Prior to having children, I never would have described myself as the outdoorsy type. I’m content indoors with air conditioning and comfortable furniture. Yet, I was blessed with two children who love the outdoors and ask to be outside – repeatedly.
Nine years into parenthood, I’m a converted semi-outdoorsman. I still love the comfort of indoors, but being outside actually makes me feel better. The fact that I have fun with my children at the same time is a bonus! In the process of converting to this state of being a semi-outdoorsman, I have learned a few things about making the most of the time spent outdoors.
1. You can’t go wrong with parks and playgrounds.
I love that we have tons of great parks in the Richmond area, and they all offer something different. We have our local favorite, Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville. It’s a familiar and fun playground spot, but we also like to visit other parks around town. We venture west to Deep Run where the park is shady, the playground has unique equipment, and the ducks provide added entertainment. If we’re up for exploring, we will check out the farm at Maymont. My children love a chance to get up close and personal with the farm animals.
2. Be ready for water play – at any time.
In Virginia, we can count on a few summer-like hot days during spring, so we are always ready to play with water. My children use their old plastic kiddie pool for playing with water toys. I also fill buckets of soapy water for them so they can wash their bikes and scooters. When I plan strategically, I even manage to have them wash the bottom two-thirds of my minivan. It’s a fun-filled, wet mess – especially when a 6-year-old boy is handling the hose.
My family also has a collection of some large, brightly-colored water guns – the kind that can hold up to fifty ounces of water and spray twenty to thirty feet. We have a few rules – such as no aiming at anyone’s face, or Mommy’s hair if she’s been to the salon. Sometimes we play kids versus adults, and sometimes it’s every man for himself! It is so much fun running through the yard, trying to find a way to avoid getting blasted with water, laughing hysterically at the same time.
3. Grow something. Really, anything!
Every spring, we plant something – flowers or vegetables. We have no formal plan. It’s just what the kids are interested in growing. We’ve tried a variety of flowers and vegetables over time, and while not all of our plantings have been a success, we still enjoy the process.
We primarily do our planting in large pots. However, I salute anyone who is willing to expand into a real garden in the ground where there are worms and other creatures.
Planting in large pots keeps it simple and doesn’t require weeding or other ground preparation. To keep my children interested, I look for seeds that will germinate in about a week. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and sunflowers all show progress quickly. Kids can help with every part of the process, from selecting the plant or seeds, to picking out a planter pot, filling it with soil, and watering, of course. It’s really fun to see my children get enthusiastic about caring for their plantings and watching the slightest changes from day to day.
4. Get moving when they’re moving.
There are many days when I pull up a chair and soak up the sunshine while my children are playing. However, I’ve discovered the pleasure of doing some of the things my children are doing. We’ve been spending more time with bikes now that my daughter has mastered the two-wheeler and my son confidently rides with training wheels. I decided to dust off my own bike, and after adding some air to the tires, I was enjoying a ride in the neighborhood. My kids cheered – they had no idea that Mommy could ride a bike, too! Isn’t that kind of funny? To be honest, I had forgotten how thrilling it is to feel the wind in my face while speeding downhill.
My gymnastics-loving daughter can easily do four cartwheels in a row across our lawn. Remembering my own love of cartwheels from childhood, I decided to try it myself again. I quickly realized that I cannot do multiple cartwheels if I want to be able to walk straight afterwards. But I can still do a great single cartwheel, and the delight on my daughter’s face made the effort worthwhile. My son thinks it’s fantastic when I climb onto their play set, ducking beneath the kid-sized roof to go down the slide. I also enjoy pushing them on the swings – I know they can pump on their own, but I am savoring this time when they still welcome my presence and help during playtime.
5. Leave room for flexibility and creativity.
I really like to be organized and to stick to an agenda. Over time, though, I have learned that with outdoor play, there is value in being flexible. I remember a day when I had taken my children to Three Lakes Park in Henrico. We had been stuck in the house during some rainy days, and when the sun returned I figured we could enjoy the sprawling playground at this park.
My children played on the playground equipment for about five minutes and then got distracted by building a village from sticks in the mud. My first instinct was to tell them to go back to the playground (meaning: run off some of your energy!), but I saw how happy they were – so content, peaceful, and really creative working through the detail in their mud village. Suddenly, their plan seemed much better than my outdoor agenda. We were outside, enjoying it, and that’s all that mattered.
When I think back to some of the best experiences I have had with my children, I realize that many of them have been outdoors – whether planned activities or spontaneous play. There are endless possibilities for outdoor fun, and we’re ready for a lot more!