Have you ever had one of those days when there is no tantrum? No crying or whining? No shouts of "he is looking at me"? Today is that day for me, well, at least a few hours. Today, with the help of 2 other families we had an adventure at Adventure Park located at Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach. My husband came across this event a few years ago and I have been waiting and waiting until all the kids were 5 years old or until I had childcare for the non-5 year olds. The recommended age is 5-12 years old and boy do they mean it.
We jumped in the Monster Van with 6 kids ages 5+, 2 moms and a breastfeeding Ellie. The littlest ones were left at home for an under-5 year old playdate. It included a nap which was a plus for me . . . no crankies at bedtime. We drove the 60 miles (just over an hour with no traffic all the way down to Huntington Beach. It took a bit of searching to find the location of Adventure Park since Huntington Central Park spans several blocks and includes a library, sports complex, equestrian area, and disc golf (with grass). We finally gave up and called the phone number and the operator gave us perfect directions . . . park at the library and follow the signs that say "Youth Center".
When you first arrive you get a lesson in safety. All the usual apply; no throwing, no running, listen to the staff members. Then they started talking about the building. Half of the park is dedicated to building. Children are issued a hammer and 3 nails. They are allowed access to a huge scrap-wood pile and they can just have at it. They can build their own contraptions or affix pieces of wood to the 4 'treehouses' (platforms 4-8 feet off the ground). Children ages 8 and older are allowed to use a saw. All children must have supervision.
I couldn't imagine the kids would spend much time building. After all, what can you make with only 3 nails. Well, clearly I have no imagination. First off, you can trade in 2 old nails for 1 new nail. And so they set off digging through the scrap wood and learning to take nails out of wood. We learned about leverage and working together. Then they all set off to find a treehouse to claim as their own. The only one completely free (and in the shade) was listing . . . a lot. There were no safety rails to keep children from falling off the angled structure. After spending so many years at places like Disneyland that take safety to the nth degree and signing permission slips and liability forms for team sports I was amazed that this place was so lax in their rules. Don't read this wrong. I did not feel my children were unsafe. I was just surprised to see such a deviation from societal norms. The kids spent the majority of their time building, moving wood, looking for nails. This was perfectly fine with me as I sat in a nearby table visiting with my friend and nursing the baby, enjoying 75* with a breeze (read: supervising).
Other activities at the park included rafting, which was a favorite among some of the boys in our group. The rafts were 4x4 and the kids each got 8 foot long poles to use for pushing themselves along, akin to Huck Finn. Rafters could ride alone or with a partner. The water was only thigh-deep . . . on William, so not sure how deep that really is. William would jump on and off his raft and run to the sandy shore, then he would run through the water again and hop onto the raft. All I could think was "Thank goodness I have a towel and a *complete* change of clothes".
Also in the pond area was the rope bridge. It spanned the pond and the slightest misstep meant a muddy bath. But William and Lainy Ann still conquered it several times. The only thing that my kids refused to try was the mudslide. To be honest I don't think I would have tried it either. Essentially it was a black tarp laid on top of a hillside. A staff member stood at the top with a hose so it was slippery. The end of the slide was a waist deep puddle of cold muddy water.
It was really a terrific little park. It was small enough to see all areas, well staffed, tons of shade, and inexpensive. There were plenty of picnic tables, a sand box and a few climbing apparatuses. But the main draw was the 'boys-will-be-boys' activities. They were so into the building, figuring out how to climb a ladder with nails and a hammer in their hand, planning, etc that there was no time for crying, whining or petty arguing. They were fully engaged physically and mentally. And I got to sit in the shade with a breeze and good company.