Children need to play, but not necessarily organized, store bought games. Children need to explore, pretend and feel. They need the freedom of making their own rules instead of following the instructions on the box. They need to experience the wonder of discovery.
Have you ever seen a little boy who could not walk past a stick without picking it up? I saw a couple at the park the other day. Those sticks could be swords one day, guns another and yet another day they will be the walking stick they take with them while they explore the “mountains” that they imagine in the bushes.
Resist the urge to get that fancy expensive swing set that is shaped like a pirate ship, or whatever your child’s interests are this week. Instead, get a basic swinging and climbing set that will allow their imaginations take over. Then, allow them to climb up the slide. They are undoubtedly imagining that they are climbing a mountain, scaling the walls of a castle, escaping from sharks, or any other of a number of creative play scenarios.
Provide a place to dig and build. They are going to do it either way; you may as well let them know where you want them to do it. Otherwise, they’ll dig a hole in the middle of the lawn.
What you choose to provide can be as simple as a patch of dirt in the corner of the yard or as complicated as a wooden sandbox frame that raises and lowers the lid by a hand cranked pulley system. (I’ve seen that bad boy, it is a beauty.) Others, however, just have the dirt patch, though and it works fine. If you have issues with neighborhood cats, you might want to spend a little money here. The plastic animal shaped sandboxes with a lid will do the trick. Don’t be too disappointed though if they dig in the lawn anyway. Just try to confine them to that back corner.
Make sure you have some nature to explore. Bushes along the fence line or close to the house will do. There will be some insects in there ready to be discovered. The bushes will also create great hiding places that call out to be explored. A tree for climbing would be enthusiastically appreciated, but those are hard to install over a weekend.
With an environment like that to explore, a child can thrive and grow without having put a strain on the family budget. If you’d like to put in some activities for the family to do together, you might try one of those portable outdoor basketball hoops, and a bucket of balls and Frisbees. Just imagining a family outside on a late summer evening shooting a few hoops together or throwing a ball around makes you feel peaceful inside. Just make sure the little one hasn’t found a stick.