Ah, 2020. While the year will end none too soon, it’s doubtful that the coronavirus pandemic will disappear by January 1, 2021.
I try to remain positive by looking at the bright side of current events, and I often reflect on the lessons learned from COVID. One uplifting thing this crisis wrought was to make me and my family embrace the public park. We’re eternally grateful for this resource, and here’s why you should be, too.
1. It Represents Freedom
When the pandemic first started, we all seemed happy enough to hunker down at home. It didn’t take long before living in a storm-shelter situation began to grate on everyone’s nerves.
I did my research, and according to one Japanese study, you are 20 times more likely to catch the virus indoors than outside. Letting my littles accompany me to the grocery store suddenly seemed riskier than going to the park.
Today, we bundle up and head to the playground frequently. While we had many discussions about maintaining social distance, now my eldest plays safely without many reminders.
2. It Taught Us New Games
I love teaching my children to think for themselves. One way to instill this value is to have them make up new games every time we visit the public park.
One of my favorite inventions of my oldest is playground bowling. We gather empty, discarded cans to use as the pins and whatever ball we have handy. When we finish, we drop the “pins” at the recycling center — we combine environmental stewardship with play.
3. It Gets Us Fresh Air
Staying in quarantine can lead to depression. Mental health experts anticipate a second wave of disorders to strike as pandemic stress increases cases of anxiety and depression.
One of the best ways to combat depression is to get outdoors in the sunshine. This activity proves doubly vital during short winter days when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also dampens moods. Our trips to the public park are like preventative mental health care.
4. It Keeps Our Bodies in Motion
Fitness apps have evolved — but it still gets boring working out while looking at the same four walls. Going to the public park keeps our bodies in motion.
Nearly 20% of American children qualify as obese, and I don’t want mine to fall into that category. It isn’t because I want to body-shame them — people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful.
However, as an adult, I know how hard it is to shed unwanted pounds, and I don’t fool myself that an adolescent growth spurt will melt baby fat. I don’t want my children to have to struggle with dieting, and if a trip to the park helps prevent that possibility, why not?
5. It Makes Us Feel Social
It’s still wise to maintain social distance, but doing so can make you feel lonely. I love how many parks have begun using circles to keep the appropriate space.
We talked about social distancing as a family before heading out in public, but it took several reminders to make it stick. Now, my eldest doesn’t mind politely asking others to keep their distance, and I’m proud of how she models appropriate behavior.
Nevertheless, getting to the park lets us say hi to our friends and neighbors. It makes us all feel less alone — myself very much included.
6. It Whets Our Appetites
Ordering takeout is a rare treat for our family. While we’re doing blessedly okay, we have pared back our budget considerably, including what we spend on groceries.
These cutbacks make it more challenging to whip up appetizing treats. Fortunately, I consider myself a culinary genius, but that doesn’t mean I don’t face my fair share of fussing when I serve something new. It’s tough to compete with the taste and texture of cheese doodles when you have a 6-year-old palate to please.
The outdoor exercise my little ones get at the park whets their appetites. It makes mealtime less of a battle when they’re famished enough to eat almost anything.
7. It Teaches Us New Things
There’s always something to learn at the public park. Now that the leaves have fallen, we enjoy taking a pair of binoculars with us for birdwatching.
We also use our public park for science lessons. My eldest knows how to identify the various tree species and other plants. We’ve caught and identified crayfish and salamanders in the nearby creek — humanely releasing them when finished, of course.
8. It Provides Volunteer Opportunities
Finally, our public park helps keep the spirit of altruism alive in our family. We frequently take a bag, and pick-up sticks to do an impromptu cleanup. Imagine if everyone did similar things?
It’s more challenging to find pet sitting opportunities with folks spending more time at home. However, shelters always need dog-walkers, and we’ll often visit the Humane Society to take one of their pups for a stroll.
Has COVID Made Your Family Embrace the Public Park, Too?
While I’m not grateful for COVID, I am thankful that it made us embrace our local public park. If you haven’t explored this resource yet, why are you still waiting?