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The Neighborhood Park: A Place for Outdoor Family Adventures

Posted Jul 31 2012 2:00pm

Hickory Creek, Illinois  

A few weeks ago, my brother, his wife, and my two young nieces came for a visit from Pennsylvania.  They were officially on a trip to see the grandparents, but since I also live in the general vicinity, it was decided that the five of us would spend some time together over lunch and catch up.  It was nice to see them again, and see how much the two little ones had grown since I last saw them.

Now as small kids go, I imagine my nieces are pretty normal.  They love to run around, explore, make noise, and generally cause mini-heart attacks for all the unsuspecting parents in their immediate vicinity.  They are also relatively well behaved, and had for that weekend been extremely well behaved.  They sat quiet when they were asked to, they were polite when needed, and everyone, I’m sure commented on how well these adorable angels behaved.

In other words, my nieces needed to run around and have a bit of outdoor fun before they left for the long trip back to Pennsylvania.

So we stopped with the girls at a local fast food restaurant, got some gloriously unhealthy food, and went down to a neighborhood park.  After eating a quick lunch with the girls quietly bouncing in their seats, we went exploring, our short and fearless young leaders leading the way.

Before long, we gravitated to the bank of the local large stream, called Hickory Creek.  Using our fingers, sticks, blades of grass and various plants we explored what the environment had to offer, learning what it had to teach us.  We learned about gooey black mud, about dragonflies, about lily pads, about why a blue heron across the river wouldn’t come closer, and the extraordinary balancing ability of my nieces.

It was a great visit, and it reminded me of a simple truth of the outdoors and people in general, especially children.   Humans are curious explorers.  We want to know the world around us, and often when given the chance, we will spend our time discovering new things in the familiar or trailblazing down a wooded path.  The outdoors will beckon us, on some level to learn what it has to offer, and to grow and change into better people.

So what if you want to start exploring the outdoors, but it just seems too big, too overwhelming to handle?  True, the outdoor world is a huge place, full of wonders.  However, there is no reason why you and your family need to take on the world or even plan an elaborate outing.  Take a lesson from my nieces.  They were perfectly happy and enthralled exploring the inner workings of a stream bank or running around chasing floating cottonwood seeds.  Enjoying the outdoors this summer doesn’t have to be anything more complicated than going down to your local park and walking around, or more planned than knowing that you’ll start at a certain place and end up somewhere else by lunchtime.

So grab some sunscreen, a bit of natural bug repellent, a gloriously unhealthy lunch, and your family’s curiosity and spend the afternoon down at your local park this weekend.   Trust me; you’ll have a great time.

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