Sunday, October 25, 2009

Risk Assessment.

The kids and I spent a glorious morning over the weekend leading a "nature playgroup" at a wonderful and underappreciated gem of an urban park. (One of my most delightful jobs is to lead these nature playdates for families with children...we get out and explore the urban park system and generally have fun just messing around in natural areas.)

J and L (and about 15 other kids!)were frolicking in the sunshine, picking up leaves and tossing them high into the air. We were all on a hill that was dotted with huge, sprawling oak trees. There were sticks and acorns everywhere. J immediately found a stick about 6 inches long, as big around as, oh, I don't know, Barbie's leg. He didn't want to put it down. He was carrying it around under his arm, holding it like a walking stick, even cuddling with it at one point. And in his exuberance, he was running and jumping.

I wasn't going to be "that parent" who won't let her kids play with sticks (and who am I kidding? I'm not that parent.)But then again, it did cross my mind that, well, he was running with a stick.

I actually had an entire internal dialogue about this: Should I put a stop to this? No, he's fine, he's having fun. Let him enjoy it. What's the problem? Relax, I told myself. You worry too much. A wisp of anxiety floated through my mind...well, he could get hurt, couldn't he? But really, what are the chances that he'll actually poke his eye out?

Well, wouldn't you know. The moment I had that awful thought, J fell down. Onto the stick. Luckily, it didn't actually enter his eye, but it came darn close. For a few moments there, I felt like The Worst Mother in the World (again). I mean, I let the kid run with a stick on wet leaves: OK, not the best choice.

So. The corner of his right eye is bruised, swollen, and scratched. He cried for a long time, but was OK. No real harm done. In fact, he's a little proud to tell the story to anyone who'll listen.

I've heard lots of reasons for parents and educators' not wanting kids to play with sticks, and injury is top among them. But it's often there that people stop. Well, OK, I ask them, so what if there was an injury. Would that be OK? Or not? Is the risk worth the benefit? How bad would it be?

When it comes to playing outside, many parents hope and try to eliminate the possibility of any injuries altogether. How can you mitigate every possible risk? I don't think this is realistic, or even possible. I'm certainly not saying I think injuries are good, and I'm not trying to minimize real risk and real injury. I'm just saying that sometimes minor injuries aren't necessarily as bad as we imagine them. The risk of getting poked with a stick is, to me, not high or bad enough to warrant removing sticks from my child's repertoire of playthings. And isn't that how it is with most risks involved in outdoor play? There is often a considerable risk of some relatively minor injury and a much, much smaller risk or something much, much worse. So, when do we refuse to let them have the experience because of the small risk that Something Really Bad will happen?

Now granted, I recognize J was darn lucky this weekend. It could have been really bad. But it wasn't. And most of the time, thank goodness, it just isn't.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The shape of things

On our first foray outdoors in what seems like forever, we decided it was time to gather up all the special rocks we've collected this summer and put them someplace for the winter. L decided they would be "happiest hiding under the snow."

So, we made a nice pile of rocks under our ash tree where they will wait quietly for some snow.

While we were collecting the rocks, the kids noticed that some of them were shaped like circles, there was a diamond-shaped rock, a squarish rock, and even a rock that was "like a line," according to J. We had a great time organizing them and finding a variety of shapes.

This week, why not look around your yard for familiar shapes? Leaves can be triangular, heart-shaped, or roundish. Sticks can resemble letters, slides, or even arrows. Rocks come in all shapes and sizes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stomach bugs

Stomach bugs have invaded our house. We're on week three of awful crud. The kids are finally sleeping (fitfully) and instead of cleaning or paying bills, I'm reading the news online.

A recent study by some Dutch researchers shows that people who live within about 2 miles of "green space" have significantly fewer physical health problems. The researchers compared people who live in close proximity to green space with those who don't.

Interestingly, the annual rates for some pretty serious physical ailments were significantly lower among those folks who live close to green space (and presumably, go out and enjoy it once in a while). These folks had fewer incidences of:
  • heart disease
  • Depression and anxiety
  • migraines
  • stomach bugs
  • respiratory infections and athsma

As soon as the day breaks, I'm hauling my two sick kids outside.

Monday, October 12, 2009

what just happened?

Did I say fall was here? I guess I meant something resembling winter is here.

Today we awoke to a couple inches of very wet, very heavy snow. The kids raced to the window and pressed noses to glass, screaming, "snow! snow!"

After I'd consumed my RDI of coffee, we dove into our winter gear and went out back to catch snowflakes on our tongues. We made snowballs. We played with the sand toys (today's snow was the perfect consistency for "snow castles.") Made a huge heap of snow on our picnic table. Danced in circles in the yard. Watched the huge flakes fall from the white, white sky.

Then, we listened. The flakes were so big and heavy they practically landed with a "thud." A robin chortled in surprise from the cedar trees near our garage. Tires of passing cars made hissing sounds as they slid down the wet street. Before long the kids were ready to go in (and so was I, since I have yet to dig out my hat, mittens, etc from storage--hey, I said I wasn't ready for this!) and we had some hot soup and cupcakes.

Now there's a day.

So it reminded me, Lucy came home from preschool singing this sweet song last year, and overall it made the whole "Donning of our Winter Gear" process go so much more smoothly. I get aggravated easily in the mornings when we're trying to get out the door, and it helps so much to have a song to sing...the kids remember all their gear and it's impossible to be crabby when you're singing. Try it! (Special thanks to Miss Lori!)

Thumbs in the thumb part, fingers all together

That's what we say in mitten weather

Hats on our heads and scarves around our necks

Warm boots, warm boots, so we don't get wet!

Monday, October 5, 2009


Oh, my. I thnk fall is upon us.

I'm still in denial over here. I know, I know. It's October. It's not going to warm up again. Not for a long, long time. But -and I know I say this every year --I'm not ready.
Now don't get me wrong. I love the change of seasons. I love autumn and the colors and the crisp air and the smell of the dry leaves on the ground. But the transition from summer to fall has always been a difficult one for me.

And, I have learned to embrace winter, in spite of myself. This was a monumental effort for me, which took years. And I had to be paid to do it. More on that in another post, someday.
For now, I'll dig in my heels a bit and sigh as I put on my fleece jacket. I'm not ready quite yet for this.

The kids, on the other hand, are elated. L looks out the door every morning: "Oh, looks like it rained a bit last night! And it's getting so cold outside!"

Or, when we leave the house, J will yell, joyously, "Smells good!" as he takes in a breath of air so huge I expect him to physically expand.

I really ought to thank my kids-they constantly bring me back to the here and now. I snap to attention, and recognize some of the beautiful things Ihave had a tendency to overlook lately. The smells. The temperature. The visual changes everywhere-in the trees, the grass, even the sky.

I forget the leaf-identification games and the tales of animals preparing for winter (all good activities in their own right, mind you, but for another time--that's not that we're here for)
For fun, I ask them to tell me what's going on in "nature" (a.k.a the yard, for our purposes these days) and they point out incredible things for me. I like to make a game of it, and they are happy to show me the world through their eyes.
I've found that academic, "school-y" questions like, What do you notice about the change of seasons? or What's happening out here? are a bit much for young ones. They're a little too "big" and abstract. To make things easier for my kids to explain, I get specific:

"Tell me what's happening in the garden?" I ask, or, "What seems to happen to the trees in all this rain?" and, "Can you show me one nature treasure?"

"All the plants are shaggy" She tells me, pointing out the frayed petals, the sagging leaves.

"This tree is wearing a wet jacket" she says, rubbing her hand across the slick bark.

Or, my favorite: "There are nature treasures everywhere! And they're wet!"