Rummaging through the duffel bags my children packed in anticipation of a family vacation yielded some unexpected finds. The youngest, at four, felt the need to include antiseptic ointment and a large quantity of band-aids. My six-year-old son packed his spy kit, a headlamp, and two flashlights. Neither packed much in the way of toys, nor did they need to. A week in the mountains of West Virginia provided endless toy-free entertainment, from wild blueberry picking to stream wading and hiking.
When not on a wild and wonderful vacation, I find that taking toys outside is a great way to promote nature play, with the added benefit of giving new life to old playthings. Lovers of Matchbox cars will find that constructing sand or dirt hills adds off-road fun to vehicular play. Rocks can be lined up to create racetracks and obstacle courses. Nature provides all sorts of cool things to pile into toy dump trucks, too. Hauling sticks, stones, and pinecones is always a hit among the construction obsessed.
My daughter, who failed to receive a much-coveted Barbie pool for her birthday, discovered that our large pasta pot, filled with water and nestled among a bed of daisies, provides ample swimming space for Barbie and several friends. When swimming time is over, the dolls run a bakery on the front porch, serving up flower cakes and seed pod cookies.
I recently scored big at a yard sale with the purchase of a faux canopy. Once its inside appeal wears off, I plan to hang this $1 treasure from the dogwood tree, creating an instant reading nook. Even my jaded preteen might leave her bedroom lair for the chance to lounge in such cool digs. Crafty parents can make their own canopies with a hula hoop, tulle, and ribbons.
Let’s face it: August on the Eastern Shore does not have the seasonal appeal of, say, October or May. Still, with a little imagination and the help of a few props, it’s possible to lure youngsters outside. And fresh air, sunshine, and physical exercise are good for our kids no matter what the season.
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator