Category Archives: Specifically Summer

Finding Water

By Anna Van Devender

The trees are thirsty.  The kids are restless.  The day is young, and one that will heat up quickly.  I turn the hose on a trickle and then rest easy.  The water promises 30+ minutes in nature for the kids and for me.

The kids are still playing after I come inside and sneak a picture through the screen door. Photo by Anna Van Devender

When I water our backyard’s two young live oak trees, my boys get to play in the mud.  Sprinklers?  Too cold, they say, plus we have fake grass.  Pool?  We had it filled in.  Wading pool?  We call it a bathtub, but that’s another story.   Muddy tree wells with sand, rocks, sticks, and toy cars mixed in?   Their most regular water play.

Water and summer go together in concept: a way to cool off in hot weather.  This becomes messier in the desert.  Our water supply in Tucson is overdrawn.  We receive far less from rainfall than we use, and our groundwater supply is supplemented by the Colorado River.  When we look for ways to cool off, we can also look for ways to mitigate our water use.

Rarely is there mud in our yard without these toy cars plopping into it. Photo by Anna Van Devender

I just learned a new word for what I’ve been teaching in my classes and practicing at home: “stacking”, or serving two or more purposes with one activity.  Katy Bowman presents the concept in her book Movement Matters.  Now I have exactly the word for watering trees and kids at the same time!

On my family’s lovely getaway to Northern Arizona earlier this summer, my husband, Tim, made a similar discovery.  All four of us had been playing in Sedona’s Oak Creek.  “All four” being key. “It’s more engaging.  It’s far more interesting than swimming laps in a swimming pool,” he reflected.  He navigated shallow and deep, slippery and steady with Kid 1 while I dug and splatted luxurious red sand-mud with Kid 2.  We all laughed at wading in and around multicolored cobbles.  We stacked exercise, cooling off, enjoying something together, and time outdoors.  We also found water flowing in the desert, as it does in a few rare, special places.

 

Red Rock Crossing in Sedona is one of my favorite places on Earth. Our family found and loved it together this summer. Photo by Tim Van Devender

Back at home, I’ll take Kid 2 to his swimming lesson at Demont Family Swim School this afternoon because he needs to learn and we don’t live by a creek.  I’ll water my pots on the patio, talking to the brave blooms and nourishing us both.  Even with creative play and with letting some garden beds go during the summer, I use more water than if I didn’t love plants or my kids.  I’ll keep looking for water to enjoy and to also let seep back into the soil.

Outside Breakfast

By Anna Van Devender

Sunrise

We eat our breakfast outside. Every summer morning around 6:30 my two young boys and I schlep a simple meal to the backyard, pick a place to sit, and celebrate the company of birds, opening blooms, and warming-up cicadas. After eating, the boys zoom around on their bikes or invent games that naturally combine toy cars and the fish pond. I water the butterfly garden, marvel at my kids’ energy, and guide that energy as the need arises.

We live in Tucson, Arizona. For a good three months of the year, the heat is uncomfortable by 8:00, exhausting by 9:00, and dangerous without extra precautions by noon. In prior summers, I felt trapped and defeated by the time it took to start the day with a toddler and preschooler while the slim hours of enjoyable weather baked away. Gardening, breathing fresh air, and simply being present for the sun rising over the mountains are core desires of mine. Feeding the kids, getting them dressed and “ready for the day” are equal needs. The challenge became to allow for both time in nature and time for other needs.

Barefoot gardener

Bare feet are OK in the mottled shadows of early morning. Shoes can wait. A muffin can be savored along with conversations about the clouds. Brushing teeth can wait. PJ pants actually help keep off the mosquitoes. Getting dressed can wait. These are the allowances I made starting last summer and have instilled daily in Summer 2016. Time has passed too. My now 3- and 6-year-olds are not only more capable, but also have come to expect breakfast outside.

Deadlines aren’t out the window. We take our selves and our stuff inside and resume preparations for the rest of the day by 8:00 a.m.. My kids’ behavior and my peace of mind depend on certain routines that some parents may feel more free to ease up on. That outside hour or so first thing, though, has become an important part of the daily routine. It is sometimes the only time outside until we emerge again after supper.

The result? My 3-year-old voluntarily practices the words “dove”, “hawk”, and “woodpecker”. My 6-year-old and I briefly speak the same language while checking on his sunflowers. I get my precious fresh air fix. Then, I can better manage myself and my kids inside during the day. My attention is less split while taking care of them or doing my own work. I still take myself outside for the satisfaction of gardening projects later in the morning, but I allow the kids a choice of whether to join me. Because we all got a good dose of “Vitamin N”, a pressure has been lifted from the rest of the day’s activities.

Modified from an essay submitted to Children & Nature Network in June 2016.  Check out www.childrenandnature.org for lots more Vitamin N resources.