“Don’t take our playground” – Equity conversation draws full house at Bayview

The City of Madison’s new Race, Equity and Justice Initiative (RESJI) is getting its first test.

According to Tori Pettaway, Racial Equity Coordinator, the RESJI team finished their report on the Brittingham Park playground renovations on December 9 and will be presenting it to the parks department soon.

In an email, Pettaway wrote, “The goal is to continue to work with the parks department and the community for next steps before the end of the year. The next steps is to have the report ready for public review next week.  We want to make sure we have adequate time for the Parks Division to review our recommendations first.”

Pettaway leads a core RESJI team of 40-plus people who support four different action teams – data, communication, community and tools and training. The RESJI initiative was launched in 2013 to eliminate racial and social inequities in municipal government by implementing strategies in three main areas: policies and budgets, operations, and the community.


The playground is a popular picnic spot for the Bayview Community. Freedom Inc. Video screen shot.

The report is based largely on input from Bayview citizens who were upset when they learned that the popular playground – used primarily by children and families of color – located next to the community garden was slated to be removed and replaced with a natural play area. When Freedom Inc. objected, the project was halted and Pettaway organized the meeting at Bayview Community Center on November 18 to hear their concerns.

About 60 people – Black, Hmong, Hispanic and White – packed the Bayview Community Center. The message was clear, “Don’t take our playground.”

“The only reason we’re here (at the meeting) is because the city started this (equity) process. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a playground. They (parks) were going to remove it in November. Because of this process we still have a playground.”                     Kabzuag Vaj, Freedom Inc.

Janet Schmidt, Manager, Parks Planning and Development Manager, City of Madison, explained how we got to this point. She talked about the Master Plan process and the need to replace two playgrounds at Brittingham Park: one by the garden and one by the boat house. “Both are nearing the end of their lives,” she said.

The existing boat house playground consists of one swing set. It is largely used by visitors to the boathouse. The surrounding neighborhood consists largely of single family homes and newly built apartment buildings that cater to young professionals. Under the proposed plan, this site would get a new play structure.

The playground and garden near Bayview housing.

The playground and garden near Bayview housing has been in use for decades. It is largely used by people of color, many who live in nearby apartments and Bayview Townhouses. The proposed plan would remove the play structure and replace it with a set of natural land- forms. The Bayview community considers this a downgrade.

Distance to the new playground from the gardens is more than 100 yards.

The new barrier free playground would sit next to the shelter (in the distance on the left), some 100 yards from the existing structure and garden. A set of landforms designed as a natural play area, would replace the existing structure (note red roof).

The city conducted three public input meetings to create the final plans which includes the large barrier free playground by the main shelter and a smaller playground near the boat house. The playground at the garden would be replaced by a natural play area, now simply called “proposed landforms” on the map (see below). The barrier free playground and the landforms would be the first built-in a city park.*

Brittingham Park proposed plans 2015

The meeting gathered input on the proposed plans for Brittingham Plans. Plans call for a large barrier free playground near the shelter (left) and a smaller playground to the east by the boat house. The Bayview garden area would receive a natural play area consisting of  landforms. City of Madison Parks Department image.


Several people at the meeting interrupted Schmidt to remind her that the pubic meetings were not well publicized or attended.

“There’s enough natural play everywhere,” said one parent. “The children from Bayview will be sad if you take our playground.”

Schmidt explained that the shelter site was selected for the new playground over the garden site because of existing parking and because they felt that a large play structure near the gardens would make it harder to enlarge the community gardens in the future. Parking is critical because families with kids in wheel chairs would need to park, she explained.

When asked why not have three playgrounds, Schmidt said that parks want to limit the playgrounds to two for maintenance reasons.

Kabzuag Vaj said that “no one mentioned expansion of the gardens until it was needed as a reason to justify taking away our playground.”

Mary Berryman Agard, Bayview Foundation board member said that the Brittingham Garden Placemaking project has raised over $75,000 to install sculpture and benches near the garden which includes a decorative fence around the garden.”

“The garden was built with the intention that it would never get any bigger, so hearing garden expansion used as a justification for moving the playground doesn’t make sense.” Mary Berryman Agard, Bayview Foundation Board Member

M. Adams, Freedom Inc., said, “We fought for the gardens and selected that site because of the playground. Now they want to move the playground.”

After the parks presentation, the group split to discuss what the park means to them and why. All groups stated that they love the park and the playground and do not want to see it taken away. A few mentioned that it was racist to put the playgrounds near the white neighborhoods and give the poor neighbors the landforms. It was also noted that there are very few children that live near the boat house, so in terms of sheer numbers, the best place for a playground is nearest to the garden and Bayview.

Kabzuag Vaj, Freedom Inc.

Kabzuag Vaj, Freedom Inc. Freedom Inc. video screen shot.

It should also be noted that no one opposed the barrier free playground, they just don’t want to lose what they have in the process. The new playground will be a regional draw and be good for the park, but the group worried that non-residents with means were having more say about the park than poor residents who live nearby.

“It’s unfair to spend hundreds of thousands to build new playgrounds for potential-city wide use and downgrade or take away from poor people of color who live across the street…it’s also unfair to create divisiveness (and use) divide and conquer tactics by pinning poor people of color, children and elders against “differently able” communities – as if they aren’t part of this community too.                                                                            Kabzuag Vaj, Freedom Inc.

A group of Hmong elders and parents spoke, with the assistance of an interpreter. They take their grandchildren and children to the park while they work in the garden. The close proximity of the park makes that possible. Many are disabled.

“I wake up every day and my kids want to go to the garden. Taking away the playground makes us feel like you don’t care. Please be fair to us.”

Hmong interpreter assists residents at the community meeting.

Hmong interpreter assists elder residents at the community meeting. Photo by Zon Moua, Freedom, Inc.


“We struggle with language. We are poor. If you take this away, what do we have?”

“The new barrier free playground is a good thing, but it is several hundred feet from the garden. This may not seem like much, but it is a long way. The elders do not have good eyesight and they are not going to let small children make the trek.”   Kabzuag Vaj, Freedom, Inc.

Distance to the new playground from the gardens is more than 100 yards.

The new playground would sit next to the shelter, some 100 yards from the existing structure and garden. A set of landforms, or natural play area, would replace the existing structure.

At the end of the meeting, Vaj asked, “Does it make a difference? This should make a difference. It’s loud and clear what we want. We demand an upgrade to the garden playground – not a tear down of it.”

Links: Existing Playground, Proposed Playground

Author’s notes:

  • Elvehjem Elementary School has the city’s first barrier free playground. This playground would be the first barrier free playground located in a City of Madison park.
  • Natural play areas such as the landforms proposed for the park are part of a larger movement to provide alternative play environments in city parks. Plans for the landforms were not available.
  • The barrier free playground is being spear-headed by Jason Glozier, Disability Rights and Services Program Coordinator, Department of Civil Rights, City of Madison.
  • The city has budgeted $790,000 for the project, of which $540,000 comes from park impact fees from nearby housing projects. The remainder comes from general borrowing. Half the money will be used to reorient and reconstruct the parking lot next to the shelter. Source, Kay Rutledge, Assistant Parks Superintendent.


    Impact fees from housing – mostly for young professionals – near the Brittingham Park boat house and beach has helped to pay for the improvements to the park.

View from the proposed site of the new playground with the existing playground and garden in the background.

The proposed new playground is more than 100 yards from the existing playground (red roof) and garden. Elders who use the garden will not be able to supervise small children from this distance.

Project contacts:

Toriana Pettaway, Racial Equity Coordinator
tpettaway@cityofmadison.com, 608-267-4915

Jordan Bingham, Health Equity Coordinator at Public Health Madison & Dane County, (RESJI Team), jbingham@publichealthmdc.com, 608-266-4821

Lara Mainella, Office of City Attorney (RESJI Team)
lmainella@cityofmadison.com, 608-266-4511

Sarah Eskrich, District 13 Alder
district13@cityofmadison.com, 608-669-6979

Janet Schmidt, Manager, Parks Planning and Development Manager
jschmidt@cityofmadison.com, 608-261-9688


Test Case: Will the City of Madison Make Good on Plans at Brittingham Park?


Park plans show the two proposed playgrounds. The garden is in the middle with the adjacent land forms that would replace the existing play structures. Click to enlarge. (City of Madison Parks Department image)

The City of Madison wants to build a large, barrier free playground at Brittingham Park.

This is a good thing for the city and it should be built.

However, this means that a much loved playground – primarily used by people of color – located adjacent to the gardens would be replaced by a set of “land forms” or natural play area. The Bayview community is not convinced that this is in their best interests. The land forms just don’t cut it.

In a video (shown below) Kabzuag Vaj, of Freedom Inc. said that the playground is an important part of the Bayview community and allows elders and their grandchildren to enjoy the outdoors together. The new playgrounds are too far away from the garden for young children to enjoy on their own and would destroy the community that has been developed. In fact, close proximity to the playground was a consideration for locating the gardens in the first place.

The video also says that many of the users of the garden are disabled. So it doesn’t make sense to remove a playground that is already serving the disabled community.

Because of Freedom Inc’s concerns, the plans to build the new playground are on hold while the city conducts an equity analysis to determine if in the course of doing something good, something bad has unintentionally happened. This will be one of the first cases where the tool is being used.

Brittingham Park sits across the street from Bayview Townhouses, a cluster of low-income housing units that are home to a diverse group of people, many of which have roots to Hmong culture. During the summer, the park’s playground and community garden is a hub of activity. Many Hmong elders work in the garden while their grandchildren play in the adjacent playground. So, when the community discovered plans to remove their playground, they were concerned. How could this be?

I spoke with Jason Glozier, the City of Madison’s Disability Rights and Services Specialist within the Department of Civil Rights about the project. He said that about a year ago, the City of Madison wanted to find a home for the city’s first barrier free playground for people in wheel chairs. They choose Brittingham Park because of it’s central location and because the park was in need of a makeover.


This playground primarily serves people of color. (Still image from Freedom Inc. video)

From November 2014 to April 2015, the city conducted several public input sessions on the project. The plan was to remove the popular playground adjacent to the community gardens and replace it with two new playgrounds located near existing park shelters. One is a large playground by the main shelter and the other is a smaller playground located by the boat house and basketball court. A natural play area with grass berms would stand in place of the old playground. Click for a photo of the plans. Community input from Bayview was clear: no one objects to the new playgrounds, they just want to keep what they had – a perfectly fine playground.

So what’s the deal?  According to Assistant Parks Superintendent Kay Rutledge, the efforts at Brittingham are part of bigger picture plan that unfortunately has caused some strife in the community. “That was not the intent of the project, which is why we thought it best to step back and engage the community.”

“With the concerns of Freedom Inc., we decided to involve the newly formed Racial Equity (and Social Justice Team) to determine if communities are being adversely impacted by city decisions.”

The team will use a newly developed  Equity Impact Assessment Tool. According to the city website, the “tool guides users through a series of questions to help identify the benefits, burdens, and unintended impacts” of a plan. Launched in the fall of 2013, the Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative focuses on eliminating racial and social inequities in municipal government.

In addition, Rutledge explained that the City of Madison is evaluating all of it’s park play structures.

“Madison has more play structures per capita than any other city in the country. With 172 playgrounds in over 270 parks, the city is committed to getting kids outside,” she said. Each year, the city invests one million dollars to update aging equipment nearing the end of it’s life. That includes the playground by the garden.

Furthermore, Rutledge said that the garden site was evaluated for the new barrier free play area, but was discounted because it cannot allow parking. The new playground would be a destination and needs parking.


Kabzuag Vaj of Freedom Inc. (still image from Freedom Inc. video)

So where does that leave the Bayview community?

There is a public meeting on November 18 at 6:45 p.m. at the Bayview Community Center, 601 Bayview Triangle, to discuss the playground and the proposals.

As for me, it’s unclear whether the natural land forms proposal will ignite the fire of the Bayview community so that they see this as a win. I for one see nothing wrong with a natural play area as long as it’s interesting and serves the same purpose as the old structure – to provide a place for kids to play near the garden. There are some wonderful natural play areas out there, but based on the plan show here, this isn’t going to be one of them. I will give the city time to create something wonderful. They owe it to the community. If they can spend thousands of dollars on two new playgrounds, they can invest in a third area as well. Whatever it is, the Bayview community needs to be invested in the final solution.

What do you think? Contact the City of Madison Parks Department at (608) 266-4711 or parks@cityofmadison.com and let them know.

Brainstorm Session: How do we make Outdoor Activities more Accessible to all Children in Madison?

Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015
30 W. Mifflin Street, 6th floor (Next to Veterans Museum)
Free and open to the public
Register via Facebook or email getkidsoutside@gmail.com.

Join Diane Schwartz, founder of Get Kids Outside to brainstorm ways to get Madison’s youth of color engaged in the outdoors. What are the barriers? What do we need to succeed? How can we make Madison’s abundant natural resources available to all? What kind of structures do we need to support this? 
Madison is at a turning point. In Our Madison Plan, Justified Anger named Family and Community Wellness as one of five goals. To achieve this goal will take many hands. Get Kids Outside believes that healthy outdoor activities is a big part of the solution. We know that hiking, biking, birdwatching, skiing or just sitting and playing in nature, lowers anxieties, helps kids focus in school, and facilitates lifelong health. Now, how do we get this done?
Please come and share your ideas. Let’s start an outdoor revolution in Madison.

Community Firefly Hike at Indian Lake County Park

https---img.evbuc.com-https%3A%2F%2Fcdn.evbuc.com%2Fimages%2F13987661%2F146095196473%2F1%2Foriginal8183 Hwy 19, Cross Plains
July 11, 2015
7:30-10 p.m. 

Let the kids stay up late tonight.

Join Get Kids Outside on an easy hike and then cook some marshmallows and make a firefly craft while we wait for the show. Why do they blink? What makes them glow? We may even catch a few. Bring water, bug dope, a flashlight and a clear container for catching bugs if you like. Hike starts at 7:30 p.m. from the parking lot. Cost is $5 per person, $15 for family of four. Tickets are available at https://fireflyhike.eventbrite.com. Contact Diane Schwartz at 608-358-8314, getkidsoutside@gmail.com. Click here for map. 

Get Kids Outside believes that nature is the greatest healer and teacher. We create community through public hikes and events that heal our hearts, calm our minds, and remind us that we are more alike than different. We provide outdoor opportunities that increase health and wellness and promote learning among children and families of color. All proceeds will provide more outdoor opportunities for kids. If you are inspired by this work, please donate

The Night Primeval at Cherokee Marsh: Christ the Solid Rock and Madison Audubon Society


When the marsh wakes up, it does so with a riot of prehistoric sounds. Cranes bugle. Chorus frogs sing, blackbirds scold, and the woodcock peents, just like they have done for thousands of years. Even if you never see anything, the sounds tell us that life is everywhere. On April 17, members of Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church joined the Madison Audubon Society on their annual flight of the woodcock hike at Cherokee Marsh.


The American Woodcock.

The woodcock is a funny little bird that has an elaborate mating dance. First, he walks around on the ground and makes a buzzy, peenting sound. Then, he darts into the air about 200 feet. On the way back down, he twists and twirls all the while whistling and fluttering his wings. It’s quite the visual and auditory spectacle and well worth a trip to the marsh just for the possibility of seeing this bird. I had promoted this trip to the church as a woodcock hike, so I was hoping that he would perform. I had my fingers crossed. Like clockwork, the male woodcock started peenting at 8:15 p.m. He was about 75 yards away so we couldn’t see him on the ground. Last year, he stood right on the trail about 25 yards away so we all got a good look at him through the spotting scope. Levi Wood, the Audubon guide, suspected that a recent prescribed burn opened up a lot more peenting territory making the manicured trail less attractive. It was too dark to see him flying, but we heard him twittering on the way down. When a bat flew by, we thought for a moment it was the woodcock, but no luck. Despite not seeing the little bird with the big peent, it was still a magical night. Just being present to this annual ritual is a gift, especially when that gift is shared with others. What did the kids think? They weren’t too impressed with the woodcock, mainly because they couldn’t see him. They were much more impressed with an American toad that hopped across the path. A boy picked him up so everyone got a good look. We also talked a lot about snakes and saw a really tiny brown snake slither through the grass. One girl was pretty freaked out about the snakes, but I assured her that snakes will not harm her. If I did this hike again with kids, I might play the video for them in advance so that they knew what to listen for. It takes time to hone listening skills and patience. Bird watching is great for that. Kids need to learn that real nature doesn’t always meet our expectations. That may be disappointing at first, but it makes the moment of discovery that much sweeter. Plus now, we have a reason to go back again next year. The woodcock dances through the first part of May. Diane Schwartz lead outings at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin. To volunteer, contact Diane at getkidsoutside@gmail.com. 

How to Make Hot Chocolate Outside!

Winter and hot chocolate go together.
This year, enjoy hot chocolate while you’re playing outside.
We cook outside during the summer so why not winter?
There is nothing better and your kids will remember it forever.

It’s easy and fun.


You will need: images
1. Portable Coleman Stove or similar with fuel
2. Pan for water
3. Cups
4. Lighter or matches
5. Cocoa mix
6. Water
7. Spoons
8. Towels/rags to clean up spills (optional)

You can buy small gas stoves at REI, Dicks, Target or any outdoor supply store for about $30. Portable stoves are easy to use and you’ll have hot water within minutes. Propane stoves like the one shown are great because you don’t have the mess of fuel.

DSC00093Put all your supplies into a plastic bin to transport to your event. If there isn’t a picnic table handy, search for a flat rock or create a place in the snow for your stove. The kids can make a spot for you. When you’re ready, fire up the stove and serve. I always recommend that you let the kids work up a sweat first before enjoying the drink. They’ll appreciate it more and they’ll be warm enough to stand around for a few minutes.

If you’re worried about your hands getting cold, just pop a hand warmer in your pocket. You can buy 6 pair for about $10 or individual packs for $1. Why suffer with cold hands when there’s an easy solution?

By creating wonderful outdoor experiences, kids are more likely to get off the couch and into the outdoors. Watch this video of two young people enjoying their first outdoor hot cocoa. You can tell that they’re having a blast and you can bet that more people will come on the next trip.

You can find Diane planning for her next trip at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church on Madison’s east side. 

10 Wonder-filled Summer Activities for Kids

firefliesby Diane Schwartz, Get Kids Outside

Summertime flies by so fast. Before you know it, back-to-school ads will start.

Enjoy the summer by giving your kids wonder-filled activities that will delight and engage them.

1. Catch a firefly or two or three in a jar: No insect says summer like the firefly. These gentle insects light up the night and the imaginations of kids. Male and female fireflies blink
on and off as a way of attracting each other for mating. Different species have different blinking patterns. To see this, capture some fireflies in a jar and count the gap between flashes and look for patterns. Gently release them and try with another set of fireflies. If they have different flash patterns, then it’s a different species.


Cicada exoskeleton and fully morphed cicada.

2. Catch a cicada larvae and watch it morph overnight into a gorgeous flying machine. Cicadas usually start appearing in late July and early August. Their high-pitched singing ushers in the dog days of summer. Look for cicada larvae at the base of trees in the early evening. Gently place the larvae in a well-ventilated container with a few sticks or bark. In the morning, you will have a fully morphed cicada. Notice the exoskeleton left by the molting insect. Pretty cool. Observe this beautiful insect and then let it go. Later, listen for and try to find one sitting in a tree. They are very loud so you may have to hold your ears. They are the only insect capable of making such loud noises.

3. Make homemade ice cream in a bag. There is nothing better than eating something that you make from scratch. All it takes is ice, sugar, heavy cream, vanilla, rock salt and your favorite fruit or candy. The best part is you don’t have to crank and the kids can make a mess outside and toss the baggies. I like the recipe at www.spoonful.com. For the scientific approach go to www.scientificamerican.com. I love it when kids learn while they’re having fun.

4. Make a backyard water park with sprinklers, plastic tarps and buckets. Set up a sprinkler or two to make a water park in your backyard. A plastic tarp can make a great slip and slide and water balloons are always a hit. Get the entire neighborhood together to make this simple pleasure a real extravaganza.

5. Play outside at night. Too many kids do not get to experience the joy of playing outside at night. How else are you going to catch those fireflies? Be sure to let your kids experience the joy of summer at night. Have a campfire or cookout, take an evening stroll, catch fireflies, or play hide-and-seek. The summer lasts longer when you play outside at night.

6. Have a campfire. Whether in your backyard or at a campground, having a campfire is essential. Campfires are relaxing and cozy. Your kids will remember the stories that are shared around a campfire for a lifetime and they’ll really remember the food. Everything tasted better when it’s cooked on a fire outside.

images-47. Eat a s’more: A s’more is the quintessential campfire treat. Just cook a marshmallow or two over a fire and sandwich them between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate for a delicious campfire snack. Pudgy Pies are another favorite. To make one you need giant pie irons. We called them Tonka Toasters growing up and you can buy them at most outdoor stores. A Pudgy Pie is essentially a grilled cheese sandwich, only it’s cooked between the pie irons. Fillings vary. Pie filling was our favorite, just don’t put too much in the middle or the bread will break. You may burn one or two before getting it right, but that’s part of the fun.

8. Go swimming in an old-fashioned swimming hole where you can use inner tubes and floaties. Bring along the noodles, inner tubes and floaties for old-fashioned fun at the beach. Devil’s Lake is a great place to swim because the water is clean and you can enjoy inner tubes. You can also chase minnows and find interesting rocks on the beach. While there is no life-guard on duty at many of these parks, the water is shallow enough so that you don’t have to worry too much. Plus, you can always swim with your kids. They will love you for it.

images9. Go to a Fair:  Every county in Wisconsin, and most states, holds a fair between July and September every year. The year ends with a huge state fair. You can see animals, go on rides, play games or just walk around. I go just to see that donut machine that automatically drops the dough into a river of hot oil and flips them when they reach golden-brown perfection. It’s an engineering marvel and makes my day. True, this event is not free and food alone can rack up the costs. However, if you save up, you can manage a visit to the fair once a year. See http://www.wisconline.com for a list of all the Fairs in Wisconsin.

10. Look for shooting stars: City folks will have to find a spot outside the city lights for this one, or just find a spot shielded from big lights. Lay down a blanket and stare up into the night sky. Imagine the galaxies and planets and the vastness of the universe. Tell stories and look for constellations like the big dipper. If you don’t know the constellations, then invent your own. But most of all just marvel at the beauty of the night sky and before you know it you’ll be saying, “Look, there’s a shooting star. Did you see it?”

Don’t forget to make a wish and relish your time with your kids this summer.

What summer activities are on your top 10 list?  

Diane Schwartz is the founder of Get Kids Outside. She is passionate about getting kids outdoors and has taught more than 300 kids and their families the joys of biking, hiking and skiing. She is especially interested in increasing racial diversity in our parks and trails. In addition, she founded the Madison Area Women’s Outdoor Group in 2012. The group has over 300 members and has completed 128 outings. 

Firefly Hike at Indian Lake County Park

firefliesJoin Get Kids Outside on Friday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. for a magical Fireflyhike at Indian Lake County Park, 8183 Hwy 19, Cross Plains, WI.
We’ll take an easy one-mile hike around the lake and then, as the sun sets, we’ll start to see hundreds of fireflies. Why do they blink? What makes them glow? We may even catch a few. If there’s interest, we’ll build a fire and cook some marshmallows. Firefly Information
Time: 7:30 pm – 9:30 p.m. Meet in the parking lot at Indian Lake at 7:30 p.m. If you arrive late, go the ‘warming shelter’ by the sledding hill.
Cost: $10/family suggested donation or donate what you can. We will pass the hat to cover leader expenses.
Location: Indian Lake County Park, 8183 Hwy 19, Cross Plains WI 53528. Take Hwy 12 west to Hwy 19 west toward Mazomanie. The entrance to the park is off of 19 about 3 miles from hwy 12.
Bring water, bug dope, a flashlight and a clear container for catching bugs-check the recycling bin for glass jars. I will have bug dope for those who don’t have it and a few containers.
Dogs: Well-behaved dogs okay on a leash are okay.
Transportation: On your own. Meet at the park.
Waiver: Adults/Parents will be asked to sign a waiver when we get to the park. All children must be accompanied by a parent/adult.
RSVP so that I know that you’re coming 24 hours in advance. Cell phone coverage is spotty at Indian Lake so I will not be able to get messages at the park.  
Cancellation Policy: In case of bad weather, I will send out an email to those who said yes to the hike by 6 pm. I will also post on my Facebook page. 

Hope to see you there.


“Go Play Outside” – Easy Tips for busy parents to get their kids outside

go-outside-cartoon“Go play outside.”

It’s so simple you would think that all parents would do it.

But they don’t.

As parents, you have the most influence on your child.

Here are few tips to encourage outdoor play that do not take much time, energy or money.

1. Tell you Your Kids to “Go Play Outside”
Yes, it’s that simple. Today, you may have to turn off the computer or television and make it a mandate. If you’re afraid to let your kids play outside because of bullies or other dangers, then you will need to find ways to help you child get outside. Ask yourself if the fear is real or perceived. Many cities are safer today than ever before, but it doesn’t feel that way because of exaggerated media coverage of crime. I don’t mean to undermine truly dangerous situations, but from what I’ve seen, many parents lock their kids inside for no reason. And yes, you can teach your child how to be safe. Go to Free Range Kids for tips on how other parents faced their fear and let their children go.

2. Show enthusiasm: If you’re driving down the road, encourage your kids to look for hawks and other birds on the electric wires and sign posts. If you spot a large bird or animal, pull over and check it out (if you have time). Show them that you’re excited about the animal and open up a conversation. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what it is. You can always look it up later. If you’ve got a camera handy, take a snap shot and post it on Facebook or take it to school. You’re sure to get others to help you with identification.

3. Be curious: If you show curiosity about the natural world, so will your kids. Ask questions like, “What under that log? Why do you think they live there? How does a bird fly? Can you find a worm? A beetle? Where do animals go in the winter?  Pose questions and encourage your children to search for the answers. Focus on the search and not on getting the correct answer. Make it a game.

4. Encourage imagination: One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to play with ants. I imagined myself as a tiny person running among the ants. I imagined my world getting turned upside down in an instant by the rain or the wind. I marveled at how quickly the ants rebuilt their homes after destruction. Lead by example by showing imagination for the natural world. Imagine that you’re a bird, raccoon or squirrel. What would that be like? Talk with your kids about this. They will love it.

5. Keep a magnifying lens handy: Even the most ordinary of things looks really neat when enlarged. Magnify a seed, a blade of grass, or show your kids how to light a fire from the sun (if appropriate). There are countless things you can do with a magnifying lens. Also keep a few small boxes on hand for placing specimens and objects found outside.

6. Use binoculars:  Want to get a better view of a bird or that squirrel that visits the backyard or playground?  You can get an inexpensive pair of binoculars for your kids that lets them see things closer. This will entice them to learn more.

7. Plant a garden:  Dig up a small patch of ground and let your child plant a few seed. If you rent, ask the landlord of you can do this. It doesn’t need to be a large patch. Just enough to grow a few beans or flowers. Your child can water, weed and enjoy the garden all summer.

8. Use child size tools:  In snow country, get your child a pint-sized shovel so that they can help with snow removal. Kids love to help and this is a great way to spend time with your child. You can also get pint-sized shovels and hand tools or just use old spoons to dig in the ground.

These are just few ideas for getting your kids outside that don’t need a lot of your time. Encourage them to explore on their own and they’ll become independent kids who are not afraid of the world.

What do you do to encourage your kids to get outside? 


Birding Tips for Families
Operation Deer Watch
Bald Eagle Watching in Wisconsin
Eagle Watching in Prairie du Chien, WI
The Children and Nature Network
Free Range Kids

You can find Diane

5 Tips for Making Going Outside a Habit

Guest Post by Rachel Thomas

ImageSince my children were very small we have made it a habit to spend as much time outside as possible, but it’s not always easy.

Our schedules are hectic and technology is such that most of us hardly even think about going outside. It seems our attention is either on our computers, our phones, or the television when we are home. Our children’s health and our health as a country is deteriorating and we really need to start making it a habit to spend more time out-of-doors as a family. Here are few ideas that for getting your kids outside that have worked for me.

1. Play Outside Every Day When my kids were small, we made a point of playing in the yard every day. We would swing, play catch, or they would ride around the driveway on their tricycles or get some sidewalk chalk and do some art work. I even taught them the art of making mud pies which was one of my favorite pastimes when I was small. Momma would set me on a towel and we would dig up some dirt, mix it with water, and make pretend pies in mom’s old pie tins. Sometimes we had an old box that we used as an oven and baked our pies for supper. Momma was always thinking of ways to get us involved in outdoor activities and since I loved to help her in the kitchen she knew I would enjoy this activity.

2. Plant a garden
Every year we would plant a garden and momma would let us pick out one vegetable we wanted to grow. It was so much fun planting and watering our vegetable and even more fun when it grew and started producing. It is a wondrous thing for a young child to watch plants as they grow. Even if you have never gardened, it is still something you and your kids can have fun learning together. I will never forget my first vegetable, which was corn; I planted it and watched it grow so tall and strong. There is nothing like eating something that you grew yourself. My children wanted to grow their own trees so that is what we started with. We planted a peach, pear and a kumquat tree and the children were so thrilled when their trees started to fruit. This takes a bit longer than a vegetable garden but it is very rewarding when the trees fruit and you actually get to taste it.

3. Ride a bike or take a walk 
Many days when my kids get home from school and have a quick snack we take a walk or ride our bikes. After school is a great time to get into the habit of going outdoors before everyone gets settled in front of video games, television, or computers. We either walk or ride to the local park or to the bayou to look for tadpoles. My children love to hike and look for interesting leaves, rocks, plants, moss, and trees. My mom bought my son a small blunt axe so he could chop up the dead logs we found. He really thought he was all grown up using that axe. We’d bring home our finds and use them for craft projects later. I also found that doing craft projects outside makes it easier when it is time to clean up as well.

4. Play with your kids
Doing things as a family is the easiest way to get your children active and outdoors, when the kids see mom and dad getting out and having fun it makes it fun for them as well. If it becomes a lifestyle for the entire family then it usually becomes a lifestyle that sticks. We have a badminton net set up in the yard, and even though my daughter sometimes doesn’t want to play, she always has a great time after she gets going. I have found that even less active children can get excited about being active if the adult with them makes it fun. Just being out-of-doors in the sunshine is a step in the right direction.

5. Go Camping 
Going camping was a new adventure for me when my kids were young, I was a little hesitant, but I knew that my children would love it. We started out camping in the back yard. After that my kids wanted to go to a real camping park. There are so many state parks around the country so it is easy to find one not too far away. Most state parks have lakes for swimming and fishing and trails for hiking. Plus, they are safe for families. I remember the first park we went to in Texas. We were setting up camp and my son wanted to go see the lake so I let my daughter take him. Within a few minutes, they were back and my daughter had a panicked look on her face. She told me that there were alligators on the banks of the lake! We talked to the rangers and they assured us that if we did not mess with the alligators they would not mess with us. I was just glad we did not pick one of the campsites that were on the bank of the lake!

It was such an adventure for the kids to sleep in a tent. We saw so much wildlife that we would not have seen at home. We learned quickly that you cannot leave food outside or inside the tent. One night a bag of cookies got inside the tent and was up underneath a sleeping bag near the edge of the tent – but no one knew how, of course. All night long something was scratching at the tent, even after I ran outside and tried to scare it off. In the morning we had a tiny hole in the tent and found the cookies. The next night we made sure there was no food in the tent and we had a better night sleep!

The whole family benefits from getting into the habit of getting active outside. I have found that it really clears the mind and helps the attitude when we all get off of the technology and do something active.

Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments at rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.