This post is in partnership with Kamik.
“Make an adventure with whatever’s around you.”
At the beginning of this past summer, when there was no school and structured activities were limited, I paid very close attention to my kids as they played outside. And I noticed something. When not given direction or an agenda, their creativity exploded. It wasn’t a surprise; both of my little ones have very active imaginations. But I’d never watched the process so intently of them making something magical out of nothing. It was amazing to watch the elaborate scenarios they would create and execute with little more than an admittedly pretty barren backyard. It was inspiring.
Watching my kids play so freely reminded me a lot of my own childhood, which took place during a time when there was no internet, only a handful of options for activities, and a lot less general parent involvement in terms of how/when/what a child played. I want my kids’ childhood to feel as joyful and limitless as mine did, so I vowed to make sure this type of free play lasted well beyond the freedom of summertime and into the more structured, scheduled fall, winter, and spring months. I also vowed to make sure my husband and I joined in this free play whenever we could.
Since my summertime playtime epiphany, we have made a conscious effort to engage in free play as a family as much as possible. Sometimes this means going to a forest preserve or local park. Sometimes it means exploring our city. Sometimes it means walking around the neighborhood. But the last time we were all together on a weekend, we decided to keep things as simple as possible, and have some good old fashioned free play, right in our own backyard. And it was the absolute best, so I decided to share some of it with you today.
The first step of free play, no matter what, is to step outside. So that’s what we did. The next steps, however many there may be, always involve the same mantra for us, which, according to my daughter Essley, is to “make an adventure with whatever’s around you.” (Probably my favorite quote of all time. Can I print this on a t-shirt and wear it everyday?)
In this case, step two meant the kids gathering pumpkins from our porch and setting them up in a row, then rolling and tossing them across the yard. Essley informed us that our yard was a bowling alley, and we all joined in. Eventually, Emmett declared that the pumpkins became cakes, and an impromptu outside bakery was formed. My husband and I were the bakery’s all-time number one customers, or so we were told.
The outside cake shop morphed into a game of tag that led us to the backyard, where the kids planned to jump in puddles. The only problem was that it hadn’t rained, and there weren’t any puddles. Channeling her free mantra the way only an almost 5 year old knows how, Essley grabbed the hose and said, “King Daddy, please make some puddles for your kingdom.” So on that day, step three for free was to make our very own puddles in which would jump. And we did. All four of us.
From that point, the “adventures we made from whatever was around us” ranged from crossing a mommy bridge to get through the jungle, to me running away from two hungry bears in the woods, to Emmett leading a group of invisible itsy bitsy spiders up the water spout (aka gutter), to Essley leading a mission to sail the high seas with daddy (in a canoe) in search of long lost treasure, to Emmett growing into a friendly giant who was “taller than the trees” (with a little help from daddy’s shoulders).
In the front and back yard, in a just a couple of hours, we did more than we do in a day full of structured activities. And the kids invented all of it. We did nothing but free play right along side them. It was wonderful. Free play is always wonderful.
This is just one example of one afternoon of free play in our family, but it happens all the time. I am becoming more and more mindful of watching it take place with my kids everyday, both at home and at other places we go. Sometimes I’ll see it as Emmett climbs a wall at the playground and tells me it’s a rocket ship about to blast into space. Sometimes I’ll see it as Essley plucks a dandelion puff from the ground and transforms into a fairy, blowing fairy dust into the universe to spread kindness to the world. Sometimes I’ll see it as the kids turning blacktop into an invisible trampoline and jumping “higher than the sky.” Sometimes I’ll see it in a city parking lot full of fresh puddles after a rain, when Essley decided to hold an impromptu puddle jumping contest. It can be everywhere and anywhere, as long as they’re outside and using their imaginations.
I initially thought about writing this post as a list of tips for free play, but the truth is that there are no rules. The first step is to step outside, but the steps that follow are completely up to your kids. That’s what makes free play so wonderful. And it’s one of the many reasons why I was so excited to team up with my friends at Kamik for their Free Your Play campaign. Kamik wants to encourage parents to step outside the scheduled, structured daily routine of activities and plans and get outside (literally) with their kids to play freely and with unbridled, pure imagination. Kamik believes our kids today are missing out on the wonderful, spontaneous type of play we had as kids, and wants us all to rediscover and embrace it. And I love that so much! We also our Kamik boots, as those of you who follow me on Instagram have probably noticed. Everyone in the family owns a pair of their rainboots (which you can see in all of these photos!), and their winter boots. The perfect footwear for any time of outside play or activity, they’re incredibly comfortable, stylish, weather proof, sustainably made, and by far the highest quality boots we’ve ever owned. I can’t recommend them highly enough. And if you use code BUBBY25 at Kamik.com, you’ll get 25% off too
The concept of free play is very important to me, so I’ll be sharing more pieces of our family’s free play adventures over the next couple of months over on my Instagram. I’d love to hear more how your family frees your play as well!