Throwing Rocks With Girl Cousins

Amelia and my neice, throwing rock number 179.

If you ask my kids what the best part of their trip was, they’ll tell you, “Throwing rocks with the big girl cousins.” On the drive home, I had some quiet time to think about how my large extended family views and treats it’s girls. And I realized this has made all the difference.

We are still recovering from a sun-filled Fourth of July trip to Toledo, Ohio to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins. Lots of cousins. Cousins in the summertime is the perfect remedy when you need your kids to be drop-over tuckered out so that they sleep through Chicago traffic. This weekend while we were hanging with the cousins we had a full schedule of bubbles, sidewalk chalk, swimming, baseball, soccer, running through golf coarse sprinklers, and feeding the ducks. The action paused only long enough for us to eat popsicles.

During a family reunion at a city park, after baseball had been played and watermelon had been chomped, we took a break from the playground to go to the river and throw rocks into the water. My kids have been known to do this for hours. So down to the riverbank we marched, Amelia being incredibly excited that the big girl cousins were coming with us.

The “big girl cousins” are my first cousins, about eight years my senior. I worshipped them when I was a kid. I wore their hand-me-downs and named my baby dolls after them. And today they were teaching my little girl how to skip rocks in the Maumee River. The winning skip hopped the water seven times. The kids were becoming delirious from the heat and the excitement.

Amelia searches for the best rocks to throw.

A family a of ducks swam by, which caught the attention of Amelia and she noticed a sandbar. She asked how to get to it, so she and I hiked the hillside to hop across to it. A large sandbar to a five year old is like an island, and when our little brother and little girl cousin followed, it was a party. We looked for sharks (found none) and crawfish and frogs. We chased dragonflies. We threw 241 rocks into the river. Amelia kept asking me to pick up rather large rocks to toss into the deep water so she could hear and watch the splashing. This led to us realizing the deep water and big splashes were very close to where the big girl cousins were standing. Naturally, a battle broke out and the cousins on the shore started trying to splash the cousins that were on the sandbar. This was great fun, until the sandbar cousins ran out of big rocks to launch.

As we rested in the shade and watched my brother pick up and heave really huge rocks while the kids cheered like soccer hooligans, it struck me that no one had mentioned to my little daughter or neice that they looked pretty, or mentioned anything about being a princess, or asked teasingly if either had a boyfriend. No one said anything about ‘throwing like a girl’  when we were tossing rocks in the river. No one told them not to get dirty. No one told them to stop hollering and yelling.

And when we went exploring out onto the sandbar, no one questioned that the girls were leading the way.

Amelia leads the way to the sandbar.

One of the big girl cousins teaching Benny to skip a rock.

With big girl cousins in the background, the tiniest cousin hunts for crawfish with her uncle, Mr. Pigtail Pals.

Get Into Nature!

I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, in a neighborhood filled with kids riding bikes and lemonade stands and tree forts. The kind of place where neighbors borrow cups of sugar from each other, and balloons decorate mailboxes on birthday party days. We later moved to a tiny town in Wisconsin, where the blue sky seemed to stretch forever. It was a good childhood.

And most of it was spent outdoors. My dad traveled for business during the week, leaving my mom to wrangle us kids…I being the eldest with two younger brothers. My mom was one of those “I have three kids under five” moms. Which is why we heard very frequently “Go OUTSIDE and play!”

I now holler the same thing at my kids. We have a large corner lot in the city, fenced in and surrounded by tall lilac bushes and maple trees. They have a swing set and a play house and riding toys and sidewalk chalk and a great menagerie of sports equipment. I send them outside with the dogs who watch over them and I let them fend for themselves. They fight and get hurt and get amazingly dirty….but they take care of themselves and each other. They also have the free space to examine bugs and try to catch butterflies (and robins) and they yell hi to our neighbors over the fence. Only once have they let themselves out of the yard to go stand at the bus stop.

I want them to have a happy and safe childhood, and I want most of it to be spent outside. Nature gives them the chance to problem solve, to think creatively, to constantly use their understanding of science to build on bigger concepts. I’ve been told more than once to go back inside, that I’m bothering them.

Here are some tips our family would like to share with you on how we enjoy nature. Make a point to get outside everyday!

1. My family gardens because it is such a relaxing way to connect with the Earth right in your own backyard. The returning perennials teach the children that as we go through the seasons, the Earth has a plan for each of us. The brightly colored annuals teach them to celebrate the warm months in a parade of design and color, and the fruits and vegetables show them how the good soil gives us what we need and can sustain us.
2. Our kids are big bug catchers, and while I’m a nature lover, I’m not so much a bug lover. So we have various contraptions and compartments that can be carried in our picnic basket, park bag, or hiking pack. They are made of clear plastic so that the kids can observe and learn about their new little friend.
3. If you have forgotten how joyful it is to dance in a warm summer rainstorm, or lay in the sun-warmed grass to look for shapes in the clouds, or spend an evening catching fireflies…you need to take time this summer to remind yourself. All three activities have a great price point and offer up some great free play.
4. A favorite activity of my kids, ages 5 and 3, is to get on their rainboots and march down to the creek that runs through our local park. They have been known to spend up to two hours throwing in peddles, small sticks, reeds, pine cones. It is a great opportunity to teach them about plants, water currents, rain cycle, fish and frogs, birds, etc.
5. In this busy world, we frequently forget to listen. I love going out in the woods with my kids, and midway through the trek we kneel down on the path and just listen. It is actually kind of spiritual to watch their eyes as they take in the wind, birds, insects.
6. Always be open to all that nature can offer when traveling through life with small kids. Last year our strawberry picking trip turned into a bear hunt in the woods, which led to us to picking milkweed, which led us to discovering and raising caterpillars that turned into monarch butterflies.
7. On most summer Sunday mornings, you can find us at a local farm, enjoying fresh dough nuts and picking out local grown produce and artisan crafts. The conversations about weather and bugs that my kids have with the farmer are hilarious, and we see families we know from town so it is a great way to connect with community and support a local business.

3yo Benny helping plant seeds in the veggie garden.


5yo Amelia singing lullabies to a worm.


Kid-made fort in the yard. I was told to scram.