“But what did you do with them?” my friend asks, ruffling the hair of her own preschooler. “It’s so hard to keep them entertained.”
I have to think. What did my kids do, for three days of unplugged boondocking over Easter weekend? Oh, I remember. The same stuff I did as a kid. The same stuff we all did when our parents ordered us to “go outside and play.”
They went outside and played.
My older one spent hours lying on the ground at the campsite anthill. She discovered that thumping on the ground made the ants hustle. She experimented with various foodstuffs and determined that they liked protein best. She fed them flakes of tuna fish. She hunted them up a grub and watched them work together to stuff it down their front door. She got bitten a couple times and earned it both times. When the tears and outrage dried up, she was treated to a social lesson: ants have a perfect right to defend their home when somebody pokes their home with a stick.
My younger one, who refused to be left out of any adventure despite a chesty hacking cough, saw her first bat on the wing during a sunset walk. We heard about very little else thereafter: what bats eat, where bats live, that “bats haff widdow cwas [claws] on da end of dere weengs.” As an added bonus, I got treated to a really fabulous treatise on mosquito biology, preschooler-style. (Dey get fio-ed [filled] up wif’ blood! Yike widdow ba-YOONS!”]
Together, my cubs drew in the dirt with sticks, staged running races, arranged and re-arranged the evening’s firewood, found precious rocks and rinsed them off, rolled in the red mesa sand, collected campsite trash and exclaimed over it, and generally . . . played outside.
Was there whining for tablets? Sure, and that’s how they got to enjoy the word “no,” which they don’t hear enough at home. Was there agonized groaning that, “All I’ve done is draw pictures for three days!”? Sure, and that’s when I presented them with a package of brand-new modeling clay.
Was there begging to go camping again very very soon?
There was. Mission accomplished.