A few years ago, when my 5 year old was just an infant, I didn’t know many things. I knew some, but not many. One of the things I was sure of from the very beginning was the fact that my baby loved being outside. Whenever he got restless and cranky after I had tried everything to comfort him, taking him outside for some fresh air always did the trick.
Another thing I was certain of was that my son didn’t like to be around too many people at once, and he became inconsolable if there was too much noise where we were.
To make matters worse, for the first 3 years of his life, we lived in a country where parks were extremely scarce and public green spaces virtually did not exist. The infrastructure did not support biking, or even walking, let alone with a stroller. Sidewalks were difficult to find, and if you did find them, you’d either have trees sticking out right the middle or more typically, cars parked along the whole stretch.
So what do you do with a small child who needs to get out and can’t stand noise and crowds, when the only kid-friendly places we could go to were malls and indoor playgrounds? I’ll never forget how my son fought and cried when he realized we were about to walk into a mall. He always enjoyed spending time in the parking lot watching cars go by that he did the actual mall.
After much research coupled with trial and error, we finally managed to figure out where we could take our son and what we could do with him when he wanted to be outdoors and the weather was good. These are great activities for all children obviously. But are ideal for those who enjoy a little peace and quiet when they go out, and who like to savour all the wonderful things our world has to offer.
So here they are.
This is one of my favorite things to do for several reasons: (1) I get to watch my kids run around with relatively low risk of them getting hurt (unless there’s a lake) without me having to constantly run after them like a crazy person screaming out “CAREFUL!” or “DON’T TOUCH THAT!”. I still do that sometimes, but it’s kept to a minimum. (2) I get to do that and enjoy the outdoors myself. And the cherry on top, (3) getting my kids to have their lunch or a snack while we all have fun (pleasant is one thing mealtime in our house is not).
Before we moved to Singapore, the “Garden City”, we always managed to find an enjoyable green spot in the wilderness for a picnic. Any safe green patch was good enough for our us and our picnic mat.
My son, who is Highly Sensitive, has always loved picnics. Everything about them appealed to him: the green setting, the fresh air, the picnic mat, the fun snacks, and the spending quality time together. To this day, he will never say ‘no’ to a picnic.
2. Feeding the fish
There’s something about throwing bits of bread into the water and watching fish gobble them up that seems to be soothing to people of all ages. Whenever we go to a lake for this, I always see way more grown ups completely mesmerized with the fishies than I do children. I too will occasionally “forget” to hand the bits of bread to my kids so that I can get a turn too.
We are currently lucky enough to be living in a place where fish and turtle lakes are plentiful. But even in countries where they are not, one can still make an occasional trip to visit those hungry fish and make a day of it. I also sometimes find that feeding the birds (pigeons in most cases) has somewhat the same effect on people.
My son will sit and stare down into that lake for very long periods of time, and we can never have enough bread/special fish and turtle food. This is a perfect activity for those days when we need something to help him wind down after a stressful day.
3. The beach or sandpit
Even though this is not one of my favorite things to do because of all the cleaning up I’ll be doing afterwards, both my kids love it. As often as possible (and again because we are lucky to have access to this), I will take my kids to the beach. My HSC enjoys the water, but loathes being wet, or rather having to hang around in wet clothes.
Because I found out the hard way that it makes no sense at all to spend two hours packing for the beach, take my kids for a 3 minute swim, and then deal with an angry, wet child who needs to change his clothes immediately while chasing an excited toddler in the sand, now we will only go to the beach for the sand. If it’s not the beach, then it’s the playground with the sandpit. If I pack the right sand toys for this, the kids will play for hours. I will rarely hear screaming or crying or complaining. For hours! It makes the cleaning up afterwards totally worth it.
4. Bike rides with Mom and Dad
This outdoor activity is a family favorite. The kids love our bike rides so much that they will run to the bikes every time we step out the door. My 5 year old will often point out that we’ve run out of bread which meant it was absolutely necessary for him to go out with daddy and get some more. He will also point out that going to the store by bike is way more practical and environmentally friendly than driving there. Who can argue with that?
And what’s not to love about a bike ride, especially when you’re sitting in the back seat enjoying the breeze while someone else does all the sweating? The wind in your hair, exploring new streets, car spotting (this is a big plus when you’re car-obsessed), the sweet sounds of birds chirping that you miss in the car, the discovery of new playgrounds… The only thing the kids don’t like about this activity is the end. Almost every time, no matter how long our trip was, we will have to deal with tears and pleas to keep going.
Again, we haven’t always had the luxury of being able to bike around town. In some countries, that is virtually impossible for many reasons. In this case, I have also found that putting the kids in anything with wheels (with the exception of a stroller) and pushing them or pulling them around also does the trick. They get to enjoy many of things things they do when they’re on the bike, but at a slower pace. We have one of those little wagons we take with us when we go out. I also use it to haul them to the nearest park and I always make sure the cup holders are filled with snack containers. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Gardening is a proven therapeutic activity for grown ups, and given the chance, kids also seem to enjoy getting their hands dirty and making things grow.
I say “gardening” here, but I don’t really mean “gardening” in the literal sense. You don’t even have to have a garden for this, just an outdoor space where you can do garden-y things. Before we moved to a place with a garden, we had a balcony that we had filled with potted plants, a fun water table, toys and a little ride-on car. Transforming an outdoor space into a fun and comfortable “garden” area gives you the chance to be outside without going out, which is perfect for a child who enjoys being outdoors but doesn’t always want to leave the house.
Spending time in the garden gives you endless possibilities without having to spend a fortune on fancy garden or patio furniture. Kids don’t need all that. Some dirt and seeds will teach them about plants and show them where fruits and vegetables come from. A little inflatable pool or a water table filled with beach toys will keep them busy for hours. A watering can or a spray bottle will make them feel like they’re helping out by keeping the plants healthy. Bubbles will never get old! And sometimes we’ll just do outside what we normally do inside: read some stories, have fun with some play-dough, or take the easel outside and go crazy with some paints and brushes.
What I also enjoy about this outdoor activity is the fact that you don’t have to chase the kids around to make sure they’re okay. If the area is made safe, then you can just let them do what they want to do without having to constantly hover over them. It’s (relatively) relaxing for me, and it gives my kids a break from mom as well.
What about you? What outdoor activities do you enjoy with your Highly Sensitive Child? Please share them with me in the comments section.
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