The backyard I had lovingly transformed from a boring suburban yard into an oasis of native plants, a vegetable garden, and shrubs perfect for hidey holes for the kids sold to another family.
It had been filled with almost a decade of beautiful memories for my family. Watching monarch caterpillars crawl along our milkweed flowers. Making mud pies and taking sprinkler showers afterward to wash up. Cooling off in the shade of the trees that had grown from mere sticks to ones that provided an umbrella of leaves over our lawn. Filling and emptying buckets and buckets of rocks and pebbles and even the annoyance of needing to pick them out of the grass.
It is this tiny yard that I credit my children’s love of the outdoors.
We moved and now had a small yard with prickly, weed ridden grass, one tiny tree, and mounds of fire ants. Our family had grown to four children, and I didn’t have the time, money, or energy to recreate that yard again. I began to worry that my kids would lose their love of the outdoors now that we no longer had a suburban jungle just outside our back door.
I remember my childhood.
We had a regular small, suburban, fenced yard in the desert outside of Los Angeles.
As a single mom, my mom didn’t have the budget to give us extravagant outdoor experiences like summer camp and exotic vacations.
How had she fostered a love in us of the outdoors on shoe string budget and an ordinary yard?
Give Your Children Hours to Play Outside
Hours were spent outside in the yard with our cheap metal swingset and jungle gym. There was no money for sports and extracurriculars, so we had every single day to just play. She didn’t even play with us. Sounds astonishing given that parents today are expected to play with their kids. I was expected to play with my siblings. There wasn’t a roving band of neighborhood kids either. I had my ONE neighborhood friend, and I went over to play in her backyard too. Her yard was more posh than our’s but that didn’t matter as a kid.
Take Care of Pets
We always had pets. Cats, dogs, rabbit, guinea pig, fish, rats, ducks, birds, and a turtle. They didn’t all end with happy stories, but furry family members brought the natural world into our home. There were those childhood pets I had loved with my whole heart and some who were a nuisance, but all contributed to my upbringing and love of God’s creatures. Some pets aren’t exactly budget friendly. Believe it or not, rats are sociable, smart pets and don’t cost a lot to keep. If rats aren’t your speed, cats are a lot less expensive than a dog. If pets are too much for your family, offer to pet sit for neighbors’ pets.
Ride Bikes or Scooters
We weren’t free roaming kids who spent hours alone building forts in the woods. Until I was a teenager, we only traveled a few blocks at a time on our bikes. Even if we could have biked further, there wasn’t anywhere wild to play in our neighborhood. We didn’t have expensive bikes. I had a second hand yellow banana bike for a long time. This old bike embarrassed me, but I loved zipping down the street feeling the wind in my hair. Ask friends if they have bikes they don’t need anymore or check local online garage sales for second hand bikes if a new bike isn’t in the budget.
Go to local Parks
My mom took us to the local William S. Hart Park. They had a small petting zoo. We loved feeding the ducks. We were wary of the goats who ate our clothes, we had to ran away from the mean roosters. We went to city playgrounds where we ran around and played pretend for hours. My mom, and the other moms, didn’t bother lugging around water bottles. After all, that’s why there are water fountains
Visit the Closest Beach
We were fortunate enough to live an hour from the Pacific Ocean, and my mom took us several times each summer to play at the beach. Snacks, towels, simple beach toys were all that we needed. If you live far from the ocean, go to any body of water. Lakes, rivers, and creeks all offer the opportunity to appreciate our Earth’s waters.
Vacation in Your Own State
We didn’t vacation every year. When we did, our vacations were within a day’s driving distance. One vacation we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway up to Muir Woods. The majesty of that forest is forever etched in my mind. Every state has a natural wonder that will captivate your child. Utilize your state’s natural beauties as an inexpensive vacation for your family. You don’t have to travel across the world to wow your children.
Encourage Your School to Give More Recess Time
I went to schools with expansive playgrounds. We had recess every day and ate lunch outside. In the 5th grade, we spent almost every recess making acorn butter and pretending to be American Indians. If your school doesn’t give a lot of recess, make sure to follow Tip #1.
All in all, it was a pretty normal childhood. So many of my happy memories of childhood were of time spent outdoors. My mom managed to instill in her children a love of the outdoors without a big budget.
My heart still aches for our tiny backyard oasis, but I know it’s possible to create a love of the outdoors with not very much. There are simple and inexpensive activities that I can provide for my my children that my mom gave us.
Enjoying natural resources can be FREE for families and will inspire your children to cherish Earth’s natural treasures.
They will grow up to love the outdoors.