outdoor play and combating consumerism

Teaching my Pie to be happy without shiny new things is important to me. Of course at this point everything is shiny and new – or at least new to us. And she has no concept of ownership of things, she doesn’t reach out for toys at the store, she doesn’t cry for boredom with her things. But it’s something I already think about, and something I’m already investing in.


I believe that outdoor play is the single most important factor in combating consumerism. I can do all I can in buying second-hand, making or making do, re-using and recycling our clothes, toys, household things. I can accept hand-me-downs and use simpler things, I can choose not to buy. But at some point, the Pie’s value of a new beeping sqwuaking flashing moving thing will diverge from my value of simplicity, less.

As much as I plan to tell her the values of less, talk to her about limited resources and only using what is necessary, of giving what we can and only taking what we need, allowing others to have what would be in excess to us, about the value of simplicity – if I don’t show her, it will ultimately mean little.

She will of course see my doing my best to live out these values, but encouraging outdoor play may be the one thing that will truly occupy her mind, get through to her, in a way that talking about it won’t.

With outdoor play, kids have to make do. They have to learn to build their forts out of sticks and mud and tarps. Children will learn about building a castle with rocks and imagination. Kids will have the opportunity to experience, use, enjoy and leave the things they encounter – playing with but not owning, imagining and returning to see if it’s still there.

I have been reading about the theory of loose parts, about free, unstructured, unscheduled play in the woods, about the benefits of boredom.

In outdoor play, there are no flashing lights except the sunlight filtering through the canopy. There are no beeping, chirping features, outside of the chattering of the birds, squirrels, bugs. Moving parts are all around, but so much more real than automated. There are leaves one day, mulch the next. Flowers bud and bloom and wither, leaving a different experience each time she’s willing to take a moment and look.

I hope for a childhood of calm, of peaceful days, of running through the woods and sitting in the sun. I wish for days when the mud scabs over the bloody knees and the play can’t be halted for a tumble in the creek. I hope for mud pie experiments and bouquets of dead leaves. I wish for climbing in trees and picking blackberries for lunch. I wish for bored afternoons laying in the grass twirling a twig. I wish for watching the clouds and humming to ourselves. DSC_1048

Without the noise and clutter of so many toys, there is space to enjoy outside play. When there is outside play, there is less time and interest in the noise and clutter of so many toys. Minimizing the things, enjoying the outdoors, and playing with “loose parts”, where imagination, innovation and re-structuring are necessary components of play – I hope to cultivate a culture of enough.


  1. Really enjoyed this post. We try to get outside, but sometimes the weather does not cooperate (bitter cold, or pouring rain, or excessive heat complete with a gazillion gnats! I swear I am not making excuses). We honestly try to get out (with a coat, umbrella, sunblock, bugspray) and just be out. Otherwise, my sons feel too cooped up.

    Wanted to mention on the toy front: when I would take my kids to Target when they were 2 or 3, they wanted to touch every toy. I never said "no" to that, instead, I said, "Sure! You can touch it! You can hold it! But it lives here, so we will have to put it back." This little phrase worked astonishingly well for quite some time. "It lives here." They somehow "got" that we were just visiting the thing.

    Also, when the kids want a new toy or whatever (they are 4 and 7 now) I say, "Do you want to spend your own money?" (money from Christmas or birthday) and inevitably they say, "No!" and choose not to get the toy.


  2. both of those toy strategies are wonderful, and ones I plan to use!! i've heard the the "it lives here" concept explained to kids as the same as the toy library... but at some point they would understand that it's not quite the same, so I like the "it lives here" idea much better. i'll totally be using your line!

    and of course, "yes you can have it. you have money in your wallet" was something my mom said to us a lot. we would scowl and put it back and sulk quietly around the store, but stop asking for stuff!


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