Unstructured Fun to Enjoy Summer

Dear Parents,
The carefree days of summer are humming along at breakneck speed. Having turned the corner into August, a feeling of dread tends to creep to the forefront with the realization that the remaining days of relaxation are numbered.
So turn a blind eye to the ads for back-to-school supplies and enjoy your last lazy days with everything you’ve got. Summer is for making memories, for family bonding and for restorative play.
Last year at this time, I was walking 80 miles along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and this year I found myself walking in a clear, cold mountain stream in the Santa Cruz mountains with my five grandchildren.
A morning of carefree, imaginative, open-ended play with “no rules” turned into a magical playground along Bean Creek, under the shadows of centuries-old redwood trees.
As I made my way cautiously along the rocky, chilly walkway, I was overcome by what I observed.
The children were delighted to have unplugged, exploration time in nature, driven by their own individual curiosity and sense of discovery. It was infectious.
There weren’t many rules in this forest playground: The play was child-led and the games evolved through their own creativity. The children challenged themselves as they climbed along fallen logs over the creek, were persistent in choosing their footing along the rocky creek in bare feet and were driven by a sense of adventure to see what was around the next corner.
Ivy yelled out up the creek that she’d found banana slugs, and we all made our way to see. Lucia collected unusual rocks from the watery treasure trove. Everett discovered an elaborate exposed root system of a redwood tree along the bank. And Cora rolled a small log boat back and forth in the stream. Declan (11 months) stared awestruck at the height of the trees, listened for birds and enjoyed putting tiny toes in the pristine water.
Sticks were used for keeping balance in the creek, pretend fishing, splashing in the water, turning over rocks or helping someone jump to another rock. Small rocks were used for “skipping” and big ones for plunking. The waterfall splashed us as it tumbled to the creek.
Plants were identified, poison oak pointed out and avoided, blackberries picked and eaten.
Individual play turned to teamwork as an attempt was made to build a dam of rocks and sticks to stop the creek as it wound its way gracefully to the next bend.
Bean Creek offers the staples of childhood: adventure, curiosity-driven exploration, discovery, creativity, challenge, persistence, mastery, skill-building and imaginative play, all shared by children and their parents and grandparents.
This is summer at its best — creek walking under the redwoods with grandchildren, making memories.