As this year’s Park-A-Day Summer Challenge kicks off, tireless play advocate and 2010 alum Liza Sullivan has these six tips for our 2011 Challengers. But you don’t have to participate in our Challenge to take advantage of her sage advice—all playground-going parents will find them helpful, this summer or any other time of year.
1. Go in the rain. Suited up in their raincoats and umbrellas, my kids have a wonderful time jumping in puddles, racing down slippery slides, and catching raindrops on their tongues. You may want to bring along a change of clothes and some towels for getting everyone dry and warm when they are done.
2. Let your kids decide how and how long to play. We have great adventures walking to the parking lot, climbing trees, or playing with unconventional things along the way to the playground. Sometimes my kids play more on the metal seating surrounding a baseball field than they do at the playground. As playground equipment can be limiting, expand your options by giving your kids the time (as your schedule allows) and space to play with objects and structures around, near, and on the way to the playground.
3. Let your kids take risks. I find that when I allow my children to climb high trees or take on a new physical challenge at the park, they do so safely, discovering their own limits. Although I often nervously watch, biting my tongue so as to not yell, "NO!", the confidence and independence that they develop is well worth the bouts of anxiety.
4. Vary your parental role. Do you tend to hover or stay on the sidelines? Most of the time, I aim to give my children autonomy and freedom as they play. I love listening to their conversations with themselves or others and learning about them through their play. Other times, my children ask me to play along, or ask me for help introducing them to new children at the park. All these roles are important for you and your children.
5. Bring snacks, books, blankets, and art supplies with you. After some boisterous play time, I’ve found that my children enjoy extending their visit with more quiet transition time before heading home.
6. Use the documentation and stories that you collect over multiple playground visits to promote play in your community. I was able to post some of my favorite photos in the children's section of our public library, hoping to inspire other families to get out and explore our amazing parks this summer. Other parents have compiled lists of their favorite playgrounds to share with local media outlets or shared stories in letters to the editor.
It's not too late to join this year's Park-A-Day Summer Challenge! Sign up here.
Get more great advice from Liza Sullivan.