There are some downsides to compact family living. Obviously, sacrifices need to be made for a family to occupy a smaller footprint than that of the traditional family home. Often, that sacrifice is most felt in the backyard. That’s where the local park becomes vitally important.
When I think back to my childhood (perhaps through rose-tinted glasses), the backyard was very much a key feature. We were lucky enough to live in houses with expansive areas (at least from my tiny perspective) in which to play and explore. I spent countless hours playing with balls, toys or mud. Sometimes we used nothing more than the combined imaginations of my brothers and me to make our own games.
At our townhouse we have a small backyard, but it’s really not conducive to the running around and exploration that I had as a child. I don’t want Hannah to miss out on those experiences either, as I believe they were such a fundamentally important part of my formative years. I want Hannah to develop a love of the outdoors and a desire to explore and experience all the things that nature and life has to offer.
The local park – Ideal replacement for the family backyard?
Since Hannah has been mobile enough to gain enjoyment from outside play, we have made it our business to get to know all of the parks in our immediate vicinity. Each one offers something different and none of them are perfect. But, together they offer the opportunity to somewhat replicate the ‘backyard’ experiences of my childhood.
The little toddler playground a few blocks away offers well-maintained play equipment that is very suitable for Hannah’s age. She can easily navigate her way to the top of the slide and on to the platforms. It also has some equipment that she is not yet able enough to use, so there is scope to continue to ‘grow into’ the little playground. It doesn’t offer much in the way of nature though.
Other playgrounds within easy walking distance offer equipment that is more suitable for older kids. For Hannah, these are still very much interesting places to explore. If nothing else, she enjoys sitting in the wood chips or digging through the mud. She seems happy enough to spend a full ten minutes picking up handfuls of wood chips and letting them drop through her fingers.
Other areas offer nothing in the way of play equipment, yet they provide grass and trees, and shrubs. Some even offer small creeks. They are the places that will come into their own as Hannah grows into a little toddler who wants to run, hide and explore. They are an attractive ‘blank canvas’, on which Hannah and her friends will be able to imagine up all kinds of games and experiences. These wonderful strips of green in suburban Sydney will be the backdrop to the great mum/dad and daughter moments – learning to kick a ball, to ride a bike, to catch a tadpole.
The downside of a small backyard
Of course, there are downsides to not having a large backyard. Hannah will require constant supervision for many years to come as she uses these facilities. I can’t yet even imagine the day that she asks to go to the park by herself, or with a friend. To be honest, the thought fills me with a mild panic, even at this very early stage.
We have to travel, even if it’s just a couple of minutes walk down the road. Sometimes Hannah is reluctant to sit in her stroller, so that means being carried to and from the park. It can also put us off making the effort if the weather is looking a little questionable. That’s something that is not an issue when you have your own backyard – just play until it rains!
The benefits of the local park
But there are many, many benefits too. Hannah has already begun to benefit from the social interactions that the park provides. As an only child with no cousins, regular play and interaction with and around other children is vitally important. It is something Hannah just wouldn’t find in her own backyard. Hannah consistently shows that she finds great joy in other kids. I definitely see it as my responsibility to ensure she has ample opportunities.
The lack of a large backyard also means less maintenance for Emma and me. A large backyard requires a large upkeep. That is time that would have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere would be our play time with Hannah. Our small strip of grass takes a matter of minutes to run a push-mower over. Every now and then, the plants need a few minutes with the hose. When we want a larger piece of grass on which to play, some kind council worker has already put in the hard yards of maintenance. We just have to turn up and enjoy it.
The final benefit of fully utilising the local parks around us is that it gets us out of the house. It is far too easy for me to become comfortable within these four walls. Despite living what I regard to be fairly modest life, this townhouse contains so many things that can entertain me and consume me. If I’m not careful, I could easily go for days without seeing sunlight. The knowledge that I need to get Hannah out to a park (almost) every day is a wonderful motivating factor.
And as soon as I step out into the fresh air and am surrounded by the trees and grass and people and bird-life, I’m reminded of why these experiences are so important. It is good for the soul, it refreshes and energises, it relaxes and helps me to regain perspective. When I go to the park with Hannah it takes me away from all the other stresses and strains of grown-up life, and it places me wholly within that moment. It forces me to be fully present and to enjoy the shared experiences with Hannah.
Sydney’s best parks and playgrounds
I have begun a mission to find Sydney’s best large parks and playgrounds. These are the ones that I will review regularly as part of my Family Fun in Sydney section. I began with the amazing Carss Bush Park – very much worth a day trip! Check back regularly as Hannah and I uncover more great parks. Also, please leave any suggestions for our next place to explore in the Sydney area.