Getting our kids outdoors
22/03/2018 By Ngaire Trigg

Planning ahead for spontaneous play

The paradox of this blog title is not lost on me I assure you. It is however something I have had on my mind quite a lot lately. When we have such lovely outdoor play options right at our doorsteps, why is it that we can often find any excuse not to get outside? I think of the many everyday hurdles and excuses that both my husband and I make for not taking our kids outside more.

Why does getting outside more matter to me? Because I crave outdoor time myself, and I want it so badly for my daughters. I have read about the benefits, I have been inspired by programs like Nature Play QLD, blogs like ouryearoutdoors and truth be told most of all, I feel the yearning for it so strongly in my heart. I know I feel better and calmer, more complete when I have spent time outside immersed in nature. I am absolutely certain my kids feel the same even if they can’t put it into words.

Being residents of Far North Queensland there are some obvious reasons that I am sure we are not the only ones using. It’s too HOT! its humid, it’s too much hassle, I didn’t pack the right clothes. In the heat and humidity of beautiful Townsville during many months of the year, you will break a sweat just walking to the car. I am sure weather, distance, effort and preparation, costs of some activities or even just simply lacking ideas or motivation are completely reasonable excuses for why we don’t just stop the car, or walk to the end of the street to play with the kids. I have spent many months sitting and pondering this very fact. So often for parents the practicalities can be a real turn off to being outside. But in a world where our kids are losing their connection with nature and where it would benefit us all to slow down, connect and just be present with each other, maybe we need to think of how we can plan ahead so that if the opportunity arises, we do stop the car, brace for the rain and just get out there.

Let’s chat about a few obvious reasons and how we can plan ahead to make play more appealing.

Distance can be a regular hurdle. Often the good stuff like the outdoor spaces which invite the most free play and exploration are a little far from home. In our often suburban lifestyles, the national parks, and bushland are not always in close proximity to where we live. A trip to the forests, creeks, and best places to really lose yourself and be immersed in the wonderful sights and sounds of nature require a car trip and lots of preparation don’t they. In all honestly, these trips do require some forward thought and planning to be the most enjoyable but I am sure that most families would agree that the effort is usually worth it. If you are always finding excuses not to go, schedule it in to the family calendar like you would a holiday. A day trip to the mountains with an esky of snacks, changes of clothes and some towels and you are all set. A backpack with all the usual kid paraphernalia like hats, insect repellent, sunscreen, band-aids is about all that you need. This can be packed the night before and ready to go to make an early start and make the most of a day. By starting early and not chasing the afternoon sun you can stay for an hour or stay for the whole day depending on how everyone is going. We have even started planning our family holidays throughout the year around outdoor experiences we all want to have. Farm Stay near a National Park anyone?

Packing /Unpacking, all the things we think we need. Let’s not be consumed by an assumed need for perfection when it comes to our children’s experiences in nature. We don’t need a bucket and spade to make the beach fun. That’s what hands are for! We don’t need $300 jackets and we don’t need Instagram perfect locations. There are tools in nature itself the kids will be drawn to without us even making the suggestion. Shells can be shovels, with sticks and rocks we can build forts and bridges.  Everything we need we already have. Those simple experiences of walking amongst the trees, watching the birds, listening to the sounds, building in nature with items found in nature help kids connect and explore. It lights up their imaginations and helps them grow in so many ways. Often all the bells and whistles we might be programmed to think they need, only serve to distract them from the real beauty and lessons right in front of them. I know I want my kids to really tune in without distractions.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking” Marcus Aurelius

When thinking of this topic I found myself noticing the reasons why I haven’t stopped the car to visit the playground with the kids or have that impromptu adventure at the park. Often my mind is thinking of the effort, of all the things I think I need that I don’t have in the car or that I need to pack if leaving from home. I recently decided that I needed a ready set adventure bag that always lives in the boot of the car.  This removes all the of the ‘I don’t have’ excuses.   In this simple old back pack I have:

  • Spare clothes for both kids
  • Nappies and wipes
  • Sunscreen and Insect repellent
  • An empty reusable water bottle – to fill as needed
  • Hats for us all.
  • One old towel

This backpack remains in the car at all times and is repacked and restocked only when everything is used up and needs a wash. The ready set adventure bag has meant that I have not had the excuse for not stopping when in reality a bit of time spent at the park is just the tonic that both myself and the girls are needing. In fact just this morning at 6:45am we were on our way out the door and heading to the beach. Bag was already packed, only the basics but enough for us to enjoy 2 hours before the sun got too hot. The kids were wide awake anyway and in Townsville the earlier in the day we go the more time we can spend outside without melting. Let me be clear too, that we live a good 30 minute drive from the beach so it’s not like we are just walking outside the back door. It takes effort to go but sometimes we just get in the car and go. It was a good time of day, I had the essentials and it was the perfect spontaneous opportunity to just get out there.

Ready, Set Play – rain, hail or shine.

Having spare clothes in the car is also great if the heavens open up and delicious juicy rain comes down. You can let your little ones delight in the muddy puddles or catch the rain on their tongues without worrying about the inconvenience of wet or muddy clothes when getting back into the car.

The effort required to set off on a planned adventure can be a barrier too. Packing and unpacking is often reason enough to not feel bothered and to meet any opportunity of outside play with resistance. However, if there is a bag ready to go, it saves the hassle of trying to hustle the kids, pack the bags and think of everything all whilst a screaming toddler requires your attention and you rush the family out the door.  Moments of enchantment really can present themselves at the most unplanned times so it’s worth going with your gut when you drive past the national park and feel that pull and real desire to get out of the car and see what’s out there.

“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful”    – Annette Funicello

Time is one reason as adults we can be quite conscious of.  A trip to the beach can be bought to a very swift halt the minute the sun gets a little hot on our backs. I am sure the kids are completely unaware of the temperatures and are more engrossed in their play. Why is it that we can find ourselves so uncomfortable with a little heat or a strong breeze or a few small drops of rain? In reality, if we are being sun safe and have some water for the kids, you are set for at least an hour or so if you’ve already made the effort to get there. Why not enjoy the moment and let go of ‘time’ for a while. Be present with your kids, it’s what they crave most of all?  These are all memories in the making.

The cost of outdoor activities is sometimes a very real and valid reason. Going to the snow if you are not from there, taking your kids to experience the Great Barrier Reef, even going to a local wildlife sanctuary may incur a cost and a weighty one if going with multiple kids. Stepping back and looking at this conundrum with fresh eyes I remind myself that these experiences don’t all have to happen within a year of each other or in the first years of life.  Your kids have their whole lives ahead of them and while we all want our kids to experience all the magic that the world has to offer them, it does not fall solely at our feet to provide every one of those experiences.  Being open to supporting their dreams, encouraging them in their interests and planning ahead as a family when it comes to holidays can all be fruitful ways to unveil opportunities.  Planning ahead and utilising off peak times and low season times for travel may also make it more affordable to travel and also more likely businesses have discounts available to attract punters at quiet times.  Make a list, think ahead and don’t always leave it to chance if you want to experience specific things. I am always reminding myself that many of the best outdoor adventures are free. National Parks, exploring the rock caves at the bay, freshwater creeks, even exploring the botanical gardens – these don’t cost anything except time and getting there.

Motivation and ideas are sometimes hard to come by too. We can all get stuck in a rut and into patterns of doing the same things all the time. Day care and school, work, kids birthday parties –  our weekends are only 2 days and most of us need to mow the lawn, clean the house and catch up on all the things we can’t get done during the week. So where is the time or the motivation to go driving for an hour to walk in the hills or where is energy to give outside play more than 2 minutes thought.  I also know all too well the disappointment of a great day out planned, which seems to fall to pieces the minute the kids get overwhelmed or tired. I get it, I feel this way too at times. But this train of thought is exactly why our little ones are disconnected with their environment, and the opportunities come about less. Our priorities in the last 30 years have shifted. Moving us all away from being outdoors. Convenience, discomfort, accessibility, cost – these were all present 50 years ago but the people were maybe just not taking as much notice or prioritising differently. They were perhaps not used to having all the gear and therefore weren’t missing it. Our kids can be the same. We can help them to explore their world without the barriers if we as adults don’t put the barriers right in front of them. They will grow up thinking they must have all the latest gear if we tell them they do. Let’s face it, marketing giants make it their business to make us feel inferior if we don’t have the flash GPS watch and the state of the art hiking shoes.

Let’s start simple – make a vision board for your family. A list on the fridge of what you would like to do more of. Get inspired with documentaries and books, ignite the passions in yourselves and your kids. Make it happen, make less excuses and just make do. The kids won’t remember that it was hot, they won’t remember that they weren’t wearing specialty hiking boots. They will remember the feel of the sand between their toes, the calling of the birds and the way it makes them feel inside, not how they looked on the outside or what was waiting to get done at home. Let’s take a little time, plan ahead and make more spontaneous outdoor play possible.