Thursday, November 1, 2012

Twice a Day.

Or: How to take twins to the park when you're outnumbered.

Kids need to be outside. For my kids, pretty much any kind of outside will do.

From a walk down the street... hike in the woods.

On the other hand, I find it hard to constantly split my attention between them, to grab one or put one down to attend to the other, to badger one to keep up with the other who is sprinting ahead. In a couple more years, they'll understand things like holding hands and sticking together. But for now, they move at very different paces and have very different interests. So while a walk down the street might be fine on occasion, we mostly go to parks to get our outside fix. We go in almost any weather—if it's just sprinkling, we go. If it's cold, we all bundle up. If it's hot, we find a shady park with an easily-accessed water fountain.

Sometimes we go in the stroller, sometimes we take the car.

I find myself writing the same email about these outings to the members of the parents of multiples club I belong to. So I thought I'd rehash those points yet again, with pictures to help illustrate my points

When your twins are small, and not yet crawling, you can go anywhere that's pleasant, preferably a grassy spot with fresh air, some shade, and nice views for you to enjoy. Take some friends. Bring a big blanket. Watch how the babies engage with their environment. Don't rush to sit them up and make them look around at what you're interested in—Nick spent *months* on his back kicking with glee at the clouds and the trees. 

The same place can be good once they start crawling and sitting up, though once both are crawling you're better off looking toward the next stage: two babies on the move. Both of our boys were crawling by around 10 months. And for a while, we kept going to all kinds of parks. Then Dash started walking, and suddenly, being at a park with a walking kid and a crawling kid got really, really hard—Dash would wander off toward the street, while Nick would cry because I had to leave him to run after Dash. Gradually, I learned what made for a safe, happy experience for us all. Of course, once Nick started walking, things got even more split. Thankfully, by then I'd figured out what good parks were for us.

Here are the things I've figured out are important to a pleasant park outing with twin toddlers:

1. Gates. 

Our neighborhood park has gates that don't latch, but it's big enough that the boys rarely want to leave. The gates serve as a visual boundary. At 15 months (and probably before!), both boys knew the difference between in the park and out of the park.

Also, the park has dirt. Very important stuff to have around.
If they do leave, we go get the stroller and head home. But usually gates keep them from venturing out, even if they know how to open the gate.

I know it looks like he's escaping. But he actually closed the gate when I said it wasn't time to go yet.

2. Good lines of sight throughout the park. Sometimes you won't be able to see a kid because he's behind a play structure. But in general, you should be able to spot both kids from wherever you are. Lots of green space is helpful for this—plus it provides plenty of opportunities for engaging with the natural world.

The photo below is NOT a good place to take twins by yourself—the much-beloved Totland Park in North Berkeley. People love this park because there are a ton of toys. I find it incredibly overwhelming on my own. With a partner, not a problem. Here's why: Nick is in the foreground, drinking water. Dash is invisible in this picture. I can see him on the far side of the ramp to the play structure, digging with a yellow truck in the sand. But if he were on the other side of the slide, or at the top of the structure, I wouldn't be able to see him at all.

Can you spot Dash?
There's just too much going on for this to be fun for me. Maybe when they're older, I'll enjoy it more. But fortunately, there are lots of other great parks, most of them closer to my house.

For example, the park below: With a small structure, low tables, and plenty of space (and not a huge crowd!), Bateman Park is a much easier place to manage solo. There are hazards, if you don't want your kids to get wet or sandy, but for the most part, it's easy to redirect them from stuff you don't want them getting into. And with fewer kids around, there are fewer conflicts over toys, space, etc.

The rest of the park is mostly grass—great for a blanket for pre-crawlers, but also great for tossing balls and pushing toys.

Here's another of my favorite parks—mostly good sightlines, totally fenced in, lots of room for the boys to explore.
And a rainbow!
I love that this park is hidden in a city block. There's green space, lots of room for wandering, enough stuff to climb, and no crowd. I often meet up with a friend or two so that it doesn't feel lonely. Same park, different angle:

A third example of good sightlines: San Pablo Park in South Berkeley is my absolute favorite park (except for hot days). Lots of very clean sand (a rarity), two great play structures (see below for one of them; the City of Berkeley link above has a really great photo of the whole park), and swings! We can spend 2+ hours here without the boys getting bored.

Taken from next to the swing. I think Nick is in the swing.

3. Good play structures. I don't necessarily mean low, over-safe play structures. I mean equipment that's easy to look around, under and through so you can see your kid. Ideally, there are only one or two big drops, so that you only have to watch one spot for dangerous falls (my kids have fallen off the lower sides of play structures, but never from terribly high). In the best of playgrounds, you can easily scoot under or around a structure to go from the kid trying to climb off the high edge to the kid fighting another kid over a toy. The structure below is on the small side, but is fantastic for crawlers to preschoolers. My guys got really goot at stairs on this structure, well before they were walking:

Easy to spot a kid on these stairs!

This is the one dangerous spot—but it's very narrow, has great places for kids to hang on, and is easy to reach if someone wants to get down and refuses the slide or stairs. Only one child can fit through the opening at a time, too.
This structure (below) is old, but great—only one dangerous edge (you're looking at it), and a tunnel on the other side that is lots of fun for twins in particular to play with.

The train at San Pablo park is a big favorite; while it's not exactly easy to sprint from one side to the other, a fall from most parts of it is harmless, if upsetting—they land in the sand.

Those are the basics in terms of choosing a physical location. To get your kids from your house into the park, you can choose any of a variety of methods. If I drive, I often use(d) a stroller to get from the car into the park itself—it can hold the diaper bag and the kids; if you're going to a park with sand but no toys, you'll want to pack sand toys as well). I've also put one child on my back in an Ergo carrier and let the other walk. These days, we mostly walk in because the boys really enjoy it. I suspect that with one child, I would almost never use a stroller to get from car to park, but I don't really know. I usually take a stroller to go to local parks too—again, my boys love to walk, but it's easier to pack them in the stroller for at least one direction of the trip.

Coming up: Part 2: How to enjoy the park once you're there. (What? You thought just getting to the park was enough? There's so much more!)

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