Our family just spent a weekend on Oregon’s North Umpqua River. Watching my four year old play on the riverbank, I saw over and over again how rivers are the best playgrounds. The unstructured time for play, discovery, and relaxation reminded me that visiting a river is a great way to de-stress, get exercise, spend time together, and reconnect.
Make it a family tradition. Make it a habit. It’s fun, and you and your kids will be healthier and happier for it.
Here are five reasons why rivers are the best playgrounds:
Move and explore
River and stream banks have everything a kid needs to move and play at his or her own pace and style: beaches, fallen trees and logs, and rocks. The Umpqua River has some great bedrock ledges, some smooth, some rutted, some with little potholes of rainwater. It’s a natural playground inspiring all kinds of motion –balancing on the mossy logs, climbing over and under branches, hopping around the bedrock, splashing in the puddles.
Make a friend
Typical playgrounds don’t have the variety of wildlife you can find on a river. We watched water striders in the calm shallows, and cheered at a duck as it paddled through a little rapid. We enjoyed the background chorus of birdsong and tried to guess which animals live in the little holes, caves, and cracks under rocks and logs.
Play with sticks
Kids love sticks. Dig with them, whack something with them, wave them around in the air. My little boy loves stick swords and we had some good ninja battles on the river bank. Driftwood chunks come in all shapes and sizes and are great for pretend play.
Where does all this water come from? Where is it going? We talked about how the river sculpts the banks and how it moves sand, gravel, even big boulders, downstream.
We all need beauty, something bigger than ourselves that captures our hearts and minds. Kids (and adults) need places where our imaginations are free to soar. Rivers give us all of this. Sit and watch the light dance on the water or hike to a waterfall.
Kids understand river magic.