When I was a kid we spent the summers outside playing with the neighborhood kids. We climbed trees, built forts, had picnics, and organized group games such as kick the can and capture the flag. While I’m sure our parents were around somewhere, we were pretty much left to play and explore the neighborhood on our own. Our play was imaginative kid-directed play–our parents weren’t out there directing us, entertaining us, or hovering over us making sure we were constantly safe. We were also left to work out our own problems on our own–an effective way to learn social skills!
With the summer almost half-way over we’ve done quite a bit of hiking, camping, and playing outside (not as much as we’d like–the local heat wave and drought have put a damper on things). Unfortunately, my kids have not had the same opportunities for free play outside with the neighborhood kids. For one, our neighborhood doesn’t have too many kids their age. Second, many of the kids their age are spending their summers in various summer camps and aren’t around during the day. While I’m all for an occasional camp, what I find sad is how more and more kids are being shuffled from one camp to the next, continuously moving from one adult-directed activity to the next. There’s no time for free play and self-discovery (how can a kid discover what they really love to do with no time to explore and play on their own?).
There’s a ton of research out there on the importance of free play, especially in nature. (The Children and Nature Network is a great place to start if you’re interested in more information). And while I’m fortunate that my kids play pretty well together, I would still like them to have other kids to play with on a regular basis. Thus, I’d like to introduce an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. I would like to create an outdoor playscape for the kids in our area (see the link to the article below of an example of a natural playscape that opened in Ohio). I can’t decide if it would be more of a park where parents could bring their kids to play for the afternoon, or more of a summer camp or after school program (or perhaps a natural preschool?). Besides providing a place for kids to play outside building forts, climbing trees, and getting dirty, I could also hold sessions on everything from baby wearing to camping with babies and young children.
What are your thoughts? Would you send your kids to outdoor play camp? Or would you prefer a park to take your kids for the day?