posts tagged with 'outdoors'
One of our homeschool coop friends has just started a new enterprise running a woodsy adventure program, under the Timbernook brand, and yesterday we were lucky enough to be able to take part in a drop-in day she hosted. Well, the kids were lucky; as well as drop-in it was also drop-off, so I had stay away. The best I could do was watch and envy from afar.
I totally understand why I wasn't welcome. The whole point of the program is to let kids explore on their own—to see what they can do when nobody is there to tell them what to do or not to do. There were three adults on site, but their job was to provide the ingredients for adventure—building materials, tools, and a story to spark imagination at the start of the morning—and then step back and let the kids do their thing. If it weren't for those pesky insurance regulations they could have all gone to have a coffee or something.
So what did the kids do for four hours in the woods? Well, they report that it went by pretty quick, and I couldn't help but notice that Harvey and Lijah barely ate any of their lunches, so they must have been having fun! (they made up for the lack on the car ride home). They built some things out of pallets and cardboard boxes, they climbed on some rocks and trees, and they caught a lot of frogs (possibly the same few frogs lots of times; I'm not sure). They also did some painting, of their shelters and of themselves.
There were only a couple problems with their time there. Three of the nine kids who signed up didn't show—maybe the threat of slight drizzle deterred them. That meant that five of the six who were there already knew each other, which was rough for the one other boy, and also probably limited the range of activities a bit. Also the Archibald boys misunderstood the instruction to stay in sight of an adult—one of the program's two rules—and didn't know that by exploring further into the woods they could compel an adult to follow them. So they felt a little constrained.
But that just means we want to try it again, to do it right the next time! Watching the kids at play—from a distance—I was convinced that every kid should have at least one day a week in an environment just like this one. Unfortunately, our hope for taking part is complicated by the fact that the weekly program runs on Mondays, which is the one day I can't drive out that way, and also is a little expensive. But even if we don't solve those problems there are other drop-in days coming up, and we're looking forward to them for sure! If you want to check out the program for yourself, you can find out more at the Timbernook of Central Massachusetts website or their Facebook page.
Harvey said today he's tired of winter. Mainly it's because he wants to be able to stop wearing boots. It can't be too bad: he was barefoot for the bike ride back from the grocery store this morning. But I think there's still too much snow on the ground for his comfort when it comes to abandoning shoes altogether. Besides that, though, the weather has been charming. I love the late winter, and we took full advantage of it today. Besides our morning's shopping—for vegetables and trousers—we spent a good chunk of time in the middle of the day outside, then capped things off with a walk before supper.
The walk was Zion's favorite thing today: he had a great time stomping through the soft snow, sinking up to his knees and rolling down piles (all without putting his hands down, since he wasn't wearing mittens). Lijah reported enjoying watching Pokemon, but if he had thought about it he might have mentioned the delightful half hour he spent playing pirates with me in the yard while Harvey and Zion worked on improving one of the tree house platforms. We also cleared out the old raspberry canes. Spring is on the way.
Today was a wonderfully sunny early spring day, and the boys and I spent all afternoon working and playing outside. My main occupation was fixing the wheelbarrows; there were three, and none of them functional. Now there are two working wheelbarrows and some trash, and I'm very proud of myself. As I worked and got dirty in the clear March sunshine I found myself appreciating the beauty of the wood and metal around me. So I took some pictures.
That's the stump where we split our firewood; it's black because Harvey and Zion were using it to chop their own charcoal the other day. I drilled a hole in the middle so I could use it to mount the wheelbarrow tire on the rim. It was much harder than putting on a bicycle tire!
Plastic is a fine material. I was glad to have a piece of thick PVC pipe on hand: I cut lengths of it to center one of the wheels on its shaft. I would have had a much harder time cutting metal parts, even assuming I could have found pipe with the right diameter (I have lots of PVC pipe, since I grab it out of the trash whenever I see it). But as I cut it I regretted the bright white plastic bits falling around my otherwise brown and gray workbench stump. When I finished up my hands were about the same color as that wood and rusty metal, which felt about right.
Just like last year, February vacation week has seen a bizarre warm spell. Tuesday it was mild and springlike in the afternoon, and yesterday, all day, it was downright summery. While it's always strange when the climate behaves oddly, we couldn't help but enjoy the sudden break from winter. It's so lovely to have outside be as easy and accessible as inside! The kids spent hours running and playing, and we even had a picnic dinner, with steak and hot dogs cooked over the fire.
Of course, nothing can ever be perfect, and two small imperfections marred our complete enjoyment of the warmth. For one thing, the mud is crazy. I had to put a plank out to cover the swampy patch outside our side door—I was worried some of the smaller kids would sink entirely! I'm also concerned about grass ever growing again on our lawn; with the mud it wasn't quite ready for the level of use we wanted to put it to. And then there's the injuries. Half an hour after remarking how easy it is to go play outside in the warm, Harvey came in noting how easy it also is to get hurt! All the boys except Lijah got are pretty marked up around the legs.. things hurt more when you're wearing shorts! There are also bugs.
But never mind! Far from taking away from the joy of warm spring weather, those things are all part of the experience and we were happy to dive into them. And now, since it's still February, we're happy to enjoy the snowfall forecast for this afternoon.
One of the many books I took on our camping trip was Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela J. Hanscom. Super appropriate, since camping is all about the ways which, per the subtitle, "unrestricted outdoor play makes for strong, confident, and capable children." Among many other worthwhile points, the author notes that "going barefoot in nature helps develop normal gait patterns, balance, and tolerance of touch in the feet, all of which provide a strong foundation for confident and fluid movement." Check.
That is to say, they had plenty of time barefoot in nature—like they do. I actually made the two who were doing their own walking put on shoes to start both hikes, but both times they quickly decided they were too hot, and the footwear became cargo. The book suggests that outdoor play builds core strength and endurance; I don't know about the former, but over the two days of hiking we covered about six and a half miles, with something like 1800 feet of elevation gain. (Now that's a vacation!) Zion actually did more like six and a quarter miles—Leah carried him a couple times, for encouragement—but either way it was an impressive effort.
Since we've been back, they've dived right back into playing with their friends in the neighborhood. Lots of that play is outside—none of us parents wants a gang of eight kids filling up the house for long (of course, video games, pokemon cards, and play sets all exert a powerful indoor pull...). I do wonder, though, if the outdoor play that's happening on Beacon Street fulfills all the requirements Hanscom would look for in proper therapeutic play. For one thing, I think it might involve a few too many plastic weapons.
One of the things she talks about in the book is how using natural materials in play spurs kids' imagination and social-emotional development. Store-bought toys, the argument goes, have specific and limited modes of play—a toy car is a car and it's only supposed to drive one direction. To say nothing of a Batman Batcave play set. The problem is all those toys exist, and they exist in the houses of our lovely neighbors (and, yes, in our house too). How can sticks and pinecones ever hope to compete? There's a question of space, too; our woodsy play area is pretty small, here on our suburban lot. Most of the kids are old enough now they should be playing in the town forest less than a quarter mile away, but they aren't allowed to on their own.
I don't know what to do about it. Certainly, I have no worries our boys aren't spending enough time outside, and in nature. But I think they need more time to play in the woods. On my adult schedule, we do hikes—which they love!—but the limited play times available in hiking pauses isn't enough to start to develop complex interpersonal games. Although, now that I think about it... the last time we went to Fawn Lake on a summer camp outing the rocks above the pond turned into a spaceship and a pirate ship and I don't know what else during the half-hour post-lunch play time. We're going there again today, and play time will definitely be on the schedule. Maybe we're doing alright after all.
It's been raining here for days, seems like, which is keeping us indoors a little more than we'd like. Not entirely, though! Tuesday was warm enough that when the rain lightened up and the sun threatened to break through the clouds for a moment, we were ready to jump into action. And there are good things about rain, too!
Yes, besides several damp walks we enjoyed some time riding scooters into a giant puddle. Again. Because why wouldn't you?! And when I say we, I mean we; there are plenty of activities that, as a parent, I consider beneath my dignity—but riding a scooter at top speed into a mud puddle is emphatically not one of them. In fact, I can imaging nothing more dignified. Especially since I, unlike both of my older children, managed not to fall completely into the water.
Actually, I think Harvey just sat down in the water on purpose after Zion fell, but the effect was the same. That put an end to the outdoor time, but they were happy enough to jump into the tub—where they stayed for the next hour or so. Water water everywhere; and obviously it continues to appeal!
The weather report tells us that today saw a return to bitter winter cold, and indeed, it "felt like" 6°F when we got up this morning (a breezy 16° or so). But when it's spring and sunny, it's hard to keep shoes on the boys! Never mind that, above their bare feet, they had on lined pants, two shirts, sweatshirts, and winter coats—the spirit of the day demanded that snow boots be kicked off so that feet could feel the sweetness of the sun-warmed grass.
Well, actually, it didn't demand it to me, and probably not to Zion either, but it did to Harvey. And with him running around exclaiming gleefully about how wonderful each bit of ground felt under his feet it was hard not to join him in his revels. So I did. And it did feel nice; and also pretty cold.
But not so cold that we didn't stay out for a long time—even Zion, who has not been the most hardy in the past was happy outside the whole time, including more than an hour shoeless. The air may have been—read, was—below freezing, but the late March sun is incomparably warmer than what we had a month or two ago. As you can see above, our animal population was also very happy to take the air.
I don't put much stock in the calendar or the equinox as a marker of spring: in many ways it still feels pretty late-wintery around here, and the planting is delayed accordingly. But clearly even on this chilly afternoon there was something irresistibly springlike in the air, and besides fixing the fences we took plenty of time to run and wrestle and roll in the grass.
They kept their boots off until the end—past 4:00—though that did mean I had to carry them inside, because between the sunny spot where we were playing and the house is still a considerable patch of snow and ice. Oh well. Our feet tell us it'll be gone soon.
After we got back from the museum Mama and Elijah took a rest while me and the big boys headed out to spend some time in the yard. How could we not: it was positively springlike! Coats didn't last long.
Our museum trip also included a stop and the feed store to pick up some straw for the chickens, and when we brought it back to them we saw that they really needed it: melting snow combined with the ice dams all around their run had turned it into kind of a toxic swamp. Several pounds of straw gave them some drier footing, and while the boys spread it I did my best to get the snow off the roof of the run to stop it melting and pouring down. Then we set ourselves to draining the swamp.
Besides the yuck factor and the fact that an inch or two of water on top of ice outside the run door made it very tricky to get in and out of the coop, Harvey and I realized that we'd be even more trouble when it turned cold again: the door would be frozen in solid! But we were able to chop a channel down towards the raspberry bushes, and had fun pushing the water along it.
It wasn't all hard work, though: we had some time to play in the woods.
And to just be silly!
Our work paid off, too: our channel took the puddle outside the coop from this:
to this, the next morning:
At that point the door could also open wider than at any point in the last couple months! Of course, this morning we woke up to steadily falling snow, so winter's got a couple more good days in her, but we very much enjoyed the spring preview.
The sun rose bright and warm this morning, and when I stepped outside to bring the chickens their water I was astounded at how warm it was already, before 8:00.
My enthusiasm was enough to get Harvey right outside with me (Leah and Zion were still abed), and we spent a happy half hour tromping and playing with Rascal. After a bit the sleepers awoke and opened the bedroom window to say hi to us; so pleasant was the day that it was a few hours later when we noticed the window was still open.
We do get outside plenty in the winter, but it's a cramped sort of experience—we're ever conscious of the need to fit in as much enjoyment as we can before someone breaks down and needs to recover inside. Today didn't feel that way at all; aside from our pre-breakfast adventures Harvey and I also managed some bicycling in front of the house, a snowball fight, splashing in puddles, and sitting on the front steps, and Leah and Zion joined us for a long relaxed walk.
The soundtrack for the whole day was the steady patter of snow melting off the roofs at a pretty impressive rate. I said yesterday that March snow doesn't stick around for long, but I wasn't prepared for it to go this quickly! Good thing we had fun with it while we still could.
When I have my own school, playing in puddles will be a key part of the curriculum for the spring—or indeed, for any time when we have a completely bizarre sudden thaw, like we had yesterday and today. This morning the first-graders were outside with us teachers rather than the recess aides, and they took advantage of our good natures to get significantly more involved with the water on the ground than they are usually permitted to do. Suffice it to say there were some wet feet and a little chagrin when we made it back inside—winter boots are not as waterproof as you might expect, nor are six-year-olds good at identifying the early signs of leaks while enjoying themselves frolicking. But I think everyone involved would say that it was all for the best, and they'd do the same again. When the world has been frozen solid for a couple of weeks it's nice to experience some liquid while you can!
Harvey and Zion certainly felt that way on our walk yesterday. After he saw Harvey jump in a puddle Zion had to jump in it too, and also every subsequent puddle we came across; just like when Harvey put his hands in one Zion had to do the same, again and again. Never mind that he had wool mittens on. Because of this delight in the watery world it took us a half-hour to walk maybe a quarter mile, and when Rascal and I were forced to desert the rest of the party in the interest of getting him some actual exercise they were moving still slower, distracted by Elm Brook, which is like a puddle but much bigger and moving. Thankfully they didn't jump in that one, and contented themselves with throwing sticks. Zion did get himself all wet anyways, by lying down in a puddle, but since that was part of a tantrum at having to go home rather than warm-weather playfulness it really should be part of a different story.
In short, while it's already cold again now—thank goodness, since it's not even quite February—the brief spring preview was very much appreciated in the proper manner, and we look forward to the real thing at the appropriate time.