Hey Mamas-

The weather is getting nicer and we’re making more park and play-dates.  I wanted to share a few of my favorite tips for a fun outing to the park or playground.

  1. Determine your timeframe- avoid naps and before meals times.  Park and playgrounds are great for two hour trips.  The after breakfast or after nap time can be the best time to get a good block of playtime without a meltdown.
  2. Consider the location- do you want to take a long stroll, let the kids get their running out or play with other kids.  It can be helpful to choose the right park or playground to meet your child’s needs without other distractions.  Sometimes the park with the playground isn’t a good fit because it might be too hard for your child to leave after taking a long walk- choose a nature park instead.
  3. Pack light and smart- I don’t enjoy lugging a bunch of stuff around for a short tip (or even a long trip, but that’s another post).  What are the essentials for this time period- change of clothes, snack and drink.  I can carry those three things with me if needed or put them in the stroller if we are bringing it.  For a baby, I might choose a diaper, wipes and blanket to sit on.  For an older child, often just the water is enough.
  4. Plan for a breathe out and a breathe in activity.  Kids often need 45-60 minutes of active play to become more calm.  This can be running on the trail or in a ball field or playing with others on a playground.  After your child is showing signs that they are calmer, it is a great time to introduce a “breathe in” activity before your park trip is over.  These activities can be more focused game play, learning about nature, floating things in a stream, watching cloud shapes, taking a nature walk or coloring with sidewalk chalk.
  5. Plan the transition- don’t leave the park without them… it can often be hard to get your child to leave when you are ready to go, but there are a few key strategies that may help.  Prepare them ahead of time- this may mean they need to stop playing long enough to acknowledge what you have said about leaving (ages 3+).  For toddlers it is still helpful to let them know that you are leaving soon, but usually that is not enough.  I do not support the “mama is going to leave you” method as that causes anxiety and distress.  I am also not in favor of threats or bribes.  Some strategies that work well with this age range involve transition cues, such as “we will swing one more time” or getting out a favorite car toy or snuggle object to indicate that park time is over.  Firm and kind boundaries are important here, so when the tears come a big cuddle from mommy and “I know you want to stay and play more” while walking away from the park, “what was your favorite thing we did”.
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