Perfect springtime activities for children in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.
Last weekend my family took a trip to Washington DC to see all the monuments and go the Smithsonian Museum of Art and the Native American Museum. It was great! My husband and I totally enjoyed it and my 10-year-old daughter only became antsy when I marveled at the Dutch Masters for too long and then got sucked into an opera concert rehearsal we happened to stumble upon 3 minutes later.
(a little F.D.R. wisdom from our trip - pertinent to an article about kids outdoors!)
Her waning enthusiasm reminded me of the last time I had visited DC. I was 12 years old.
- I remember being miserable.
- I remember being HOT.
- I remember being incensed at the number of stone staircases I was expected to climb.
Do I remember anything about the actual monuments and their messages, the art, or the city itself? Nope. Nada. (Sorry Mom and Dad)
Here’s what I DO remember vividly from that same year of my life:
- I remember an EPIC game of kick-the-can played in the pitch-dark on a dairy farm, the home of a family friend.
- I remember an EPIC war waged through the woods, from atop our treehouse, and from the upper level of my dad’s barn where the primary weapons were acorns collected over several weeks and stashed in the best spots.
- I remember sinking hip-deep into a very swampy swamp in pursuit of cattails, and then walking the mile and a half back home covered in mud. My favorite blue painter’s pants were never the same!
- I remember searching for my then 9-year-old little brother one Sunday morning to find that he had single handedly constructed fort #4 in the woods that surrounded our house, and that he had a full days-worth of food stashed in there! We stayed until it got dark. It was probably the only full day that year when we managed to have uninterrupted goodwill towards one another.
Here’s my point. It’s the same point a million parenting blogs and magazines make, but I’m going to make it anyway. Grownups get in the way of kids' connection with nature. We try to enrich our children’s lives with all sorts of “experiences”. It’s a compulsion, and sometimes it's motivated by selfishness. While I totally wanted to go to the FDR monument and to the Smithsonian, the reality is my daughter would have been equally happy with a weekend spent in the backyard. The natural world holds experiences that are valuable, formative and memorable, and kids naturally gravitate towards those experiences. Grownups! What is wrong with us? I don’t know. But now that I’ve had my well deserved fun in DC, I’m getting out of the way for the remainder of spring.
Springtime offers up some great “stuff” to the kids of the Catskills and Hudson Valley. Here’s what I’m going to step back and let my daughter enjoy this Spring.
1. Good Times With Mud – Spring runoff makes the best mud. I once built a mud city worthy of J.R.R Tolkein, complete with a substantial river that ran directly into my parents walkout basement. Give your kids permission to use some “tools” from the kitchen, garage and recycling (you can wash them), and free reign to wreck their clothes (you can wash them too.) Maybe they’ll make mud pies. Maybe a mud hut. Maybe they’ll just make a mess. It’s all good.
2. Ice Smashing – If you aren’t concerned about slipping and breaking a hip it’s difficult to resist that thin crust of ice that appears atop puddles and in divots in the early spring. It’s just so satisfying to feel the smash beneath your boot, to hear the sounds that happen, to see what size and shape shards you create. Kids LOVE this activity and will do it for an incomprehensible length of time. You might find yourself doing it for longer than you thought possible. It’s a meditation – with smashing.
3. Stream Prodding – This is a variation on the theme of Ice Smashing & Good Times With Mud. Find a stream (not a rager obviously), preferably one that has some ice along the edges, and let kids poke and prod with sticks. They’ll spend hours smashing the icy edges and plunging their sticks into the muddy bottom. Very cold mud moves differently in the water than the mud of summer.
4. Tadpole Hunting – tadpoles can be found in vernal pools (woodland pools created when depressions in the forest floor and spring runoff combine), at the edges of lakes and ponds, and in places where stream water collects. Whether your kids find the whole amphibian lifecycle fascinating or gross they won’t be able to look away from a good clump of tadpoles. I bet you're having a hard time looking away from the photo arent you? If you have a true nature enthusiast they might enjoy this guide to NY’s 14 species of frog and toad to aid their search. Pulling apart the clumps of eggs can kill the tadpoles and while your kids might be tempted to try to hatch them in a jar, they rarely make it. It’s best to leave them where they are and visit them frequently to check their development.
5. Pussywillow Hunting – On March 15, 1970 the NY Times published this lovely little article on pussywillows. Were times simpler then? Maybe… Judging from this, newspaper articles were definitely more poetic! This is lovely. And so are pussywillows. The fluffy tufts of a pussywillow in bloom are just so wonderfully incongruous to the branches they grow on. Children find them fascinating. There’s something comforting in knowing that nature creates such softness. If the buds are not open, kids can take them home and force them – here’s an article on how to force many varieties of spring branches.
None of these spring activities are earth-shattering new ways for children to spend their time. They're just good spring fun outdoors in the Catskills and Hudson Valley. Here's a bonus; for the good of their “devices” children will likely be inclined to leave them at home. Dropping an iPad in a stream or amidst a clump of tadpoles isn’t going to do it any good. Children will probably put down the electronics when they pick up one of these activities.
If you’re interested in finding a piece of property that will provide a natural habitat for the children in your life, reach out to one of our Upstate NY Real Estate Agents.
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