My life has always included books and outdoor play. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
I remember my parent’s first home. The house was small; a one bedroom/one bathroom place that was set back off the road on my paternal grandparents’ property. Not really in the woods, per se, but behind a thicket of trees surrounding a creek and slightly out in the country. We had chickens and my grandma and granddad had both chickens and cattle. But I digress. I clearly remember sitting with my mom on my parents’ bed, which had a shelf built into the headboard. My parents each had a book and a few other odds and ends on the shelf and they kept a few books there for my sister and me, too. Clear as a bell I can still hear my mom reading “Stand Back, Said the Elephant, I’m Going to Sneeze”. What a hilarious book. My mom would imitate the huge elephant’s deep, booming voice while I looked at the crosshatch illustrations and listened as the alarmed animals begged and pleaded with the elephant to try to hold back. I need a copy of that book for my boys. My younger sister and I would traipse and toddle around the mostly-dirt backyard with toys and books while mom fed the chickens and dad worked in the shed or in the yard.
One night my sister and I camped out in a tent with my dad. It was terrifying. We most definitely saw a hazy, ghostly pirate ship sailing down the stream. The stream that’s no deeper than a foot during the stormy season. We had the tiny tent filled with toys and books. It had hardly gotten dark before we ran the 10-foot distance from the mouth of the tent to the door. But hey, we tried.
As an older child and in a different country home my sister and I swung from the apple trees in the yard while mom lounged on the deck with a book and dad puttered about in the yard. Sometimes we would go on “journeys,” pulling our wagon full of books and toys across the yard. Other times we would sit around and read or help our parents outside. One of my favorite things to do was make pretend food out of dirt, pebbles, grass, and leaves (perfect taco fixings!). I don’t have many memories of being indoors in the summer at that age. But in the winter I’d wrap myself in the “tiger blanky,” a thick brown fleece blanket, and lay over the top of the heating vent and read a book.
As a high-schooler and in another home, also in the country, I’d gripe about helping outside, though I still did it. I’d sit on the riding mower slowly cutting the grass for an hour or so, daydreaming. Afterward I’d lay by the pool with a book or two. I have more indoor summer memories of that time of my life, but still not many.
Now I have kids of my own, and though my boys love their video games and electronics, they also crave the outdoors and their books. My stepson Nick stays with us every other weekend and each time I see him he updates me on what he’s just finished reading, what he’s currently reading, and what he’s got on hold at the library. Then he grabs his basketball and heads outside to shoot some hoops. Atticus isn’t a pro walker yet, but he stumbles around with a book in his mouth until he finds a place to plop down and turn the thick pages. His current favorites are peek-a-boo books and lift-the-flap board books. Trent loves “helping” him read those. Trent also likes reading to me. At four he isn’t perfect, but his memory is sharp and after listening to me just once he’s able to re-tell a story, though sometimes he prefers to make some minor adjustments.
It’s been a long winter and we’ve been inside too much. We’re looking forward to sitting in the newly fenced-in backyard with our books and toys. It’s hard to find a good middle ground that keeps my kids interested in reading and the outdoors, something I hope they enjoy doing simultaneously, as I always have. To keep them interested in both I have a few tricks.
- I always keep a few books laying around, not only kids books, but also adult books and all kinds of magazines. Because they see me and my husband reading they know it’s normal. Even Atticus, just barely a year old, is growing up with books around him all the time. I don’t force the reading, but the younger two boys do bring a book over to me often and we will read if they want to, or just look at pictures and touch the books.
- We love storytelling! Trent and I like to daydream about the summertime, and we make up stories (often based on fables) about ourselves as the little pigs or as Goldilocks or as just ourselves.
- We reminisce about our past gardens and plan for the coming season’s garden. Having a garden has always been a big part of my life, and it’s something my kid are growing up with also. We dream up what we want to plant and what yummy things we will do with the harvest. Sometimes a little Jack and the Beanstalk gets thrown around in there, too.
- We sing songs and dance. We rhyme (or try to) and make up silly sing-song stories and dances to stay active. It always amazes me how much Trent comprehends and remembers when he starts singing some of our songs later on his own, adding his own bits and pieces to it.
I hope that my kids’ passion for books, stories, pretend play, and outdoor exploration never wanes and that they have fond memories of this time in their lives forever. What do you do to keep the outdoors and reading spirit alive in (and outside of) your homes?
Laura is a full-time working mom with a bachelor of science in Informatics and New Media and a master’s in Library & Information Science and Technology Management. She loves her family, beer, babywearing, breastfeeding, gardening, preserving, reading, and music.