Activity Trend: Pay to Play (with Mud), and Why I'm Totally Down!
Updated: Sep 4, 2018
Being the “#getoutside mom that I attempt to pride myself on being, I decided to exit my clean, air conditioned, and bug-free comfort zone this summer and sign my son up for a local Tinkergarten class. A national company, they describe themselves as being on a mission to elevate childhood through outdoor play.
Kiddos from ages 18 - 5 (though the average age in our class was probably 2.5-4 and leaned highly male) are invited to a weekly outdoor classroom where they learn through highly-designed and engaging activities.
As our first day neared, my anxiety heightened.
Reason #1) The idea of the “classroom” made me nervous. My son is not much for sitting in circle time and patiently listening as ten toddlers attempt to share their name and age during yet another rendition of “The Welcome Song.” Our most recent attempts at toddler yoga proved futile; his favorite pose was “escaping through the exit door.” I’m not sure if that one is in the sacred yoga scripture or not?
Now, I’m not saying I always avoid these types of programs. But after all, it is summer. We both deserve a break, amirite?
Reason #2) Pay to play outside at a free public park? Somewhat morally troubling.
Reason #3) Probably a million other things about how this isn’t going to work and he’s going to hate it or I’m going to hate it and we may both leave in tears.
The night before class, I found myself scouring their website trying to find out just how unstructured this supposed outdoor classroom was gonna be. Because I needed a pretty much free for all to drag him there. What can I say, I was not the one that week. It’s been a season ladies!
And, after all, my goal is to provide my son with a captivating and even possibly educational experience that he actually enjoys, not force something on him. In parenting my son, I pretty much go with the flow and let him “do him.” Sometimes, this works great. Other times, not so much. All about finding that #balance.
Alas, we made it! Upon our arrival at the classroom - a big and shaded area of a local park that felt contained and safe yet open at the same time - he definitely “did him.” He was much more interested in the playground sandbox that we conveniently passed to get to our class then actually going to Tinkergarten. It took some gentle luring and promises of “Adventures! Presents! Friends! Fun!” to drag him away, but we eventually made it to the tarp which acted as the classroom rug.
Our first task? Use a small bucket (point: Tinkergarden; he likes getting buckets) to find objects around the classroom. Sticks, rocks, acorn heads...whatever we want to find! As my son continued to wander toward the sandbox and tired of the initial mission, it was onto the next activity. We learned that a group of piggies (aka - a bag of rocks painted pink with funny faces) was hiding somewhere, and we all needed to find them. Quickly, attentions shifted to finding the piggies and rescuing them from their location, lowly hanging in a nearby tree.
Once safe, we played with the piggies. And this meant MUD (another point for Tinkergarten!). Jugs of water were readily available for kids to make mud, stir mud, drench their piggies, and wash them at a cleaning station equipped with sponges and kid-safe soap.
Throughout all of the kiddie commotion, the leader is making note to the guides (a.k.a., parents) about the different schemas at work (and other child psychology words I don’t understand), but it kind of fell on deaf ears in my case. I was too busy watching my son running rampant with the piggy tasks that kept, dare I say it, piggybacking off of eachother. I’d take her word for it that all of this was helping his fundamental development.
New items, ideas, and most importantly, ways to make messes, are constantly added throughout the hour-long session. A fruit hammering art station? Yes! A homemade scale for balancing with friends and found objects? Genius! A tent, a tunnel, and a hole to hide piggies in? Amen!
End result: the kids don’t get bored. And, all of the add-ons as the lesson goes really do tie into each other, creating a very organically flowing session. Like I mentioned previously, there are deeper goals behind what the kids are doing (per the website: develop a host of important capabilities, including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving). Which of course makes me feel all warm inside -- #MomGoals.
My son is very much into independent play. Perhaps partially due to being an only child. Something I cannot deny makes me sad, and long even more for a sibling. So seeing him work with others his age is really special.
If he wants to roam off and climb a little hill, so be it! I’m not the mom to sternly drag him back to the activities station (though, some moms were...and that is fine and all). But I couldn’t help toot my parenting horn when our leader used Reese as an example of things kids should and totally can be doing. Yes! My son wasn’t the class nuisance but in fact a leader in nature exploration. I’ll take it.
What started as a place outside of both of our comfort zones has now become our comfort zone.
Reese gets to interact with the earth and other kiddos. I get to connect with moms, learn new DIY activities for that “I’m bored” #toddlerlife, and watch Reese having a blast. One of my favorite hobbies.
This is not an ad for Tinkergarten. Yes,I did pay a fee for a six week summer session, and I’ll certainly be paying it again come fall. “But, playing with sticks and rocks and dirt is what kids should be doing. It’s instinctual and what we did as kids, right?!" Well yes, all of this is true. But the fact of the matter is, kids today are living in a different (iPad filled) world. So heck, I’m embracing this new kind of classroom. Price tag and all.