Access to an open yard is limited to many kids in Philadelphia. If houses do have yards, they tend to be small patches.
We frequent a small “secret” park a few blocks down from us in Germantown, secret because although it is a public park and owned by the City of Philadelphia, it is hidden behind two huge mansions, down a driveway that looks like you are on private property. It’s like our own big backyard, located blocks away. We love this park. A friend of mine asked me what the appeal was. He thought the park was boring, just an open field with some trees on the perimeter. There’s not a playground, or a bench, or a trail. There really isn’t anything except a big field and some shrubs, bushes, and trees.
What are the treasures of a park? What do you do in this kind of park setting? It seems simple, but here are ideas to jumpstart a creative way to play in parks with your children.
* Turn nature into found paint. Bring a notebook or sketchbook and a pen. Experiment with various natural items to create pigment. Last time we were in the park, me and my kids created “paint” colors with ground up clover leaves, grasses, different varieties of leaves, tiny wild strawberries, yellow flowers, and bark. Then we drew over the different colors with pen, creating a whole colorful landscape on the page!
* Climb trees. Be careful. Don’t hurt the trees or yourselves. But if there’s a little low hanging tree with strong branches, let your children hang. City kids don’t know about some real tree climbing, and it’s an exhilirating part of childhood.
* Have a natural scavenger hunt. Send your children to find seeds or seed pods, a twig that looks like a pencil, a picture of a face in tree bark, or stones that fit into your pocket.
* Make wild bouquets. My children love making wild bunches of leaves, weeds, flowers, and branches to take home for the middle of our table. These bouquets are not what you would find in a florist shop. They’re unique, seasonal, and display the muted colors of what is actually in your neighborhood.
* Have a nature olympics. I took a group of about ten kids to the park one day, ranging in ages two to ten-years-old. How do you keep a group of that many kids interested and not bored? Challenge them to feats of strength, speed, and agility! We turned sticks into javelins, drew lines into dirt and created sprint races, did long jumps in valleys, and used various bushes for hurtles. I gave everyone seed pod prizes. It was a great day of olympics.
* Picnics, picnics, picnics!
* Think of your favorite thing to do inside and take it outside. Card games, board games, dress up, cars. Take any of your kids’ favorite activities and just let them do them in the park. It’s a whole other experience for kids growing up in the city. (p.s. you can’t bring the Wii! Diabolical laughing ensues.)
Do you have a favorite park? Or a favorite idea for what to do with kids in a park that (gasp) doesn’t have a playground? Let us know!
NW PHilly Parents is a partnership between Newsworks and Germantown Avenue Parents.