Today we spent some time at Riverside Park after the kids’ art class. It was our usual crew of 4 girls and then Ben and his friend Andrew. The area they play in has it all – a huge outcropping of granite, trees with branches low enough to climb, a fairly large hill and a sort of grassy, bushy area in which to run and hide. (That’s where they found the bat a couple of weeks ago.) One of the other Mom’s commented that when they lived in suburbia before moving to the city, the kids never played in this kind of nature. It was all manicured lawns with either no trees or trees so small they would never do for climbing. Who knew they’d need to move into Manhattan to get to run and play in the woods?
The thing I love about Riverside Park is that it is not overly tended. The leaves get to fall and stay on the ground instead of instantly being blown into piles and bagged. And there are sticks! Great, large ones that I’m sure someone might think pose safety hazards since they most assuredly fell from the trees on one of our windier days, and lots of small, bendy twigs. Ben and Andrew spend the first few minutes of every park day finding sticks to use in their games. Sometimes they are ninjas and need fighting swords; sometimes the sticks are light sabers; other times they are rifles. Smaller sticks are utilized when wizardry is called for and the weapon of choice is a magic wand. We’ve even spotted them dragging entire limbs into a pile in order to build a fort. Any ‘actual’ toy that may have been brought along is quickly put aside in favor of random pieces of wood found lying on the ground.
Don’t misunderstand me; Ben likes all the toys and gadgets as much as the next kid. We have a lot of that, and since Christmas is coming, we’re about to get some more. It doesn’t really bother me because I feel like we have a good balance. Nintendo DS is great for inside, as is chess or Lego or any number of other games we’ve collected. But then we go to the park to play and all those games become a distant memory for a few hours as the kids disappear into the worlds they create among the trees, on the rocks, in the bushes and of course, with the sticks.