Don’t forget: “the trees are open”
My kids do better if we get out of the house each day for something that is fun for them. Fortunately we live in an area that provides a lot of free programs for toddlers – story times, music times, resource centers with scheduled hours that are designed like preschool, science nights, math nights, craft hours, and more. So we could go to some toddler friendly activity everyday if we want to, sometimes we’ll catch a morning one and an evening one.
So it is a typical tuesday morning and we are heading to one of our favorite morning programs. My kids like it because in an hour fifteen minutes there is craft time, snack time, storytime, and singing with dancing. They are thoroughly entertained. I like it because it is a spanish/english bilingual program and we are all learning how interact with people who primarily speak a different language than we do.
We drive across town, pull into the parking lot, and I notice it is mostly empty. And it hits me, it is spring break, they are closed! And so are several of the programs we participate in, ALL WEEK. And I’m like, shoot, I got them dressed and ready, we are in the car, they are fully expecting some fun activity. They would be so disappointed if we just went home. I’m trying to think of something else that happens on Tuesdays, but I am coming up blank. I know the libraries are open but I don’t have their activity schedule memorized.
I start apologizing to my older toddler, saying that the place is closed. Of course, she is disappointed and tells me she doesn’t want to go home. She starts asking about each place we frequent, and each time I have to say “they are closed, I’m sorry.” She sighs, looks outside, and says “the trees are open!”
Of course! Winter is just ending. It was still kinda cold but that’s what jackets are for. My baby just turned one a couple weeks ago, old enough to handle a little chilly weather when properly layered. We went home, got extra layers on, and played in our yard. And we had a great time.
We came across a centipede and a worm, crouched down each time to watch. We dug in the dirt. We discovered blooming flowers. Dad got home, explored with us, then popped some popcorn for an impromptu picnic. My older toddler even helped me pull some weeds. So win/win all around!
She doesn’t know it, but my toddler taught me a lesson. Have more unplanned playtime outside. Don’t have something scheduled everyday. We were outside everyday last summer and for as much of autumn as possible, but had gotten out of the habit once it got too cold for a baby to be outside long.
Spring is beginning, we are having more crisp but beautiful days. It is the perfect time of year for a toddler’s lesson about being in nature. Her lesson and our day outside reminded me of what had been a cornerstone of my parenting: be in nature, teach them to enjoy, love, and respect nature, teach them we are a part of nature ourselves.
Yes, we’ll keep going to our favorite programs, my kids benefit a lot from them. But I am going to keep flexible about our attendance, if it is just too nice out to be inside we might skip the program and go exploring instead. And we will definitely have more open days in our week for outdoor activities, whether to play in a park, a toddler led hike on a trail, or just exploring our own small yard.
Let this experience be a lesson for you too. Are your kid’s activity schedule too packed and rigid? Do they have times in their week for outside play? Do they ever get open exploring time outside? If you have a day come when you don’t know what to do with your kids, don’t forget the trees are open.