As it gets towards the end of a long, hot summer I tend to find myself torn between making the most of the last of the good weather and the tedium of standing and watching my children slide and climb for the millionth time. I swear ‘Playground Burnout’ is a real condition and I’m looking for the cure…
First let me confess, I know that we are truly spoilt for beautiful playgrounds where we live. We have five fantastic parks in my three year old’s cycling distance, half a dozen more in our subdivision alone, and what must be hundreds in the surrounding 20 minute driving radius. They are nearly all well kept and fun for their different features. Our taxes are high and I try to off set this by using the facilities that they help to provide. More importantly, the children love the parks and I love them being in the great outdoors getting fresh air and exercise. But this doesn’t change the fact that just before the season expires I do start to feel a little dread at the thought of yet another park expedition.
I’ve never got the knack of sitting on the bench or in the car and leaving the boys to the playing, and there’s only so much phone surfing I can ever face – it really doesn’t entertain me anymore than watching the children repeatedly climb, slide or squabble over long mastered equipment. I do like to get involved in their games, but role playing buying a watermelon from little brother’s shop, or clip-clopping over the bridge, or any of the other fantastic things they devised back in the spring for the millionth and one time might just put me over the edge!
So this year I’m trying to avoid getting to that point. Here are our top tips for avoiding end of summer park burn out altogether…
Become the ‘Park Guru’
I made it my mission this year to become the ‘Park Guru’. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, and it’s helping to avoid the boredom. I’ve done the research and can now list off a park for every occasion. If it’s hot we can head to one with water or perhaps a nature play space in the shade. If they want to dig the aim is a park with sand or wood chips. If we are meeting toddlers we look for a park with more sensory experience than climbing, the preschooler friends are loving more challenge this summer and are wanting higher slides and low ziplines.
To keep Big Brother happy we’ve ventured further afield and found playgrouds made specifically for older children – a Ninja Warrior park and gravity rail playground being the most popular.
These older kid playground finds are a real joy to me; eight years old is way too young to be giving up park play so I’m glad to be keeping this age group actively engaged.
My personal favorites have been the nature playgrounds though. There seems to be more adventure and imagination in playing with equipment made from natural materials and loosely fashioned into play equipment. The scope for invention is just that bit wider. But of course you don’t always need a purpose built playground for that – you can let them experiment with the rocks, trees and occurrences along your nature hikes.
We’ve also discovered interactive playgrounds by Biba in the area. Bibaventures.com have a range of apps available on Google Play and iTunes that are essentially games that work around their playgrounds. There are a number of different themes including dino digs, robots and relays so there should be something to add interest for all. If you don’t live near one of the Biba sponsored playgrounds you can tell the app what equipment is in your park and it will work with what you have. In the spirit of trying anything once we gave it a go. The children did enjoy it but to be honest following a screen in such a great outdoor space just felt uncomfortable to me. I can see how it would extend play and increase activity though and we might give it another shot as autumn approaches.
Bring a Friend (for Mum too)
The best outings for me often involve company. It’s so nice for the children to have friends to play with, fresh ideas for imaginative games and someone to get into mischief with. I find the siblings actually play better together in the presence of others too! But in terms of avoiding the boredom there’s nothing better than catching up with a friend or meeting new ones. Park play dates are so easy to organize, the great outdoors absorbs the noise better and they don’t involve cleaning the house. That’s a win-win-win to me!
If you know you are heading out to the park, why not post on your local mom’s forum or text around your buddies and see who wants to join the fun?
Take Some New Props
A great way to inspire new play at the park is to take items that you don’t usually find there. Racing toy cars or trucks down a slide has been popular, but anything that they like to use at home (that won’t get damaged) can find new legs outside. The different setting and sensory materials available makes them feel totally different and you’ll get hours of extra play from them.
Hide and seek type fun can also be had from bringing and sharing kindness rocks. We’ve enjoyed painting and placing our own around the neighborhood before (we used this kit (UK) although clearly you could hunt out your own rocks too) but recently a local family hid a dozen or so painted rocks at our playground and posted on our subdivision Facebook group. This way many families were able to enjoy finding and re-hiding their colorful creations. Such a simple way to spread a little fun!
Add A Competitive Edge
You can’t beat a little competition to liven up any game. Parks and playgrounds are prime for this. If you take a stopwatch (or use your phone’s) and perhaps some chalk or even cones, if you have them, you can identify an obstacle course for races and time trials. Often you can also play at getting all the way around the equipment without touching the ground. Once they get good at it (our closest park needs the completion of monkey bars, ladder, bridge and zip line to do this) you can time each child either to see who is fastest or to race against their own personal best. For some reason I never win this competition, perhaps I should stick to time keeping!
Mix up Your Meals
Taking a picnic is always a great way to extend park visits but if you are bored of packing up the PBJs (or cheese and pickles) then think about heading out early doors instead. This year we have been doing the rounds of the farmer’s markets first and picking up freshly made smoothies and donuts to take to the nearest park for breakfast. Last week our French market even had a crepe van which made a delicious change! There’s just something so nice about eating outside and watching the children burn off that sugar afterwards…
At this rate we should still be going strong right through the autumn! As first at the park we’ll have to remember to pack a towel to dry everything off before we start…