Each park in our city has a playground and oftentimes a water feature. A block from our house is our park, and it has a wading pool right in the middle. When my kids were younger, my favorite summer activity was walking with them down to the little wading pool.
I used to be the mom who would overpack multiple bags with all the supplies needed for an outing with little kids. I would also do tons of research to know which were the best playgrounds and water parks in our area to ensure that my kids would have the best time. All of it required an extraordinary amount of effort and energy.
But in the years since, I have learned something: there is something so freeing and authentic about releasing the expectations of the “best” and the “most” when it comes to what we provide for our kids. How do we determine what is best? Or the most necessary?
I have traded in our high-expectation water park adventures for the simplicity of slipping on our sandals and walking the one block down to the park where a wading pool waits. We go with our summer shorts and tank tops. Sometimes we bring a towel, and other times we drip dry on the way home or play on the playground.
During summer months when the sun is hot and the air is stifling, we are all looking for a reprieve. Kids have abandoned bikes for sitting on stoops and blowing bubbles, playing games with rocks, or lying in the grass because it’s too hot to play. When we start our walk down to the pool, a handful of kids typically join us. That’s how we know all the neighbor kids. That’s how my kids have made “summer friends” on our block.
The wading pool is not as big or exciting as the water parks or splash pads, but its cooling abilities are no less. The kids certainly enjoy it just as much. They meet new friends at the wading pool, and because it’s in the neighborhood, they know they can play again another day.
Those kids also become the kids they play ball with through parks and recreation. Pool friends become teammates. And when kids go to their local community school, their pool friends and park teammates become school friends.
Walking down to the nearby park and pool on the hottest days of the summer—and having a half dozen neighbor kids join us—are some of my favorite memories. Watching the kids play. Knocking on doors to see if friends can play when it’s nice out. Getting to know the parents and exchanging numbers. Having connections and touch points with the people near you. All of those small pieces add up to a stronger neighborhood. They are building blocks in constructing the kind of community that looks out for each other.
So, while there may be fun and exciting adventures outside of the neighborhood, never underestimate the impact of smaller, more localized fun and the long-term gift of community it gives you.