From the kitchen, my view is a concrete wall. When I look up, I see the brick houses on the other side of the wall. When I lay down on our living floor with giggling children near me, I see the green canopy of the trees that are in front of those houses and on a clear night, it’s kind of a skylight effect, when we look up, we can see the moon and count the stars. We don’t have a greenspace or yard as part of our home but my desire for my children to have as much outdoor time as they can is one I strive to fulfill as often as I can in various ways.
As much outdoor, free play as they can get.
We have many parks around us and they are wonderful and we are super happy the playgrounds are open again, but they come with their own restrictions and distractions.
I noticed this recently after having a few meet-ups with our friends. The children didn’t get a chance to really connect and get deep into their play; the parks were filled with people.
I realized, what makes the parks great for us is often when go, it isn’t busy most of the time so when we do meet with our friends there, the children do get that connection through play because there is space for them to be focused and it isn’t a crowded environment and us adults can get a conversation in here or there because when it isn’t filled with people, work crews, tourists, my guard is lower.
With the crowds, there are also those adult social issues I haven’t always been successful at working out. When other parents see my kids climb up the slides and then they become upset when their child copies, there have been times where the other parents have said things like, “it’s okay if other people don’t follow the rules, but it’s not okay for you not to follow the rules”, and this has made me laugh, which just makes the whole encounter worst.
A poker face, I do not have.
I laugh partly out of nervous energy and partly because I think that’s a ridiculous statement to make to your young child who is exploring.
The benefits of children spending time in nature are numerous and I hope wherever we make our home in the future, it has a forest school program nearby, a ravine and rolling hills in our backyard.
When we can’t get to the forest or to the hiking paths, here are 5 ways we get out and play in nature without a yard:
1. We Take Our Toys With Us
This might seem counterintuitive because we don’t bring toys with us to the trails or to the forest but I have found that bringing toys with us to the park, a handful of hot wheels, a couple of figures, a ball or two, helps to create more of a free environment, the kids will still go for the swings and the climbers but much of the time is spent playing with their favourite things in the grass, under a tree, by a creek.
2. Pop-Up Yards
Other than the parks, I bring us to the greenspaces that I can find. Properties (businesses that have closed up for example) that are empty are a favourite one, ideally, ones that have grounds that are overgrown because I feel it is less likely they have used pesticides, we borrow their lawn/yard and play, while being respectful of the property that isn’t ours.
3. Play In The Urban
Kids don’t need a lot of space to play; they need the freedom to play and making good use of the concrete around us has brought lots of different type of risky play as my kids use ramps and concrete walls as obstacle courses, areas to ride their bikes and scooters on. We are always respectful of private property and the people around us and sometimes I’m hyper-aware of this but most of the time, people have told me how much they like seeing my kids be kids in our urban space.
4. Take Over the Dirt
We put our feet and hands in the dirt when we come across it. A couple of years ago, when my kids saw an empty flower bed at one of the city parks and they made a beeline for the patch of dirt. I was torn between enjoying their play and being worried that some park authority person was going to ask us to leave.
In reality, the groundskeepers came over and told us that was the best use of the flower beds they had seen for a while.
It’s interesting how the fear of doing the wrong thing, stays with us and that is how unschooling for me, is about checking my own fears and not projecting them on to my kids.
5. Neighbourhood Walk
I admire the gardens in the yards of our neighbours and I try to identity a flower or plant, my kids love taking pictures of the new-to-us ones, coming home and trying to match the photo on Google to the one we took, some of our neighbours have created butterfly-friendly gardens and if the timing is right, seeing the butterflies at play is really cool.
We enjoy looking for different types of birds and wondering what the squirrels are up to, sometimes we bring magnifying glasses with us to get a close up few of the snails and ants and my kids love telling me what they know about the insects, while I try not to get wigged out by the centipedes.
I definitely treasure all the ways we find to connect to nature and getting outside is a priority but our space is plentiful with reminders of nature when leaving the house doesn’t happen.
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