories are dependent on the photos our doting parents took…).  Your under 2 will simply not remember (in the long term) staying at home to play in the backyard a lot.  Nor will they remember the many times you schlepped them all over the place to do cool stuff.
Walking uphill - wahoo!

Walking uphill – wahoo!

Sausage had a blast playing in our backyard this afternoon and was quite absorbed for an hour and a half.  That’s like, 15 years in toddler time.  The soft, uneven grass was challenging for her to walk on, but cushioned her multiple falls much better than the wooden floorboards in our house.  We picked and ate apples off one of our trees.

No prizes for guessing who's apple this is

No prizes for guessing who’s apple this is

She played with water dripping from a tap I’d turned on for her until her fingers started to get wrinkly.

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She squished a few rotting feijoas on the ground from our enormous tree that produced waaaay more fruit than we could harvest in time.

Next year we vow to be more organised and nom all the feijoas!

Next year we vow to be more organised and nom all the feijoas!


If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, it will be the scene of wonder, magic and fun for many years to come.  Rejoice that fancy toys are not required.  For under 2’s you have to do little more than turn on a tap and point them in the direction of a nice pile of squishy dirt to keep them happy.  If only us adults could be that easily amused!