I love Mummy Days – days when Monkey is at home with me and we play together (now with Chimp too). However, until March 2012, I was quite frustrated in the choices I had for activities on our Mummy Days. There are playgroups a-plenty in Newcastle and numerous classes for pre-schoolers but almost all have one thing in common – they are indoors.
My work area is environmental education, so when I set up my own business providing environmental workshops for schools, I also set up nature classes for pre-schoolers and their parent/carer. I loved running these, especially seeing youngsters having fun exploring, playing and especially discovering things together. This was something Monkey didn’t get when out on walks with us & Jess (the dog).
Often we would initiate games or she would be off in a world of her own (and sticks or stones), exploring textures, shapes or whatever took her fancy. There was a time when she could sit and play with stones for at least half-an-hour if we could last that long. But there was no interaction with other children, no sharing of ideas, no leading each other (into or out of mischief), no challenges, no copying to push themselves.
I wanted her to have these experiences and for me to experience them with her.
The Nature Kids classes were successful through the summer and into early autumn, but as winter drew in numbers dropped off. It was around then that I found I was pregnant with Chimp and we lost Jess. She was sadly knocked down on the road in the dark, probably chasing something as was her lurcher nature.
Our walks did drop off a bit, especially as all our local walks held such strong memories of Jess – it felt odd (and somehow wrong) to be walking there without her.
Whilst browsing on the internet I found a great idea in Canada – Outdoor Playgroups and everything seemed to click. One woman felt how I did – she wanted her children to play outdoors with other kids, so she started an outdoor playgroup and then a movement of outdoor playgroups across Canada and into the US.
So I chatted with a few friends and people who had come along to Nature Kids to see what they thought, decided on a day, time and start date and have never looked back.
Unlike the Canadian Group, I thought to explore different places each week so that people from different parts of Tyne & Wear, Northumberland and Durham could join in too. It would also allow us to discover new areas to play and I thought would broaden the appeal.
I can safely say that Monkey and I love Outdoor Playgroup, no matter what the weather and only missed a few weeks after Chimp was born.
We get up to all sorts – trees get climbed; puddles get jumped in, run through and have stoned thrown in or leaves/pots floated across; mud gets played with; sticks evolve into a range of things from fishing rods and swords to Pooh Sticks; fallen logs are walked along with (or without) help; bushes provide hiding places and beaches are played on for hours. We run, we roll, we jump, we clamber, we sit, we chat, we laugh, we sing, we look at beasties, we create mouse or snake homes, most of all we have fun.
Numbers have never been high, but that means that the children play well together and the parents get to chat. I know I value this time outside with Monkey, her OP friends and their mums. If anything I value it even more since Chimp has arrived. Getting out with the pair of them in fresh air, in a natural (usually) green space helps to clear my head, make me forget my sleepless nights and bring a smile to my face. I know that Monkey will have fun and be happily tired by the end of the afternoon. Chimp tends to sleep through, but he always seems pretty chilled after an afternoon out and about.