Houses certainly have their appeal when you have three kids. It would be a joy to open the door and tell the kids to go play outside – while I had a coffee and read the paper.
“Go play outside” was a constant refrain from my childhood. It was the 80s and we had free reign of the neighborhood from a very young age. I spent a lot of my youth climbing hedges and tramping through a patch of forest a few blocks up the road. I played neighborhood hide and go seek. I zipped up and down the lane on my bike, back and forth, back and forth. We did it all without a parent hovering.
But now I’m raising apartment kids. Or kids in an apartment. When we go outside, an adult is coming with them. Someday they’ll be riding elevators and walking or scooting or cycling city blocks alone but with a five, two and less than one year old, it isn’t going to be soon. So how do we survive with no backyard?
Our Living Room is Our Backyard
I wasn’t too precious when furnishing our old/new home. There is only one side table that I have a bit of anxiety about the rest is mostly IKEA, some new, some secondhand. We bought a sturdy couch and the kids jump on it and off of it often. They build forts in the living room with pillows. They run back and forth from their bedroom to the living room and to the front door and back. We live in a concrete building and try to keep the running to business hours.
If you want to keep living in an apartment with growing children you have to lean into it. You have to accept the messes and the dancing and the hopping and the limits to how much space can be off-limits. If you can’t accept this, if you want a small home that looks guest worthy 24/7 or a lot of ‘adult space’, I think you will struggle. You’ll probably move into a house so that you can get that kid-free space. Again, I see the appeal.
A-B-O. Always Be Outside.
Be ABO-ing as much as possible. Walk, scoot, push that stroller, lug that baby in the carrier. When you don’t have a backyard you need to get your young kids outside and moving yourself. If you have to run an errand for sure bring someone along. You’ll be at your local park a lot. Bring a book or some work or call a friend to meet you. I love watching my kids at the park and helping them but we are there a lot.
It might seem like 40 minutes is too small an after dinner window to take kids out for a walk or a scooter ride but it’s not. Every chance you have get outside. It’s always worth it.
Also, sidewalk chalk. I’m not into telling anyone to buy stuff but… man, sidewalk chalk can make even the most grumpy kid happy. It’s good multi-age fun too – my almost six year old and 2.5 year old love it equally. We always have some in our stroller so we can draw playground murals and play tic tac toe and tag that we were there. It’s also a great way to make friends. Open a box up and share it with the whole playground.
Become regulars at the library and more.
We purchased a family membership to Science World a few weeks after we moved back to Vancouver. Excellent investment. I would guess we have averaged a visit every week. The kids love it and we love it too: space, activities, education. There is lots of funny messy play and toys/games that we don’t have the space for and that I don’t want to buy. So we essentially rent them for the afternoon.
Our second favourite city haunt is the Vancouver Public Library. Besides books the Children’s library has toys and a soft play area. There is a lot of free programming too and the librarians are very helpful when we are asking about books on Minecraft or Volcanoes. And it’s free! Win, win, win.
If you’re going to survive living in an apartment with young kids you need to get out of that apartment. Become regulars at your community centre, library and anywhere else that has space for your city kids to play.
Remember that someday they will be able to go out on their own.
That age of independence is up to you (and the local law) but as I see city kids walking themselves, and sometimes their siblings, to school, I see my future. And that future looks pretty good. My kids should be able to walk or cycle to school and activities on their own once they are older. More exercise for them and more time for me! A recent local study showed that children in downtown Vancouver walk more and get more daily exercise than children in a nearby suburb.
Another nod to no backyard not being a problem.
Anyone else have ideas for small home fun with kids? If you have harsh winters how do you keep the stir crazy at bay?