There are few good days in Beijing, so when the sun shines and the air seems clean, we all want to drop everything and go to a park! It is a wonderful opportunity to show our children that we enjoy spending time playing with them, so put your phone on silent, leave the camera in the bag and have fun WITH your children.
If the park you are going to has a playground with rides, you might have to convince your child that you would actually like to go for a walk around the park before playing on the rides.
As you arrive at the park, look at a watch together and decide that after 30 minutes or so, you will be going to the playground. Make that time longer once the children get the idea and agree that it is actually quite fun to play and explore in a park.
GAMES TO PLAY:
“Treasure Hunt“: Start walking and pay attention to what you see, hear and smell. Talk about it, some trees even have name labels. No lecture, this is a sensory experience. Be amazed at what your child discovers (you found a shiny stone, a red petal, a dry leaf..). In turn tell him/her about what you have found or heard (can you hear that bird whistling?).
Count how many caterpillars there are on the path (don’t pick them up, some may cause allergies and don’t step on them, we want to make children conscious of their responsibility towards the environment).
Follow the music and find out where it comes from, who’s playing, what type of instrument is it, how many people are singing or dancing? Dance along together.
Use the outdoor fitness equipment if your park has some.
Follow the curves of the paths, walk on the lines, play with the stone patterns, step on the white square tiles only, avoid the red stones.
Hop over the lines, with both feet together, on one foot, forward, backward, holding hands.
Climb up stairs: say out loud: right foot, left foot, right, left, right.
Stairs in parks are usually uneven; use the right foot first on each new step or take giant steps to alternate sides or count the number of “ant steps” you can fit onto each step (put one foot in front of the other, touching heel to toes).
Race up and down the stairs.
Play “Simon says“: “Simon says touch a leaf” – “The doctor says touch a stone” – “Mummy says hop on one foot” – “Stand on a bench” – “Touch something yellow ‘ (a tshirt, a flower)… The idea is that the child must pay attention to the order given, and only obey to Simon (they usually love ignoring what Mummy says because in this game they are allowed to!).
Ask the child to find three things, or more (choose things you have seen nearby) and give them a list: a stick, a very long grass, a leaf, a stone, a pine cone, a white petal from the ground… (though I find that picking a leaf or two off a tree is acceptable, in general children should not be encouraged to rip leaves and petals off plants). If you are with friends, children can work in teams.
Play “Piggy in the middle“: Stand/sit on rocks and swap places with each other while the person in the middle tries to get someone’s place on a stone. The person who looses his place on the stone gets to be in the middle. If there are more rocks then people, cover the ones you don’t want to use with a piece of clothing or mark them with a couple of leaves.
Play “Hide and Seek” behind the trees. It works well with small children who totally believe they are invisible behind a small tree, so pretend you cannot see them for a while.
Play “It“: chase each other and the one who is caught becomes the chaser. When you touch a tree trunk you are safe and no one can catch you, but you can catch your breath!
Go for a tennis ball hunt around the tennis courts and if you are lucky it is yours to play with for a while!
Run, walk, hop, gallop forward/ backwards, holding hands, separately. Let your child be the leader and you have to follow and do exactly as she is doing.
Play “Hop Scotch” on the squares of the path (try to write numbers with a stone if you do not happen to have a chalk with you).
Find tiles on paths that can be used for a game of “Noughts and Crosses” (tic-tac-toe and yes, I did). Use small stones and leaves (or raisins and cereals from your snack box) as game pieces. The tile has to be divided in 3×3 small squares, each player takes turn in placing a small game piece on a square. The person who has three of his pieces in a line has won.
Collect dry pine needles and use them to create a pattern or an object on the concrete floor (house, tower, flower, airplane..).
Play “I spy“: sitting on a bench, when all the players have their eyes closed, you identify something interesting. When they open their eyes you say: “I spy with my little eye, something white” (bench, cloud, clothing, bird) or “Something beginning with B” (bench, branch, box, baby, bicycle). The others have to guess what it is by asking questions: “Is it round? Is it light? Is it heavy? Is it a ball?”
If you play this game when you are at the playground, you have more choices: I spy with my little eye someone with a pair of glasses, a red sock, a blue shoe, a watch. The questions would be: Does this person wear a skirt? Wear a white shirt? Is this person sitting on a bench?
If your child likes to draw, he/she can draw the things she saw during the initial Treasure Hunt. She can copy what she is looking at: the caterpillar, the leaf… The drawings can also been done later at home if you want this outing to the park to remain physical.
Next time you come to the park bring this list along and write a tick next to the item on your list each time you see one. Count, add, sort this information if you wish to extend the learning opportunity.
Use a stick to draw on the soil (Beijing parks are rather well maintained, so you may want to bring one along!). You can also practice writing names.
PARENT, AYI: You may have become tired way before the end of that list and may have even spotted a bench in the distance (I’ve been there), but it will do you a world of good to play with your child for a short while. They don’t need us to play every game with them, but a few activities together keeps their interest going and satisfies their need for “Connecting with you“. You might even have a good laugh when she beats you at the race up the hill!
WHEN YOUR TROOPS ARE TIRED and you have exhausted every trick, or when the agreed time is up, take them to the play area for a few rides on the merry go round, a turn in the inflatable castle, a turn in the sand box, some painting activities or even some fishing.
When you arrive at the playground, decide together on the number of rides they will be allowed to do, or how long you will stay. Use your watch to show them the time. Make an agreement and stick with it. If it is a hot day you may even add the ice cream on the way home, but it is not necessary to bribe children from one activity to the next.
Avoid the inflated helium balloons for sale at the gate, some have been known to burst into flames if the wrong type of gaz was used.
Health & Hygiene: I suggest going to the bathroom before leaving home; bringing wipes, liquid hand sanitizer, tissues, water and snacks.
Feel free to add to this list, to show it to your ayi, and to teach her how to play these simple games. If she has never played before, it will be hard for her to entertain your child and she will prefer to sit and chat or play on her phone – but surely she knows that this is a “No No” when she is out in the park with the children.
Click here for Beijing Kids’list of outdoor spots, sorted by area.