Here in the Bay Area, we live in a land of wonderful public parks. Countless websites and books tell us how to take advantage of them. We all know lots of people who go there practically every weekend. Unfortunately, practically none of these are accessible to us and our kids by foot. In other words, getting there depends on planning and driving.
I prefer going to the San Francisquito Creek, which is within a 5-minute walk from my house and thousands of other homes in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area. Now that it’s winter, it’s a real creek again after being a dry creek bed for most of the year.
I spent an hour there with my older sons (6 and 3) just last Saturday digging up trenches, throwing rocks in the water, and climbing hillsides. It was a beautiful day in a wonderful natural location, and no one else was there. No one.
I could give a lot of reasons, but I’ll focus on one: we parents ignore our own neighborhoods. We move so fast in our lives that we fail to see the natural treasures right under our noses. We don’t wander our neighborhoods with our kids when they’re young. Then, when they get older, we don’t let them wander on their own. Instead, we drive them around like mad.
Often, we drive them to “environmental education programs” to learn about nature in wonderful parks like Foothills Park or Hidden Villa. Both these parks and many others have huge summer camp programs. Parents drive their kids there once a day for a week or two. Tiny Treks takes young kids around a beautiful park once a week.
These are all great resources, but if you really explored what you have right by your house, within walking or biking distance, you might find great resources that you and your kids could walk to every day. You wouldn’t need to make a plan ahead of time, and you wouldn’t need to drive anywhere. Thus, you’d avoid the greatest danger to children in America today and you’d save the environment from some automobile emissions at the same time (see post from 10/14/07 on www.playborhood.com for more information).
The best thing about exploring nature around your neighborhood with your young kids is that you’re preparing them for exploring alone when they get a bit older. Most elementary and middle school-aged kids around here don’t have any idea how to have fun roaming in their own neighborhoods. Thus, they either sit in front of screens inside their house or they get driven to activity after activity by us, their parents.
Meanwhile, I’ve gotten my boys and other neighborhood kids hooked on our creek. Winter or summer, in wet suits or shorts, it’s their favorite place to go. I usually stay far back, letting them do whatever they want. As time goes on, I’ll give them more and more freedom down there. It’s a wonderful place to grow up, and it’s right down the street.
Mike Lanza is Founder and Chief Play Officer of Playborhood.com.