Homeschoolers quickly get really good at sussing out all their local resources. We find new ones and figure out how to make the most of old ones. Libraries are an obvious place to start. In this age of the ever-shrinking welfare state - which a homeschool friend from Norway says is non-existent in the first place- I fear the extinction of the local park almost as much as I worry about libraries. We visit many local parks, but the one that's a block from our house will always be our family favorite.
There is no bathroom, but there any many suitable trees for the purpose and no one will bat an eye, as long as you dispose of number two the same way dog owners do. One of the three families with kids who live directly across the street may even send you over to their house if they're in the park. The playground itself can be hot during the middle of the day in the "summer" (also known as October), but there are many shade trees on the periphery, right near the patches of grass best suited for practicing cartwheels. For those young and nimble enough, there are also the trees themselves, many of them perfect for climbing. The trees that aren't meant for human athletic pursuits, sport fascinating lichen, ladybug communities, and a few squirrels - all available for inspection.
The playground itself is meant for the younger set, but older siblings quickly learn how to shimmy up the swing set poles, turn the infant swings into circus trapezes, send sand down the slides to put them in turbo mode and generally parkour the play structure. There are plenty of sticks lying around to build castles and battlements in the sandbox and usually plenty of helping hands to build a highway system. Off to the side, Bean is usually the chief baker of mud pies and finds plenty of berries, flowers, and leaves to turn into "paint" for sidewalk art.
It's not just the stuff that makes our park so special. It's the people. One of my favorite groups of moms was a loose-knit group of women with at least one kid each around Bean's age. Things have petered off in the last few years, as we've had our last babies and older kids are more involved in school and other activities, but I used to count on several baby showers and birthday celebrations a year from this group. One friend with kids a little younger than Bean didn't have a formal playgroup, but knew all the families who showed up at the park daily between 9:30 and 11:30 am. She put off nursery school for a long time because they had the park.
We have always tended to be part of the late afternoon/early evening crowd. Veggie Booty and strawberries were shared, dads and Dr. Yap came home and immediately met everyone else at the park. Plans for big kid bedrooms, birthday parties, vacations, and school were shared and compared. Because we are around the corner from a state university campus, visiting families imbue our park with a very international flavor. Families from Greece, Italy, Colombia, Germany, Israel, China, Korea, Russia, and many other places congregate on the recycled rubber playground surface, speaking in halting English but sharing the common languages of parenthood and childhood.
Beyond the confines of the playground, out in the great open space of grass - the only lawn or "yard" most of us know in our crowded, overpriced slice of paradise - we witness many ephemeral wonders. In the last three months I have seen soccer team and sword fighting practices, flag football, frisbee, games of catch, remote controlled airplanes, a rather fanatic dog owner training his retriever for some kind of competition, a phalanx of two-year-olds chasing a soccer ball half their size, birthday parties, college fraternity/sorority mixers, sunbathers, gophers popping their heads out of holes, and a lone, majestic blue heron gracing us with its presence.
One magical summer morning, before the fog had lifted, the kids and I were about to whiz past in the car on the way to Somewhere Else when I stopped suddenly to witness several young men walking across temporary slacklines, as if they were gliding along in the air. Four lines stretched like rays in a geometry textbook, from trees near the playground to the tennis courts on the other side of the meadow, some 500 yards away. Two men were expertly walking separate lines - each about four feet off the ground - while others silently watched on the ground, in the shadow of an oak tree. We sat in our car, watching from outside the park, in awe, until one of the men jumped off his line, and we suddenly remembered we had Somewhere to be.
Right now, with a toddler and a homeschooler, I can't imagine not spending at least five hours a week at Our Park. Someday though, I will no longer see the familiar strangers playing the never-ending pick up games on the basketball court and won't ride or scoot with Bean and Boo along the paths that skirt the canyon-side dog run. One day, I won't find sand in my knitting and when I drive by the park I'll have no idea who's bike or stroller is parked at the playground. Right now though, it's an inextricable part of my social life and my kids' childhoods. I sometimes beg for a day off from the park, but I know I'll miss it when the time comes for my kids to move on to other feeding grounds for their young minds.