Children learn through play.
We see play as just “fun” but for children play is hard work. It is a child's full time job to play. For children play comes naturally. It is so important to give children opportunities to play -- unstructured, open ended, child centered play. We may see it as meaningless but it is an important developmental activity for a child. Children learn through play.
By giving children an opportunity to play we give them an opportunity to learn. Through play they develop:
How does play come so easily to little children?
They have less outward restraints -- they have less focus on what society "thinks" as well as being less self-conscious about what they are doing. As we “grow up” it gets harder for us to play as freely as we did as children. We have to work at it.
What can we do to enhance their learning while they play?
We can give them opportunities to develop their imaginations by allowing them to engage in open ended play. Children used to have toys that were not connected to a product, movie or book. They would use a stick as a doll or train. They developed their own scenarios without adults orchestrating the play. When they had a train it was just a train not a train with a name and a specific role in the play. It is hard not to allow your child to have a Thomas or a Dora but you can help them develop the play without mirroring the story or TV show.
Kids today are attracted to the same things as when our boys were young but the difference then was that a train was just that -- a train, dinosaurs were dinosaurs, tools were hammers without a specific builder using them. Our first experience with attaching a particular movie/story to the generic dinosaur was Land Before Time and the dinosaur characters in the movie. We had to drive to a Mercer Island Pizza Hut to get Sharp Tooth. I never thought I would have allowed an advertisers scheme to manipulate me to buy pizza in order to get a toy. It was through my children's big, pleading eyes. We drove across town to buy a pizza in order to get the last dinosaur in the collection. Advertisers have found a big target population to sell items to – children.
It is important to give your child a chance to use their creativity when they play not just copy what they see or hear. One way to help your child develop their imagination is to give them opportunities to think and play "outside the box" that society puts their toy in. A prime example of how children enjoy the open ended "toy" is watching a child play with the box and wrapping paper the toy came in instead of with the toys that came in the box. If you allow children to have items that they can use to create their own play scene -- things that do not already have a story line attached to them—you allow them to engage their mind in their play.
Giving them opportunities for open-ended activities will encourage your child to develop their imagination and enhance their cognitive skills. Our sons played for hours with wooden blocks, animals and cars. Often they built towers, towns, boats, roadways -- the start of each project was new and changed as they developed the idea for that day. It was the same set of blocks yet used to create different outcomes, scenarios, stories. Toys are the same, yet different, now -- Legos used to be an assortment of colored building blocks but now they have a theme or specific story line attached that pre-determines the outcome of the play, many books have a show or movie that sets the visual imagery, dolls/trucks/trains have a pre-determined personality or story line. The play is less imaginative and less creative if the child is just re-creating what they have already seen or knows about the characters or materials they are playing with. It is important to help the child create his/her own story line or scenario rather than just mimic one that has already been determined by a toy manufacturer.
A natural arena for open-ended play is the backyard.
Give them time to be outside playing in the yard -- they can dig in the dirt, play with water, use animals as they make their own zoo or farm, plant a garden, watch the clouds, read a book. Being outside is something that is important for developing empathy for living things. They learn to respect living things -- both animals and plant life. Children need time outdoors -- unstructured time to play in natural surroundings. They experience the world through all of their senses. It gives them opportunities for leaning balance, eye hand coordination, cause and effect, visual discrimination, depth perception, enhances their hearing, creates associations with sound/sight to the knowledge they have acquired while reading books -- and you just thought they were playing outside! As they get older they can organize group play. The older kids set up the scenario and the younger kids get to play the parts. It is through this kind of multi-age play that they can develop social skills, problem solving techniques, leadership skills and self- confidence. Allowing the children to govern the play gives the child opportunities for developing abilities to manage their bodies and emotions, express their opinions and feelings, and create an environment of cooperation. They learn how to play together with rules and how to deal with their feelings when the outcomes of the group play are not what they want them to be.
When you are inside the house you can set up open ended activities that allow children to use household items for activities that encourage academic learning through play -- measuring and pouring develops spatial awareness (science, math, verbal skills), sorting items like buttons, nuts and bolts, food items (sensory awareness, verbal skills, visual discrimination), using socks for puppets, scraps of cloth for art projects (visual discrimination, 5 senses, creative problem solving).
There is a place and time for both open ended activities and playing with beloved characters. We had Snow White and the Seven "DORFS" memorized – I could not miss a word or page - ever! While on a trip to Ballard I had to stop at a toy store and ask permission to put the "dorfs" that were on display in the window in the correct order (Doc to Dopey). Winnie the Pooh and Mickey were part of the Disneyland play, Beatrix Potter was played out with their stuffed animals but they also made magic brews in the backyard, set up wild safaris in the garden and just laid in the grass and looked at the sky.
Give your child a balance of activities so they can develop creative thinking skills, cooperative play, and problem solving skills. Through play your child is developing many new skills that will be the building blocks for a lifetime of learning.
February is the month of love. The month we celebrate Valentine’s Day and show others how much they mean to us. But, as I sit here trying to decide what to write for Valentine’s Day, I cannot help but remember the years when my sons were little. I am looking at the pictures of “my boys” that sit on our computer desk. The pictures range in age from toddler to college age. There are smiling little preschoolers, brothers giving each other a hug, college students laughing wildly.... memories captured on film of days gone by. Each picture captures a moment of time that seems both a long time ago and just like yesterday at the same time. How often I would hear “it seems like just yesterday....” and “in the blink of an eye” when older parents would be talking about the childhood years.
As we continue to grow and change I reflected on our family: How have we, as a family, grown up together? What have we done to nurture the best in each other? Now that they are adults starting their own families I remembered a time, sitting around our dining room table, when we had a conversation about academics and how they enjoyed learning new things. I asked Joel, Nick and Luke (their close friend) what they thought our two families had done that allowed them to develop that desire to explore and engage in all sorts of learning activities. They had some interesting insights. They were positive that reading was vital for developing a love of learning. All three agreed that reading to them as children, and then to themselves, had been a pivotal point in their early learning. We all agreed that having a support network of loving adults that modeled a love of learning was important as well as having opportunities to build experiences such as visiting places like zoos, science centers, aquariums, the symphony, plays, the opera, libraries and traveling had enhanced their knowledge and these experiences added to the desire to learn more, read more, do more. Then they said two things I had never really associated with their success in school and their desire to continue to learn outside of the classroom.
The first was confidence -- Confidence in themselves and confidence that their family was there for them no matter what. If they needed to ask a question someone would be there to help them find the answer, if they needed help with a project someone would be there show them how they could accomplish the task (not do it for them but help them do it on their own), an awareness that they were not in this by themselves but that they had a family support network that would always be there for them – no matter what. They knew that there were adults in place, the ones that they had been developing trusting relationships with since they were toddlers, that would support them when they needed it most. These people would cheer them on, hug them when they needed one, listen to them, congratulate them on a job well done, be there to acknowledge the disappointments in life and help them find the positive out of the negatives. These people were there to encourage them and instill the confidence that they could accomplish whatever they set out to do.
Second was eating meals together. I was surprised to hear this one. We always ate together as a family. It was hardest in high school when we had to juggle meals, sports, homework and meetings but it was a priority. Luke said his father always made them have “spirited conversation” and Joel said he remembered that he felt respected when we listened to what he had to say at dinner. Nick liked the laughter at mealtimes. Both of our families had a no TV rule at meal times. Meals were more than time to physically feed our bodies they were a time to feed our minds and develop relationships. We listened to each other, laughed at our experiences and respected the thoughts expressed during the conversations. Now our mealtimes are quieter but when the boys come home we still have interesting conversations, lots of laughter and enjoy the time being together.
This February while you think of ways to express your love for those in your family take the time to look back on the positive experiences your family provided for you.
As we start the New Year some of us may have taken time to review what our families have done this past year and/or start planning the activities for the coming year.
Sometimes you need to get away and have some R&R so you have the energy to have a positive attitude about being a parent. Give yourself permission to have time – just time for you. Give yourself permission to pamper yourself. If you take the time to recharge yourself then you have the opportunity to be the best for your child. Take a walk, go on a date, read a book (that does not have pictures and soft, fluffy animals or a truck, train, builder as a main character), have a cup of tea and finish a chapter without being interrupted. Then you will have the energy to enjoy all they have to share with you … a hug, a sticky-jelly-kiss, a worm, a laugh.
In our family I treasure the laughter more than anything else. To hear children laughing brings such joy. Even though Joel and Nick are grown they will always be my “children” so their laughter will always bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. As Curt and I walked by a playground the other day we were talking about the sound of children playing and laughing. What a wonderful sound that is. It is the sound of joy and wonderment. Often it is the everyday memories that mean so much as your child grows up. The day you sat on the porch in the sun and read a book, that early morning sleepy look as they tumble out of bed, a smile just for you, the excitement of a making something all by themselves. These little snapshots of everyday life with add up and become the history of their childhood. You can hold onto these mental pictures of your little one as you watch them grow. Sooner than you think (or want) they head off into the ‘big’ world -- grade school, high school and then off to college or their new job.
Remember -- it is as important to take the pictures in your mind as it is with your camera because you can always look at the pictures in your mind.
This holiday season will be a blend of happy and sad for our family. We will be making new memories and starting new traditions as well as remembering “how we used to do it” and who we used to have with us. Just as you have started new family traditions with your children while continuing a blend of traditions from your own families we will be readjusting our traditions. Part of being a family is to continually re-assess what the family needs are. As our sons have grown up we have added some new activities while taking away ones that are no longer relevant or needed. Joel no longer puts the oatmeal out for the reindeer but Nick still enjoys the tradition of putting the cookies out for Santa. We still hang the ornaments on the tree while listening to The Muppets – even if Nick is hanging ornaments via Google video and Joel is hanging his on his own tree in his own house. The traditions that we have always done as a family may not be the ones that are carried on as they blend into their own family unit. Curt and I blended some family traditions and created our own. What is important is to create memories for your children to hold onto as they leave the house and start their own households. December in our household has lots of birthdays as well as Christmas to celebrate. We have friends who celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanza and some friends choose to celebrate being together and all of us value the memories we create each time we are together. It is at this time of year we focus on traditions and memories but it is important to remember that the memories you make with your family happen every day and all year long.
Some traditions are based around your family, some around holidays and some just happen and become a family tradition. As we were looking through boxes of pictures for Pearl’s Memorial Service and for Joel’s wedding we were reminded of many neighborhood traditions. One of the winter traditions in our neighborhood was to wake up the kids if it started to snow after they went to bed. As you all know our snow can be here today gone tomorrow – and possibly-- here an hour and gone the next! So when it started to snow we would wake up the kids and go outside for a neighborhood snowball fight! We saw pictures of children dressed in snowsuits building snowmen, lobbing snowballs and laughing as they enjoyed the fun of fresh snow. We were lucky to live in a neighborhood with children the same age as Joel and Nick (there was even a dog friend for our dog!) As the years passed we no longer woke up the boys, who once were sleepy, footy-pajama-ed little people, to play in the snow. They preferred to sleep! But still, when it snows, Joel will be the first to call me on the phone and say: “ It’s snowing Mom!” And Nick sends me pictures from Wisconsin – although snow no longer has much of a warm fuzzy memory for him! I enjoy watching as they incorporate their childhood memories into their own traditions. It is nice to know that they enjoyed those days as much as we did.
What are some of the things you treasure and want to pass on to your children? Are they things you did as a child or things you wished you had done? One of the things I wanted to share with my children was a love of learning. I was never a reader but valued reading so I wanted to instill the love of books with the boys. We went to libraries, we would read books -all the time- and they had their own books on their own bookshelves. They were encouraged to treat books with respect and value them. Curt read to them ever evening before they went to bed. As they grew older the stories changed from picture books to chapter books then to book in a series. They loved Curious George, then Beezus and Ramona, Roald Dahl books and The Chronicles of Narnia. Books are still valued and treasured by them. This summer Joel’s fiancée, Danielle, road her bike across the state of Washington. In her final email she sent out a picture showing her with the map of her trip standing in front of the Pacific Ocean saying: I road 555 miles, summited 7 mountain passes and Joel bought 24 books! When asked what he needed in Madison Nick replied, more bookshelves. They love to read and I love that they do. It is a gift that will continue to give them great returns – memories, knowledge, enjoyment, understanding, connections with others and the world they live in. Some of the books our sons treasure are the ones given to them from their grandparents, some from us and some they have added to their collections. These books remind them of the people they love, places they have been and slices of time from their past. A book is a gift that can give the gift of knowledge, laughter, understanding and love.
Another gift we gave to our sons was the ability to entertain themselves. It is the gift of boredom that many children do not receive in our world of instant everything. We have movies on demand, games on our phones, DVD players in the car and iPads in case they need to be entertained. These are technology tools that can be used to ease an unpleasant and tedious sit in the waiting room, a long ride in the car and to keep them occupied while you make dinner. But do you ever let them be bored? Give them a box of “stuff” and let them find a way to use it? It is important to have open ended projects for children. It engages their mind in ways that will encourage them to be creative, allows their minds to develop new neurological pathways, develop problem solving techniques and allows them to experience success, and failures, that will develop their patience, tenacity and self-assurance. Children are naturally curious. If you give them items that they can choose the direction the play will go you are encouraging them to use their own creativity and imagination. Items such as Legos used to be open ended – just a box of colored plastic pieces that could be put together however a child wanted. Now they are specific to a character or movie and have a closed, one way to make it, plan. As you play with your child encourage them to make their own “play plan” not play just what they have seen on TV or in a movie. The more freedom they have in their play the more skills they are developing for later use: in school (creative writing, problem solving, imaginative play), with relationships (empathy, role playing, engaging with others) and personal growth (interacting with the world around them, developing self- confidence, feeling comfortable with who they are).
Take some time to reflect on your childhood and what memories you value. What are the things you want to share with your child? What are some of the ways you can allow your child to grow that does not involve something bought at the store? It is important to give them opportunities to grow by encouraging time spent in nature, time spent with others, time spent alone and time spent stimulating their mind. Enjoy the time you spend making memories this month.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is family centered and not ‘things’ centered. It is a time to gather family around you and enjoy some time together. It doesn’t mean that there is no stress or tension but hopefully it can be a time spent together building memories.
As we start into the holiday season I hope you take some time to set your priorities to make this a family-centered and low-stress time (I know it cannot be a stress-free). It is hard to keep from getting caught up in the materialistic side of the holidays. We want to give our children what they want. We want to make them happy and watch them enjoy the things they have. Thanksgiving is time to encourage them to be aware of the people in their lives and the things they already have. Children are a gift to us and the values we share with them are our gift to them. Take some time to enjoy the treasures you have in your children and reflect on all the joy they bring to our lives.
This year will again be a time of change for our family. As we have added another family member, a new daughter-in-law, we will be adjusting our family traditions so that we can enjoy time together. There have been many changes in our family the last few years. We started some new traditions as our family has changed and our sons, with their wives, start their own traditions or as their lives and schedules mandate a change in our existing traditions. This year we have experienced the excitement of weddings - the marriage of Nick to Greta and my first nephew getting married. We are all eagerly awaiting the birth of Joel and Danielle’s first child, and our first grandchild. There will be a celebration as my Dad turns 85th and family gathers together. We have also experienced the loss as a very special family member, John, passed away. John was the oldest member of our family and will be missed by all of us. As our family changes we will continue to add and adjust family traditions as needed. It is important to remember that it is the time spent together that is important. We are working at being flexible as we start new traditions and as we discontinue ones that no longer work for the whole family. The memories will always be with us as we remember all the family times we have had in the past and we can enjoy the time we spend together making more memories from our new activities, new times of celebration and as we establish new places to be together as a family. The most important thing is to enjoy being together. The bond we have as a family started when our sons were young. We built relationships during the time we were together. Memories are made during the day to day little interactions, the laughter we shared during dinner, the time taken to admire the world around us and the moments spent really listening to each other. It is during your daily interactions that you get to know these little people that you are blessed to call your children.
As the nights get darker and we spend more time inside it is a great time of year to do family activities that do not cost a lot of money. Just enjoy these little people because they will be big people before you know it!
I remember how busy the days were when our children were little. I remember times when it seemed like the day would go on forever and it just merged into the next day. I never thought I would ever get a good night’s sleep! Then there days when it was hard to believe how fast the boys were growing up. Yes, some days seem to go on forever and some are over in a heartbeat. Yet, in the blink of an eye they have become adults. It is hard to believe but soon your children will be in grade school, middle school and then high school - and driving a car – when again you will not be sleeping at night!
As I watch your children at preschool I am reminded how lucky we are to have the chance to see the world though their eyes. Take some time this month to count your blessings and give thanks for the treasures we call children.
Fall is a time of change – the leaves change to a variety of colors, we anticipate the change in the weather and temperature, sunsets come early and sunrise later, we watch the last of the flowers in the garden fade away. We change our clocks, our meal choices and our wardrobe...time for all those sweaters and fleece to come back out of the closet where they have been (although in Seattle it may have only been for a few weeks!) While we look forward to change we may long for time to stay the same. I enjoy the crisp, colorful days of fall, but long for the lazy, sunny days of summer while looking forward to cold, snowy days by a fire in the winter. I want it to stay the same yet remember the fun of the past and look forward to the new of the future. This is true of parenting. I loved when my sons were young. I was always happy with the age they were. We enjoyed all the “seasons” as they grew. All were wonderful and different and challenging. The joy of the “firsts” -- first smile, first words, first steps changed to first lost tooth, first sleep over, first summer camp. Then it was time for learning to drive, college applications and their first time living away from home. We have enjoyed the time with our sons and being a part of the changes as they have grown from babies to adults. We cannot turn back the hands of time. What we can do is to look back at the memories as we look forward to the new experiences to come.
This month I would like to write about my passion for the outdoors. It is so important to be outside with your children. I have to be outside. I have always been an outside kind of person. I draw so much energy from nature and being able to be outdoors. When our sons were little we did as much as we could outside. Hiking, exploring, walks in the neighborhood, visiting parks, camping and looking for worms after a rain were just some of the activities we enjoyed. This fall we will have opportunities to spend time outside in our play area to give the children different ways to exercise their bodies while being in a natural environment. They need to experience the wonder of the trees movement when it is windy, the smell of the salt air, the feel of mist on their skin. While we are at preschool these are all things they can experience in the little window of nature while we are at Outdoor Play. What do they learn while they are outside? All of their 5 senses are used while in nature. They can hear the birds, feel the wind, watch the clouds, taste a fresh picked vegetable or fruit and smell a flower. They can watch a spider spin a web, a bird soar in the air and a squirrel run up a tree. While they dig in the dirt (or sandbox) they are learning about physics and math, when they pet an animal they are learning how to interact in a kind and gentle manner, when they watch the world around them they are discovering that this is a big world and they are a part of it.
It is so important for children to be given opportunities to explore their world. Independently! Give them time to roam about, by themselves, and explore. No, I am not saying just let them run about in an unsafe environment where they could be injured but do give them opportunities to explore their world and to be independent. Give them an opportunity to explore the backyard while you watch from a distance. Let them interact with nature by climbing, sitting, running and exploring their yard (or safe outdoor area) on their own. It is just as important to be there to explain the world around them as it is for them to have a chance to experience the world of nature on their own – to develop critical thinking skills (what to believe, what to do), curiosity (what is this ...), imagination (what can I do with this) , problem solving skills (how do I climb up this rock) , and a joy of learning (developing a love of learning for learning not for a grade or the approval of others). One way to do this is to give them an area to dig. This could be in a sandbox, at the beach, in a pile of dirt or a space in the garden. Let them use natural materials, like sticks and rocks, to build with. Our sons had a huge (Curt does not do anything little) sandbox to play in. They would spend hours building roads for their vehicles, homes for their animals and dinosaurs, digging for buried treasures. I would sit nearby and read or we would build together depending on how they wanted to play that day. It was a delightful way to spend a sunny afternoon.
When we treat children's play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that's to be found in the creative spirit. It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.
As our sons grew their “sandbox world” changed to scaling the boulder in the Cougar Rock Campground at Mt Rainier National Park, exploring my Grandfather’s farm in Ohio, Ultimate Frisbee games at Discovery Park and hikes in the North Cascades with their friends. Nick has climbed 4 of the highest mountain peaks in Washington. He has summited Mt Rainier, Mt Baker, Glacier Peak and Mt Olympus. The year he was summited Mt Olympus Joel and Danielle climbed Half Dome in Yosemite. Greta loves the outdoors as much as Nick. We are in the process of planning some adventures next summer with all of them. I would like to think that part of Joel and Nick’s love to explore the outdoors, and the world around, was inspired by the worlds they created in their backyard sandbox.
A FUN FALL NATURE ACTIVITY
Take a COLOR WALK – Learn about the colorful diversity of nature and the usefulness of camouflage.
Gather squares of different colored paper – or let your child pick out some paint-chip cards at the store – and go on walk around the neighborhood, your backyard, or the park.
Collect things that match your color cards. Green – grass, Yellow-dandelions, Red- leaves, Brown-pinecone, etc. ( you can point out that at this time of the year all the colors that the leaves are) You can collect them in a plastic baggie or gather them up and place them on the sheets of colored paper.
Talk about the colors and size of the items you collect.
Talk about what colors are easy to find, what color is your favorite, where do find colors, how many colors are in the sky.
See if you can name something from each color.
Take some time to allow your children to explore the world around them and plant a seed of curiosity that will grow with them.
As summer fades into fall you still have time to enjoy the last gasp of summer on a Summer/September Hike. The sun is still warm in the afternoon, the crisp mornings smell so fresh and a hike gives you a chance to remember the summer fun while anticipating the fall activities.
We always enjoyed out family hikes on Mt Rainier in September. This year, while Nick was home from Madison WI, we piled everyone in the van for our annual family hike and fishing trip to Mt Rainier. I was so excited that we had found a day when all of us could go. (Sadly, Greta was not along but I’m sure she would have had added to the fun memories we will share from our trip). Remember what I said about camping bonding your relationships with unexpected events. Well, hiking can have the same bonding experience especially if your trip includes a pregnant daughter-in-law, a 1998 van, 91 degree weather, a surprise crack in the radiator and a tow truck ride off the mountain into Eatonville and then one more tow truck get home for some special bonding! It is definitely a day we will remember although not the day I had planned. We were blessed in so many ways to have the van break down at just the right spot in the road – a wide spot in the road where it connected with the road to Stephens Canyon, a construction crew with a water truck and radios that could reach the Rangers who came to assist us, rides to Paradise where Joel, Danielle and Nick could do a little hiking while I tried to get through to AAA, a nice little stream by the road for Curt to fish while we waited for our tow truck. We had an encounter with the coolest bug, lots of laughter, made the best of the situation and we will always remember our meal at Bruno’s in Eatonville and the ride home, in the van, on the back of a flatbed tow truck.
I am hoping to have a few more, less eventful, hikes before the summer sun goes away. This year the warmth of the sun is overlapping the fall of the leaves. I love it! The sound of the crunching leaves as we walked the trails at Discovery Park on a Sunday hike brought back memories of many Sunday afternoons walking the trails with Joel and Nick as little kids. This time Nick chose a set of trails we had never been on. It was a fun adventure that led us to a new viewpoint and a sweet little bunny. Labor Day weekend we were lucky to be staying on an amazing houseboat on Portage Bay. We enjoyed several new ‘explore the neighborhood’ hikes as well as a familiar hike to Gas Works Park.
There are so many places, near and far, that you can go to explore on a hike with your children. They can be short and close or up the side of mountain on an all day hike. Either way, it is a time to spend outside with your child. They love the adventure and the time to explore. Give yourself time to look at what is on the trail – ferns, small beetles, moss and the sound of birds – take a field guide to identify what you see, have some fun snacks that you can use your imagination with to add to the adventure (my friend would take beef jerky just like the pioneers would eat) and add to the adventure by sharing the sense of wonder your child has on the trail. A trail that Joel and Danielle introduced us to is between Cowen and Ravenna Park. I was not moving steadily, or with much speed, after I had a knee surgery and this trail is perfect. It is a paved trail that meanders under a canopy of tall trees next to a stream and has a park at both ends. You feel like you are in the middle of the woods yet you are still in the city. It is a fun, close adventure trail – and you can picnic or stop at a nearby restaurant for lunch or a treat.
Whatever you choose, and wherever you go, spend some time outside exploring a trail and enjoy the sunny September weather.
Day Hikes With Kids
One of my favorite summer activities involves maps. We used to make maps of everything. We made treasure maps, maps of the neighborhood, maps of anything they were interested in. We had a vast collection of maps – AAA road maps, several atlases of the US and world, maps from places we had visited (the zoo, Mt Rainier, campgrounds, walking trails, etc). If it was a map we kept it.
Young children learn that they relate to other people and physical things. To help young children
Learning about maps is creative, educational and fun. Enjoy!
In an everyday walk these children are beginning to understand how people relate to the Earth, how they change the environment, how weather changes the character of a place, and how one place relates to another through the movement of people, things, and ideas. Children's
Life is relationships; the rest is just details.
I have great memories of spending time outside during the summer months. We spent time hiking, exploring, camping, playing in the neighborhood and reading books under the tree in the front yard (the boys would climb in the tree and read their books). I asked our sons what some of their favorite summer activities were. It did not surprise me that many of the things they enjoyed as a child they still enjoy as adults. One of the things on the list was camping. Our sons experienced many kinds of camping – tent camping, RV camping, backyard camping and pretend camping.
We camped with family and with friends. We had camping trips full of traditions that included ‘we always do this’ activities, we had planned road trips to new places and spur of the moment camping fun. The trip with the most history was an annual trip to Mt Rainier with family friends. We started this tradition when Nick was 4 and Joel was 6. The longest trips were the road trips in my parents’ motorhome and our spur of the moment campouts were the ones on our deck in the backyard.
When we camped at Cougar Rock on Mt Rainier we always went hiking up a certain trail to go fishing and we always picked huckleberries as we hiked up the trails near Paradise. We have camped in the rain (once it was raining so hard we were unable to make a campfire and the boys made gutters out of tree bark to try and keep the tent dry). Once we forgot the tent poles and had to sleep in the Bronco – all four of us! Dealing with these unplanned circumstances allowed us to bond as a family while we problem solved and dealt with the problem as a family. We all have great memories of these campouts. Now that Joel and Nick are adults we have not been camping at Cougar Rock but we do make sure to have at least one day trip to Mt Rainier each year. We still go hiking up 'that trail' and we have introduced Greta and Danielle to our special places to fish and have taken them on our hikes up around Paradise.
On clear evenings in the summer (or on weekends after school had started) we would ‘camp’ on our deck under stars. We would snuggle down and sleep out under stars. The deck campouts were convenient – bathroom nearby, nothing needed to be packed up and I never worried about forgetting something. Even though the process was different the product was the same – family time spent talking and building relationships.
For our family, camping has many meanings but the two things that make it real ‘camping’ were: a sleeping bag and a campfire. There is something about sleeping in a sleeping bag that brings a sense of adventure and something about a fire that brings conversation and laughter. We would stay up late and tell stories, laugh about family memories and share favorite moments from the day. Making s’mores and gathering around the fire are still things I look forward to when we have a chance to go camping. Curt and I do not tent camp as much as we used to but I love that both Joel and Danielle as well as Nick and Greta go on their own camping trips. It is a family tradition that has been passed on from one generation to the next. Even though we do not camp together like we used to, when we are all together at the Camano house, we do the next best thing to camping – we have a fire in the fire pit, make s’mores and tell stories under the evening stars.
What if camping is not an activity you enjoy? Give your child a big bed sheet and make a tent with it (or set up a real tent in the yard). Kids love to be inside tents. I would set up a tent in our backyard during the summer as a playhouse. They would take their toys and books out to the tent, close the flap and play all afternoon. One year we had a windstorm during the night and the next morning we found our tent up the street – luckily all of their little animals and books were still inside! They enjoyed camping in the backyard all summer long. Last year during preschool the kids enjoyed playing camping. They found sticks and cooked the fish they had caught over the fire. On another day one of the parents made a pretend fire and the children sat around and told campfire stories as they roasted their pretend marshmallows. I loved watching as the pretend fire became real to these children. It was a time for sharing stories and enjoying being outside in nature – and for them it was not our play area but they were up on a mountain camping next to a roaring fire.
This is the first in the summer time activities with children series. There are several reasons that camping strengthens the bond you have with your child. When you camp you are spending time together in nature. Being outdoors reduces your stress and gets you outside and ‘unplugged’ from technology. Rarely do you go camping without some unplanned surprise. Some are positive – a deer walks through your campsite as you sit down for breakfast, your child sees his first shooting star, you hear family stories you have never heard before while sitting around the fire. Some of the surprises are not as pleasant – you forget the tent poles for your dome tent, it pours down rain, no one packed the main ingredient for the dinner you had planned. All of these surprises add up to memories that build strong families. As you deal with problems you develop a strong bond, you have a chance to use your problem solving skills
Camping With Children
Campsites Near Seattle
As Curt and I walk around Green Lake we enjoy the gift of nature in a city environment. It is a chance to enjoy the beauty of the lake, the trees and the animals. I love watching the different pets as they walk or run around the lake as well as the wildlife that lives in and near the lake. We saw an eagle land on the tip top of a huge cedar tree. It was amazing but what was even more amazing was the fact that, aside from a handful of us, no one else took the time to look up and see him. They were so busy looking at their devices they didn’t notice the eagle or take the time to look up and see what was happening around them. After we left the cedar tree I was remarking on how sad it was that people are so into their phones or lost in the music coming out of the earbuds that they are not even aware of the world around them. I know that it is nice to have the music playing as you run or the phone call to keep you company as you walk but it makes me sad to see a mom running with her earbuds in and her child in the stroller staring at an iPad rather than having a chat about the baby ducks and the sound of the leaves as the wind blows through the trees. It is important to balance technology with opportunities to make memories, to connect with your child and both of you connect with nature.
It is no secret that I like being outside. I always have. Everyone in my family knows that I get cranky if I have been stuck inside for a whole day and haven’t had a chance to be outside. As a child I ran around outside from breakfast to dinner time. I climbed trees, built my own clubhouse, rode my bike everywhere -- in the 5th grade we rode from Lynnwood to Lake Goodwin and went camping for a week (yes, it was a different day and not something I could have done now), we played in the neighborhood and sometimes we just laid in the grass to watch the clouds. It was the summer of second grade that we moved from Yakima to Lynnwood. I had been used to being outside all the time. On this side of the state they had this liquid that came out of the clouds called rain. I was stuck inside until I figured out that rain didn’t hurt you and you could play in the puddles, make things out of mud, go on a worm hunt and find giant slugs.
I have great memories of both sides of the state and the activities I enjoyed growing up. It was part of the world I remembered as a child that I wanted to share with my sons. When they were little we were outside all the time. We have a neighborhood that has moms who also like the outdoors and wanted their children to play outside. The kids built boats to float in the street gutters after a rain storm, splashed in puddles, watch ants, played capture the flag, hid in bushes, had water balloon fights and made “brews” that sat in buckets in our back yard that continued to ‘brew’ as new items were added to it all summer long. They had fun and they have great memories of being outside playing in the neighborhood. It was a learning experience that became a part of who they are today.
A part of who we are as parents comes from our experiences as a child that come from our parents’ experiences from their childhood and your grandparents’ experiences that were shared with your parents. What are you sharing with your child that has been passed down from other generations? What are you sharing that you love and want to impress on them as important? The love of the outdoors was something both Curt and I wanted to share with our sons. We love to hike, camp, bike ride, garden, go to the beach and explore the world. We would ride bikes to Discovery Park and stop to look at the fish and boats going through the Locks, build sand forts at Golden Gardens, explore the trails at Mt Rainier and camp overnight. We have many family memories of hiking while camping at Mt Rainier as well as evening hikes in the summer and fall at Discovery Park. Both Joel and Nick made their wedding proposals after a hike – Joel and Danielle were looking out at the Olympic Mountains after a stormy Fall hike at Discovery Park while Nick chose Mt Rainier in the summer and the river going through the Ohanapecosh Campround. We have many memories that include Mt Rainier and Discovery Park so I was pleased when they chose to share these special places with Danielle and Greta.
It makes me smile to remember all the places we hiked and camped with our sons and to know how much that is a part of who they are as adults. Nick has summited 4 of the 5 highest peaks in Washington while Joel and Danielle are visiting every Washington State Park. Both of them are continuing to embrace the love of the outdoors that they had as children. What piece of nature are you giving your children that they, in turn, will share with the next generation of your family?
Being outside reduces stress, engages the Five Senses, encourages imaginative play, develops cognitive thinking skills, reinforces self-reliance and is just plain fun. What activity can you and your family do this week that gets you outside enjoying nature? Big and small, walk or hike, sit or run but find a way to experience nature this week.