April 24, 2014

The pool or the beach?

When I think of summer, the first thing I think about is whether or not to go to the pool or the beach. Today was the family’s first day at the beach this year.  I’d much rather a pool, but my husband being the pisces that he is, loves the waves of the beach.  I can’t say that I hate the beach, I love to sit out and work on my tan.  I love to collect seashells with my daughters, and I love to use my creativity to try to make the best damn sandcastle around.  I surprised myself because even though I  spent time tanning and relaxing at first, I spent a good amount of time in the water.  I am not a fan of the many hard shells under my feet, or the nasty salt water that gets in your face and mouth, but I had so much fun being with the kids that I hardly noticed those things.  It’s not like it was any different than other times I’ve spent at the beach. Maybe it was because it was the start of our summer at the beach but whatever the reason,  I just feel like it was such a great day.  With all of that said, I’d still prefer to swim at a pool. I first learned to swim in a neighbor’s pool and I think it’s the calm waters that entice me.  You don’t have waves crashing in and messing up your flow.  At a pool, you can just sit still and bathe without having sand kicked up in your face as someone rushes by to avoid high waves.  You also can eat a meal poolside without the crunch of sand in your “Sandwich”. Also at the pool (depending on whether public or private) You don’t have to witness the unappealing looks of some of the shapes and figures walking by.  Now I know I’m no beauty queen, but I cringe at some of the hairy bodies, and oversized guts hanging out or squished into swimsuits too small for some. Some things are just not meant for the human eyes to see (if you know what I mean, and my kids love to point that out).

I don’t want to sound too negative about the beach. I enjoy being out witnessing nature at it’s best.  The sounds of the beach, the laughter and squeals of the children playing on the boogie-boards are none you can duplicate in a pool setting. While the pool gives you more comfort, the beach give you a great look at the ocean, pond or lake (wherever you live by) and the splendor of it all.

How to turn a driveway into a wildlife sanctuary, farm and backyard

by Catherine Anderson

I came across a little sidebar for the National Wildlife Federation’s Be out there initiative while I was reading a parenting  magazine last week. The logo is of a child playing outside. Above that are the words; There is a reason they call it the great outdoors. Catchy, I thought, as I looked over at my five year old skipping rocks into the ocean, and my two year old naked, pushing a truck through the sand. Join the national movement to raise healthier, happier kids with a life-long  love of nature, it said.

I wanted to go to their website, curious about this national movement going on while I was hanging out on an island fifteen miles off of the coast of Maine with no electricity, and almost no cell phone coverage!  We were guests of fellow teachers, and college friends for a few days, on Monhegan Island.  Fishing, hiking, swimming, ice cream eating, story time by candlelight, no cars (the lobster-men are allowed trucks, so there are five on the island) and the promise of seeing porpoises and seals on the ferry ride over are reasons for our joy here. The love of nature part, was honestly not something I was calling their attention to. They seemed to have that figured out on their own. They only come inside to get food, or sleep while we’re here.

But what about next week, when we were back in the city? Back at home, where our “yard” is the garden. And, the “garden” is the size of a narrow twin bed, the common dirt allotment for most of the houses on our city block. Where last year the bird bath, the centerpiece of the garden was stolen, as were my hanging plants. (This year I wired the hanging plants to the thick hooks better, and put daisies where the bath had been.) The wildlife on my street–is the police sirens, the dealers, and the cursing drunks coming from the 24 hour gas station at the other end of the block.

And even though we have an amazing park complete with wading pool, duck pond, farmer’s market, baseball field, basketball court, and brand new playground a five minute walk from the house, I have always longed for a yard. I have two boy-boys who  need to throw things, launch things, and run around things all the time.  The words from the Be out there website echoed in my head; Today’s kids spend only four to seven minutes outside per day. They log more than seven hours per day in front of electronic media as I decided it was time to show my family, and my neighborhood, that a yard is not necessarily dependent on grass.

What’s in a yard? The transformation:  About one third of my driveway is a cement slab, surrounded by my neighbor’s strip of grass on one side, our house, and gravel on the other two.

  • I began by hauling out junk under the stairs, and placing the trash cans there, which I hid with a colorful shower curtain  cut in half, hemmed and hung with a wire.
  • We went to the nursery and bought many tall flowering plants half price, and soil to re-pot them in pots I bought, or already had. These went around the perimeter.
  • One huge bright green planter I filled with play sand (there is also a non play grade that you don’t want because it has been chemically treated) became a sand bucket or a great place to root the beach umbrella when we’re having lunch in the noon time sun.
  • A rolled up and forgotten worn Oriental rug left by a previous tenant that was in the basement came out next, to soften the play space for cars, trains, and space men adventures.
  • Then came a laundry basket filled with cars, balls, and blocks that we didn’t worry about if they got wet, or worse.
  • A few old chairs, a wooden high chair (makes a great plant stand) and two short wobbly tables came out too. One was perfect for the little sand and water table on sale at Toys R Us, (since summer is so last week in the retail world) and a giant window pane with nine little frames is resting against the stairs for painting on (the rain washes off the designs for next time).
  • Marcel got into the act by placing his little space men, bath toys, and the play tea set strategically in many of the plants.
  • We planted lettuce seedlings half price at the farmer’s market and planted them, along with two tomato plants.
  • We strung a line of Christmas lights from the window for nighttime charm.
  • The butterfly chair the neighbors offered, and a bird feeder hung on a shepard’s hook pole stuck in far corner and we were done.

Tah-dah! The Andersons have a new backyard!

We have spent countless hours playing, eating, and just hanging out there since it’s ground breaking last week. Donuts in the morning, popcorn and popsicles in the afternoon. We’ve stopped screeching as much at the flies, and daddy long legs, and ignored the ants.

We’ve added a lettuce table a colleague donated when he saw this picture on facebook, a few more planters, and a mini basketball hoop since the picture was taken. Yes, it helped that the upstairs neighbors sold their car, giving us another twelve feet to play with! But even without those other things, we’d have been happy.

Since the boys’ room window is right next to it, I can even sneak out at night to call my mom, have a glass of wine, or just look up at the stars. In the morning, I go outside with my coffee, watching the birds, and dreaming up the next step–a potted tree, or maybe a little clay chiminea as I water the plants, and liberate the space men from squeaky frog’s mouth.

The benefits of this new addition to the house, as I like to call it, range from the added exposure to vitamin D, to improvements in all of our moods, according to this synopsis of the July Harvard Health Letter. The kids see that space is something you can create with what you’ve got, and the wild life in the neighborhood is shifting it’s balance a little to include birds, butterflies, and young boys picking their home grown sweet peas from the vine, while launching space men into quicksand. We’re hoping to inspire others to follow suit, and co-create a little more neighborly interaction of a positive variety too.

So, now when the boys ask if they can go outside, like on Monhegan, I can say, “Yes”. They get there through the basement door, which opens right to the space, and are allowed to go in and out, as long as they don’t go passed our car in the driveway. I can see and hear them from the kitchen window or feel the spray of the water gun on my face when I  forget that a five year old doesn’t say; Mom please bring your head to the window I want to show you something… unless he is up to no good!

What are you doing to Be out there! this summer, and how can you inspire others to bring the national average of time kids spend outdoors everyday up a few minutes more in your neck of the woods?

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Summer vacation survival

As parents, I’m sure we can agree education is an essential survival tool for our children and their children’s children. But, did you also think of the benefits to your own survival? Summer vacation has long been the bane of peaceful parent/child and, core sensibilities coexistence, but it doesn’t have to be.

I’ve come up with some clever multi-level learning activities that I’ll be sharing over the next few posts to help combat boredom NOT the children over the lengthy summer break.

Let us begin with road trips:

Since moving to the Southwest from NYC, we spend quite a bit of time in our car and nothing cues loquacity and buffoonery like a lengthy trip in the car. Note: A school age child’s average attention span is between 5-12 minutes based on level of cognitive complexity and interest. To that end, most trips are considered lengthy to your child.

“Are we there yet?”

The siren song of the restless, which upon answering one too many times will lead even the most patient parent into a fissure of frustration. Teach them to answer this question themselves, in just a few moments and with even fewer tools.

First, map out your trip. If you can print a map (on post-consumer recycled paper) or already have one, that’s great; but isn’t absolutely necessary. Next, tell your child how many miles/kilometers you will be traveling and lastly, introduce them to your car’s speedometer and odometer; these tools will serve as reference points along the way.

Ages 4-8:

Use music as an incentive for younger ones. Every 20, 40 miles or so, agree to switch from Smooth Jazz to
Cacophony Ra …er I mean Disney Radio, Raffi (Is Raffi still around?) and the like. Call out the mile markers as you travel, “20, 40, 60…we’re half way there.” This strengthens their skip counting skills, creates a frame of reference for distance and introduces fractions. They will also be too busy waiting their turn to interrupt your Jill Scott jam!

Ages 8-12: This group generally understands fractions, multiplication,  and division well enough to estimate time of arrival with little help by using speed of travel found on the speedometer. “Yael, it is 10:15, if we are traveling 70 miles per hour and the hotel is 140 miles away, how long will it take/what time will we arrive 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 of the way?” Using points in between gives you an opportunity to hone inference skills and provide rewards; small amounts of cash, a healthy snack from a rest stop (good luck), stickers, tattoos; old, hardened, sugar-free gum from the abyss that is your purse (they will eat it, trust me) are all pretty good motivators.

13 and over: You can just yell at them to keep it down! I kid. When the teens are not in a growth hormone induced haze, they will join in on the challenge, particularly if there are younger children with whom they can compete. (Read: conquer and tease mercilessly) Providing teens with a map strengthens sense of direction and cartography. If you’re met with sneers and grimacing, remind said teens that they will be in the driver’s seat in the near future; works like a charm.

Until next time, educate to elevate.

*image: Blue Car necklace by Sushipot for Etsy.com

T. Allen-Mercado

T. Allen-Mercado

T.Allen-Mercado is a mixed media artist, award-winning essayist, student of anthropology, blogger, wife and, mother of two.

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