Organized Play? Team Sports? Lego Club? Free Play? Nature School?
I struggle, like many urban-dwellers do, with finding a balance between non-directed free play and all the other specialty camps, sports programs, and afterschool lessons that are available.
This weekend, as I was contemplating spring sports registrations for the pee-wee soccer league and specialty photography camp sign-ups for my 15-year-old, I came across this quote, "…play is the work of childhood…," attributed to Mr. Rogers, the children's television host from the 1970's and 1980's.
Child-directed free play is an important part of childhood growth
This got me thinking about "free play", the joys of childhood, and the role our Children and Nature movement. I came up with this list and instead of soccer on Saturdays, we are going to do these activities!
Top Ten Ways to Embrace Childhood Play in a Virginia State Park
1. Ask your child to guide a family hike down the trail, around the lake, or along the shoreline; allow the child to decide the route and stopping points.
2. Allow your child 60 minutes of free time to play on one of Virginia State Parks many playgrounds. In fact some of our parks have "nature playgrounds." Let your child be in the moment. Leave your phone off and enjoy just watching your child be a child.
3. Before your hike, let your child create a field guide of wildlife and plants they hope to see on the trails. Let their imagination run wild. You never know what new species they can imagine.
4. Sit on the cabin porch and let your child play in the yard looking for anthills and animal tracks, discovering what is under fallen leaves, and exploring nature's hidden gems.
5. In the evening, by the fireside, ask your child to come up with a new card game, board game or drawing game for the family. Let them decide the rules–even if they change midway through.
6. Lay on the grass and watch the clouds go by. Let your child's imagination run wild with stories from "nature's television."
7. Let your children climb a tree. Of course, safety comes first, but the joy of a bird's eye view, if only a few extra feet of the ground, is a great way for your child to learn perspective.
8. Let your child gather what they can from leaf litter, fallen acorns, and branches. See what happens–will they come up with a fun game, a nature tea party, or build a miniature village?
9. Around the campfire, allow your children to tell a story, imagine the scene, and tend the fire. You might find yourself lauded as the first human to harness fire, discussing strategy around a zombie survival camp, or a pioneer ready to build a sod house.
10. Get up early and watch the sunrise. Let your child use their imagination and tell you their hopes and dreams for the new day.
Embrace the sunrise with your children this Spring and let them tell you their hopes and dreams
Even then, before author Virginia State Parks are great places to allow your children and yourself some child-directed free play.
I'm not telling you to forgo your spring leagues or fully embrace Virginia State Park and allow your children some time to explore.
My kids are fortunate in that they have grown up in the parks but we still struggle with balancing organized activities with free play
Perhaps this list is intuitive, but I think about the main character, Mary from Frances Hodgson Burnett's,A Secret Garden.At seven years old, Mary hasn't really had a carefree childhood. Being sent outdoors to play, she didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to play.
While the story has a modern uplifting message of perseverance, childhood play, and the benefits of fresh air, I worry that we have an entire generation of "Marys" who don't know how to play. Let's introduce them all to the secret gardens of Virginia State Parks.
Virginia State ParksCustomer Service Center today to make your reservation 1-800-933-PARK.