Learn to Be Better at Going Outside

No Time for Napping

I don’t know what to do with my child outside. When I say “outside,” I mean “in the wild.” To be honest, I don’t even really like taking my son to the park. At playgrounds I get bored pretty quickly. I get tired of chasing my toddler around, trying to be respectful of boundaries but making sure he’s safe, making sure bigger kids don’t run over him, and making sure he isn’t attempting to lick anything. My husband is stellar at this job, so I graciously back out of this aspect of parenting and let him be the leader.

Even when I’m on my own, I enjoy nature by being still. I don’t have a natural drive to explore wilderness independently. After I have my moments of Zen, listening to a babbling brook or something, I sit there and think, “What am I supposed to do now?” Taking a nap usually sounds good, but that certainly isn’t happening with a rambunctious two-year-old in tow. I used to love guided tours and long historical stories by park rangers in giant hats. This too is mostly impossible with a two-year-old no longer willing to hang out in a backpack.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy or appreciate nature. I do very much. I just prefer to sleep in it or have other people and/or signage tell me about things. I miss my version of being outside.

Learning about butterflies at the Natural History Museum

For me, it’s all good when there’s a guide!

Prepared Wilderness

My son recently started a part-time Montessori preschool a few days a week. To keep up with his program, I’ve been reading quite a bit about what Maria Montessori called “the prepared environment,” a philosophy which effectively encourages adults to set up a child’s environment to scale. Resources should be physically accessible, in the right proportion, and ordered such that a child has the freedom to explore and interact as independently as possible in a safe way.

That got me thinking, what I really want in our lives is “prepared wilderness.” I think of it as a place where we can be outside—exploring, enjoying, learning. But, also where I don’t have to clean anything up or think about what to bring in the first place. It’s a place where we can both show up and enjoy a lesson in nature, free time to run around with older kids, and not having to worry about others running us over on scooters.

Raking leaves at Grandpa’s house

When we have a job to do, it’s easy getting outdoors.

Disclaimer: Birth2Work does NOT have any association with the program discussed in the article. We do not receive any kind of compensation for this endorsement, monetary or otherwise. This article is true to my personal experiencesomething I believe many other families may also enjoy.

Finding Support in the Community

I was delighted then, you may imagine, to have recently found a program called Tinkergarten. It’s a once-a-week program that gives me and my son the most wonderful opportunity to get outside and have fun together with other children, but without mommy stressing out. Our local class is held at a wilderness park near our home (read: no playground, only trees and a pond with ducks and fish, and lots of low-risk hiking opportunities). The leader is a local mom who simply wanted to connect with her community and do fun things with her kids outside.

When we show up to a mixed-age group of kids (this is a bonus as I get to learn from their parents), the leader has everything set up already, and I didn’t have to prepare any of it! Everything is oriented toward teaching wonderful things like social, emotional, and cognitive skills (another bonus as I can reference my Birth2Work Readiness Profile and see how the activities relate to my child’s growth and development). The materials are all-natural so that if they get spilled or forgotten when we leave, they blend back into the park; no harm done.

We do things like paint and build flags to explore the wind. We build bird feeders by filling orange halves with seeds, only after juicing the orange halves and, of course, drinking the juice. We go on hikes and run up kid-size hills. We do all of that nature stuff that I know is so meaningful but I just can’t get myself to go do on my own. Best of all we have time to be still and enjoy the quiet with our snacks.

Enjoying a snack at Tinkergarten

Popcorn tastes better in nature.

Experimenting with colored ice

We “painted” the white tablecloth by experimenting with ways to dissolve colored ice. The tablecloth was cut up and we later made flags and kites out of the material.

Support at Home

Tinkergarten also writes an incredibly insightful blog called More Than Mudpies, which incidentally were my favorite thing to make in my childhood suburban backyard. I learn about skills and tips for getting outside with my child but also enjoy reassuring messages like “Trust That You Are Everything Your Child Needs” from earlier this year.

Like all parents, I do a lot for my family every day—most of it homemade, organic, and thoughtfully resourced. I pride myself on planning ahead but also making the most of what we have at our fingertips. The irony is not lost on me that the one thing that should be most easy and organic—going outside—is what I need the most help with. But I accept my fault here. I relish in this particular convenient packaging of doing something with my child that I know we all need to do more. He needs to run and play with other children outdoors; I need to chill out.

Tinkergarten is for him. But it’s also for me. I’m almost certain it could be for you too. Now go outside and play. Happy Earth Day!

Note: Distinct programs are available for children 6 to 18 months and 18 months to 8 years. Tinkergarten.com. Again, Birth2Work has no affiliation with this program. It’s just a program my family genuinely enjoys.

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