Sometimes you just have to get out and PLAY!

TGSG Note: There is nothing I like more when readers become part of the family, and that’s just what reader, blogger and great mom Stacy has become. I know you will be as delighted and inspired by her story as I was. Make sure to follow her on Twitter @STeet and check out her bio below.

Thanks for sharing, Stacy! See ya outside! ~ The Grass Stain Guru

When I heard Bethe had an opening for a guest post, I literally *jumped* at the chance. I first stumbled on to the #playoutdoors twitter stream sometime in 2009, and I have been hooked on her and everything she stands for ever since. As a mother of three, an Environmental Science major and a homeschooling mom I fully embrace any effort to connect a child with nature.

I planned to tell you all about the Park a Day challenge my kids and I are doing this summer with KaBoom, but when I saw Bethe’s post on International Mud Day last week it brought back a flood of memories so strong in my mind there was no way they could go unspoken.

The story begins in a crowded mini van on a hot summer day in Central Texas. My husband is away on business, again. Errands are done, kids are cranky and mommy could use a little break. We’re about 35 minutes from home, but there’s a favorite park of ours just minutes away … I turn the car around. I’m relishing the idea of getting them all outside, burning off some energy and maybe even relieving a bit of stress myself.

We were about 500 yards away when the heavens opened up and the sky fell down on top of us.

A torrential down pour, I cruised passed the kiddie park, still coming down in sheets. I slowed a bit near the slides, the rain was only getting harder. But, it was now or never I had to do something. I made my choice and pulled in to the playground parking lot.

Families were still scouraging to get their belongings and children in to the dry abyss that was their cars and looked at me more than a little strangely as I put the van in park. I looked back at the kiddos, their eyes wide wondering what was going on. I asked if they still wanted to play at the park and so began our day outdoors.

We huddled all together and sprinted for the play structure. We were soaking wet and laughing and enjoying every second of it! Soaked already, we made a split decision to take our shoes and socks off and get really good and dirty.

At first the kids were were cautious, not quite sure if they were going to get in trouble, but after a few twists of the arm from Mom -I convinced them it was all OK and we got right down to business.
It was a Texas thunderstorm, powerful but brief. It didn’t take long for the waterworks to stop and the real fun to begin.

We found a few empty containers on the grounds, relics of picnics gone by and turned the slide in to our very own mud kitchen. We were whipping out cakes and muffins with the greatest of ease.

Get Out and Play

We played for hours, till almost dark. Using all of our senses to explore the park in a whole new way and while this memory has been some time ago now, it is still every bit as vivid in my mind as it is in these photos.

Muddy Feet Collage

Just me and my littles doing what we do best: laughing, be silly, getting dirty and playing together. Life is good. Oh Texas, how I wish it would rain! We could use another afternoon like this.

stacy_kswGuest Blogger Bio: Stacy is seeing the world in a whole new way – through the eyes of her children. She writes about the little things, the big things and all the “stuff” in between at Kids Stuff World.

Pulling the Covers Off Blanket Statements

Bethe always gets me thinking. That’s what I love about TGSG and the information she shares. She makes me go: “Hmmmm . . . “  As with most issues, it turns out nature play is not black and white. I am not an educator or policymaker. I’m just a mom who knows the value of offering play opportunities to her kids.  I like to think I represent the audience educators and policymakers are trying to reach. It’s kinda cool that I can see issues from both sides, since I also run a website where I often share our play ideas. (And, yes, I’m from California so I say things like “cool” and “awesome.”)

Let’s take a look at few blanket statements – just to get those wheels turning – maybe you can see where you come out on the wide spectrum of reaction to these issues.

Technology has no place outdoors.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, offers an alternate view in his post called “Techno-Naturalists.” He argues that “any gadget can distract from nature.” If you let it. He uses photography as an example. You can get caught up in all the settings and forget to enjoy what’s around you.

There is actually a photo of me floating around with iPhone in hand at a park. I’m showing a 3 year old what a Phoebe looks like and sharing its birdsong. It took maybe 1 minute and I think he will most likely remember the name of the bird now and keep an eye out for it. The gadget went immediately back in my pocket, forgotten for the rest of the playdate.

Helicopter parents are bad.

With all of the talk about giving kids leverage and freedom from a very early age, you start to feel guilty when you help your kids. In the range from helicopter to neglect — I probably fall a bit more toward helicopter. In fact, I call myself a hummingbird parent. I tend to stay physically distant to let them explore and problem solve, but zoom in at moments when safety is an issue (which isn’t very often).

However, I ask myself “why?” all the time. Why do I still need to have them in sight? Why don’t I let them go to the park on their own? Why don’t I truly allow them to be 100%  Free Range Kids, even though I was allowed to run wild as a kid?

  • I hate to admit it, but fear and anxiety are definitely factors. But not in the bad-people- will-get-them sense. It’s more like the something-will-happen-I-could-have-prevented-if-I were-there sense.
  • In my neighborhood, kids play without close supervision. However, sending them to the park on their own is socially unacceptable at their age. You can bet other moms would call me on it. When a lone kid shows up at the playground, everyone pokes up their head to spot the parent. Keeping my distance is my sneaky way of battling the social norm while still conforming.

Common sense needs to rule on this issue. Are these bad parents for caring so deeply about their kids? Certainly not. Will their children be scarred for life? No. Should parents back off and let their kids take reasonable risks? Yes!

I’m always conscious of the physical distance between me and my kids . . . and I just keep taking steps back as they get older. I think the speed of the retreat is really up to the particular parent and their own comfort level.

Playgrounds are not nature.

I agree. Playgrounds are not nature. But . . . playgrounds get kids outdoors. Kids move on playgrounds. I would argue playgrounds are a bridge to nature. They still see birds and bugs. They feel the sunshine on their faces.

Any parent who’s taken their kid to a playground KNOWS their child gravitates toward the pile of rocks, the uneven logs, the tiny forest, or throwing rocks in the stream. The playground is merely a prop for imaginary games.

Playgrounds COULD be nature. I wish we didn’t have such a traditional view of playgrounds. I wish safety concerns and lawsuits didn’t dictate their design. My friend, Alex, explores the many whimsical shapes as humans design them on his Playgroundology blog. Others, like Arcady on Playscapes take a look at less commercial and more natural designs.


Kids outgrow playgrounds.

Really? They do? I hope not. But I hear it a lot. Parents tell me, “Of course, my kids are just getting out of the playground age.” Some are 5. Some are 8. Some are 10.

I STILL ride down slides with a big “Whoop!” and holler. In fact, there’s a particular senior in my neighborhood who takes a turn on the swings as part of her daily walk.

So where do these older kids go to be outside? In Southern California, I guess kids spend some time at the beach. It’s crazy to me that once children are actually old enough to go to the park on their own, there’s nothing there for them.

Hmmmm . . .

Photo credit: Kara-Noel Lawson


Michele points Orange County parents in the direction of local playgrounds on her Fun Orange County Parks blog. Then she dares them to explore more of the natural world around them. She blogs as Play Mom for OCFamily.com and started her own family nature club this year. You can follow their adventures at NaturePlayClub.com.

Geocaching in Nature

Alfred, geocaching master

TGSG Note: I am tickled to have Alfred stop by TGSG to sing the praises of geocaching! See ya outside ~ The Grass Stain Guru

Hi, my name is Alfred and I want to tell you about geocaching.  Geocaching is like a scavenger hunt. You use the geocaching website to find out the nearest geocaches to you.  The website gives you a map, directions to the geocache, a description of the geocache – like if it is a container or a special place, what is in it or what to look for, and a few extra hints.

Then you have to find where it is hidden by using a special map that tells you how close you are to the geocache.  If you have an iPhone, you can get something that tells you where you can go geocaching.  We also use a GPS to go geocaching.  But be careful you may not be able to go straight to the geocache!  The other day when we were camping we were looking for an earthcache, but if we had walked straight like the GPS told us to, we would have fallen off a cliff!!!  We had to be careful and walk slowly on the path around the lake to find a big white wall.  It was a special kind of geocache called an earthcache.  That means that there was no container, but the white wall was huge and made up of chalk called dimeatshes [diatomaceous] earth.  Dimeatshes earth is made up of skeletons of little bugs.

That same day we went to discover another earthcache called Burney Falls waterfall.  The water was cold and Burney Falls had tons of water coming out of cracks from lava.  When the waterfall hit the ground the mist had a lot of colors like green and blue.  I learned a lot about Burney Falls because of geocaching.

Geocaching is like a gift. I think other families should go geocaching so that they kind find a gift like Burney Falls!

Guest blogger bio: Alfred is Head Adventurist for Kid Adventures and really loves geocaching.  He is 8 years old and going on to 4th grade.

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