posts tagged with 'play'

agglutinative character creation in imaginative play

Another post about Lijah, since I get to spend so much time with him these days. He likes to play imaginative games with us—well, sort of imaginative. Mostly it's about deciding what character he wants to be, and then announcing it repeatedly. For a while it was pretty simple: a cat, or a pirate, or spiderman (in rough chronological order). But then he started to get a little more baroque. For example, on the playground the other day he and I (with a little assistance from Zion) played a rousing game of robot pirate bugs.

Then yesterday it got even more confusing, when he decided he was a robot dinosaur pirate baby. I said I could be the mama, so after a little while—and I should reiterate just how many times he announces what he is, to the point that it forms at least fifty percent of the play dialogue—he said something like, "ok, I'm the baby robot dinosaur pirate baby and you're the mama robot dinosaur pirate baby." I guess it makes sense at some level, and I was happy to roll with it for a minute or two until he changed me into something else. I can't wait until he's writing stories down someday...

playing dirty

The first heat wave of the summer has struck (that one in February didn't count) and we're responding with less clothes and more dirt.

shirtless and dirty Lijah posing holding his staff

a pause to pose

Besides enjoying our sandbox and hose-derived mud, the boys spent an hour or two yesterday evening playing at their friends' house across the street. They just finished up a renovation and still have two good-sized dirt piles just crying out to be climbed. While the bigger kids amused themselves with ball and imaginative games, Lijah just grabbed a hoe to use as an ice-ax and headed up one of the mountains... again and again and again. I made sure he had a nice bath.

Today the baths are already over with, after an even sweatier day hiking in the woods and walking around town, but with the heat fading a little bit in the twilight the kids are all back out in the dirt. Oh well, the bedding will wash. And though they do clean up alright, they're pretty cute dirty as well!

Lijah's dirty face

showing his work


my favorite space

I know I've mentioned it before, but since we spent some time last week playing in the Discovery Woods part of the Discovery Museum, I wanted once again to write about how much I love it.

Zion getting ready to clean up in the block area at Discovery Woods

naturally lovely

We visited on a chilly wet day, with rain and snow falling intermixed, and the main part of the museum was pretty crowded. But when we headed over to the Woods area, we found that we had it all to ourselves. Maybe the closed doors on the house building kept folks away; maybe it was the fact that, when we went inside, the cold air seeping up through the gaps in the floorboards made it just as chilly inside as out. But it was significantly drier! And I don't know how anyone could resist a place like this.

the rear view of the treehouse at Discovery Woods

I guess you could call it a treehouse...

Never mind the fact that we could see our breath, the warm materials and clever design made the space feel wonderfully welcoming. We built block towers, played hide-and-seek, and experimented with the periscopes. Then the boys cuddled under the pile of sleeping bags someone had so kindly left in a corner while I read them a story.

Lijah looking at the array of welcoming features in the treehouse

so much to see and do

In my mental "ideas book" for our current and future home improvement projects, this space is right there on the cover. We're a little sad to hear that the management will soon be closing the original, iconic victorian house that currently holds the "Children's" part of the museum, and building a new structure to house the same sorts of exhibits; but given how perfect a job they did on Discovery Woods I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.


visiting Danahy Park

Last week my parents were out of town, so on Wednesday instead of going to their house the boys came in to work with us. Leah took them to a friend's house nearby in the morning, then we had lunch together, and then it was my turn to watch them while she worked. The first thing I did was make them do some schoolwork (because it's still October—and I needed to finish up a couple things myself). But then we headed out into the beautiful fall day to explore new playgrounds.

Harvey on a leaning tree trunk over a swampy pond

urban oasis

Danahy Park is right around the corner from our church and workplace, but it's still not the closest playground, so the boys had never been before. At first sight they were unimpressed with the play structure, but delighted by the grassy expanse. It made them want to play golf.

the boys running down a big hill

lots of room to run

Besides the grass there are also a few woodsy and marshy nooks, so it feels like a place you want to explore. And explore we did!

Harvey and Zion disappearing into a thicket of reeds


When I got tired of managing the pace disparity between Lijah and the other boys I shepherded them over to the play structure, where they managed to find things to do after all—especially when they let themselves be engaged by a braggy four-year-old who wanted someone to play with. Then school let out and the crowd got a little overwhelming; but it was fun to watch all those kids show off their complete comfort with the playground they visit every day. We might go again sometime too.


play spaces

There's a new indoor play-space that opened up last week around the corner from us. It's attached to a toy store and has all kinds of props for playing house or store, and building toys, and a gym to run around in. But as great as it is, it's still only the second-best play area we've explored in the past week. Because the Discovery Museum in Acton finished up their new addition.

the new tree house at the Discovery Museum in Acton


We love the museum, and have spent many happy hours there (for example). That said, Harvey's getting a little old for the "Childrens" section—the fun runs out a little quicker than it used to.

Harvey reading a book at the Childrens Discovery Museum

not enthused

And the big-kid science discovery portion doesn't open until afternoon. So we thought we'd check out the new addition, for which we had no expectations at all. It is amazing.

The centerpiece is a "treehouse" suspended a story above the ground and reachable by wooden bridges. Inside the barn-like structure is the most beautiful all-natural waldorffy space I've ever experienced, warmed by sawn-board walls and light streaming through the mismatched collection of windows. Neither words nor pictures can do it justice—especially after 9:00—but I try.

the inside of the treehouse

I want to live there

Every aspect of the space was so delightful—the tables, the natural-wood blocks, the rag rugs, the tree limbs used as structural elements—I didn't want to leave. When the boys and their friends finally dragged me out I found that the exterior space is just as charming, filled with lots of the same attractions that we love at the Kemp Playground, but even better for being basically in the woods.

Lijah standing in a log wigwam-like structure

one of many other amusements

There's a bouncy bridge, blocks big enough to build a house you can fit in, a web to climb on, hula hoops, swing, balance-beam trees... and if that's not enough to interest the bigger kids signs point the way towards a 2-mile loop you can hike through the adjacent woods.

I'm pretty much in love. Hopefully we'll be able to find time to go back soon.



We spent a lovely hour or so yesterday evening playing at the skate park.

Zion holding on to the coping of the half-pipe

hanging on

After a picnic we were planning to hang out on the playground, but the boys suggested the skate park as an alternative—and it was an inspired suggestion. We joined about ten middle-school and upper elementary kids, who were playing a relaxed game of tag and generally hanging out; they were lovely company and offered to help Lijah get up the half pipe when I was otherwise occupied (they actually couldn't manage it, but it's the thought that counts!).

We got lots of exercise, and as I watched the boys play—and tried some tricks myself—it occurred to me how much more interesting the skate park is than the playground. It may seem to have fewer things to do—just a bunch of different sized ramps—but its open-endedness draws the boys in more than the playground's fancier features manage to. Or maybe we're just bored of the playground; we spend a lot of time there!

Harvey vaulting a rail at the skate park

Harvey's trick

I couldn't help notice the contrast between the happy parent-free scene at the skate park (I don't count, right?) and the first-grade baseball game going on just beyond the fence. There were lots of parents there, and uniforms, and coaches giving directions. I guess those kids were having fun too.

the boys on the skate park, kids playing baseball in the distance

evening activities

A couple days ago we got home in the evening just as our neighbors were getting into the car to head out to soccer practice, and I was relishing our freedom to relax and ease into the night's quietness instead of having to force the kids into just one more thing (the neighbors had already managed school and homework). In the event our boys spent the next half hour shouting at each other—and I believe there was some physical violence as well—so this time maybe we got the worse of it, but overall I think we're on the right side of the question.

There's lots of interesting things to do in the world. Better to do each of them as they call to you, rather than having to follow a schedule all the time. Here's to organizing life just enough to make that possible!


playground review

Lijah atop a playground hill with a university tower in the background

in the middle of Cambridge

Back before it snowed we visited the Alexander Kemp playground in Cambridge, and it was so much fun that you can see pictures from the trip in two of the last three posts here. It's a good playground.

Lijah up on a boat playstructure made of logs

imagination and adventure

Of course, there are many good playgrounds in the world, and a playground has to be really bad to not be worth visiting at all. The one we call our own here in town is absolutely nothing special, but we've still enjoyed endless hours of entertainment on it. But most playgrounds have an essential problem: their features are either boring or scary.

When you build a playground out of metal or wood, it seems like you need to design a path through it—to plan out how it's going to be used. If it's low, it's for little kids; to interest the bigger ones you build it up high. But to keep the little ones safe up high you build sides, except where there are slides or ladders. Kids are meant to go up the stairs (or ladders or climbing walls) and down the slides (or fire-poles). Big kids figure them out, and little kids can't do them at all (or can, and terrify their parents).

A notable feature of the Kemp Playground, just inside the gate, is a big concrete hill. There's a rope webbing up one side and logs embedded on another; some parts are steep and some less so. And there's a slide, but that hardly matters, because with a little sand the concrete itself is wonderfully slippery.

Zion sliding down a sandy concrete slope head first on a piece of cardboard

now that's a playground

And the best part of it is there doesn't need to be any walls. Sure, kids can get hurt—two toddlers slipped and bonked their heads in the hour and a half we were there—but when they do it's a problem of technique rather than design. You can't fall far off a hill, so I felt totally confident letting Lijah go up and down by himself all he wanted. And the whole playground is like that, full of imaginative spaces that can be used lots of different ways—so they can be interesting without being too dangerous.

The other nice thing about the Kemp Playground is the way it sets up opportunities for kids to play together. There's a merry-go-round (set into the ground for sleekness and safety!), and the fun of a merry-go-round increases exponentially with the number of kids involved. And there are machines for moving water (closed in the winter, naturally) and sand.

the three boys working at the sand factory

sand factory

After an hour of wild running and sliding, there's nothing like a half-hour of work with the sand to balance out the day!

The Kemp Playground is on Cambridge Common, right by Harvard Square. If you have kids, live in Eastern Massachusetts, and haven't been yet.. you totally should check it out.


realistic simulation

At almost-two, Lijah is starting to have some real significant periods of solo play. It's lovely! It generally takes some intervention to get him going on something but if he's not hungry or tired he can, once launched, entertain himself for a good half-hour at a time. A couple weeks ago the little plastic dinosaurs were his favorite independent play toy; now it's his Duplo farm.

Lijah playing with animals and the Duplo barn, using the trampoline as a table

modeling the social interactions of the animals

Like Harvey (and unlike Zion) Lijah is very vocal when he plays. But while Harvey at that age narrated his stories, Lijah mostly sticks to dialogue. Dialogue that hews pretty close to the familiar for him.

"No no no!"

"Wait up, Cow!"

"Let go! Give it back!"


Charming, except that sometimes—often—it's hard to tell the difference between Lijah calling "Mama" and the calf or the baby duck doing the same. The volume of his in-game cries is certainly about the same as the genuine article. Of course, I err on the side of ignoring him; and no worries if I guess wrong, because I'll hear about it soon enough!


two Monday outings

Lijah swinging high in the baby swing, brothers heading up a hill behind him

spring adventure in winter

To let Leah start the week off with some solid hours of paying work, the boys and I are doing Monday morning outings these days. It's wonderful for all concerned, especially since our Sundays now feature a lot of stressful child-care for Mama and a lot of stressful church management for me; we're quite happy to reverse the picture (and subtract the stress!) on Mondays.

Last week I took the boys out to Jam Time in Maynard, an indoor play space for kids one through six that features lots of great toys and climbing things. And a ball pit.

Lijah in a sunbeam in a ball pit

sunny ball boy

Everybody had a great time (though I was needed so little I wished I had brought a book along). The play structures were lots of fun for the bigger two—Harvey got some solid practice in on the monkey bars, Zion learned how to slide down the fire pole, and they both enjoyed the super-quick smooth wood slides. Lijah spent an hour or two playing with a fireman and some plastic horses, with a few breaks for more active pursuits. It was all wonderful but for two things: we were exposed to some strong gender-normativism from some of the other kids there, and it set me back $30.

Today it was back to free adventures. With the weather bizarrely warm—practically summery—there was no reason not to go to a real, outdoor playground, and since we also wanted to visit the Arlington library we picked Robbins Park in Arlington. Though its main attraction, the giant slides, were closed for winter, there was still plenty to do. While the school kids in their playground across the street packed what fun they could into their 15-minute recesses, we ignored the bells and whistles as we ran and climbed and swung (and had a picnic). The boys even made some friends, who in true boyish fashion started out as enemies—or attackers, at least. Not that it was so crowded we couldn't escape other people when we wanted to.

Lijah running down a big hill towards the playground

room to run

After a while it was on to the library for some quiet time, and then a toy store for some desiring time. We stopped in to see Grandma and Grandpa on the way home, a delightful end to a fine adventure (especially since they always give out snacks). All that, and we still got home mid afternoon, in time to do plenty of housework before dinner. A successful Monday all around.