Raising Richmond: Take it outside

Find summer fun in your own backyard. Literally.

We have four pockets of non-errand, non-nap time on the weekends that are good for planning extended activities. And every weekend, if we have free time, I want to try to do something different or at least new to my daughter, but talk myself out of it after weighing the cost vs. its actual value. Some examples:

Flying Squirrels Game

  • Estimated cost: $50 (Three $7 general admission tickets, plus food that costs about $5 for whatever you get).
  • Pros: Nutzy-watching, baseball is the only sport I understand, funn
  • Cons: I can’t actually watch the game with a small child in tow. Our experiences have been that neither parent sits at the same time, and that we just take turns getting terrible food to distract our child from playing on the world’s scariest steps. Also, last summer I’m pretty sure that I gave up and watched my daughter eat popcorn off the bleacher floor so that I could sit down for a minute. That’s on me, though.

King’s Dominion

  • Estimated cost: A million dollars ($41 for a kid, $54 for adults, $15 parking, plus whatever it now costs to get a video recording of the three of us performing Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison”).
  • Pros: King’s Dominion is awesome.
  • Cons: It’s really expensive. And unless we bring a third adult to babysit, my husband and I can’t enjoy the park like normal people and can just watch the kid ride rides and then ride roller coasters alone (sad trombone). Plus to get our money’s worth we’d have to push through naptime and then there would probably be a candy-related meltdown on International Street while 17-year-old park employees try to take our photo to sell back to us in keychain-form.

See how I do that? I’m such a killjoy. We do plenty of extracurricular things that aren’t just playground visits, but in my personal frenzy to find bigger things to take up our weekend, I forget that my daughter loves those playground visits. While I was sitting in my backyard this weekend thinking about what to do next, I noticed that she was happily playing with her sandbox, not needing to go anywhere else. We have made our backyard the best place to be on the weekends.

This works out for everyone. We have a nice-sized yard with (thanks to some dog-related shenanigans) 3/4 of a privacy fence. More time spent outside means more time for the dog outside. A tired dog = happier me. There’s a shady crape myrtle tree and a little hill good for rolling down. I have my tiny vegetable garden with produce ready to pick. We’ve never had a lot of toys in the yard, but currently there are some bubbles, badminton rackets and shuttlecocks, plenty of real and plastic tools for digging in the dirt, a T-ball set, and butterflies/airplanes overhead (all the things that small kids like).


Recently, I purchased a Sterilite container to hold a small bag of sand that had been sitting in my yard for maybe two years. For $5 we now have a small sandbox with a lid. It’s a mess, but she has fun when she plays in it.

Last summer our backyard was lousy with mosquitos. I thought it would be a good idea to dump a bag of pea gravel1 in her tiny swimming pool, which immediately ruined the pool and, until I threw it out (probably months later), served as a mosquito hatchery. Mosquitoes were already bad last year, and I made it worse.

But now we have a new pool,2 fewer bugs,3 and more things to do in our backyard. My daughter likes to join me and her dad whenever we take the dog out and makes that quick chore last way longer than we intend. She likes to play pretend games (in which I often have to play a Sea Witch that turns things into gold), wants to wait for the sunset at 6:40 PM, is amazed by lightning bugs when she’s up late enough to see them, and shows off our garden to visitors.

Why aim any higher for expensive summer entertainment when we’re all perfectly fine eating cheap popsicles outside? Plus, it brings more of the weekend vibe to our free time-starved weeknights by being able to roll outside for some quick tiny-pool splashing or a round of baseball, which my daughter still thinks we’re playing when we play with the badminton set (she also beeps and pretends to push buttons on the handle to let me know what the score is).

While I will probably still crunch the numbers to figure out if doing something else is worth it on the weekend (I’m sure we’ll be at the Diamond soon enough), our backyard is still the best value in town. Second best: someone else’s backyard.

  1. The small bag of sand and pea gravel came from my mom. They were both the byproduct of me telling her about some project I was going to do. I never follow through on anything, but my mom still gives me 1/20th of the supplies to make it when I do bring up a project. 
  2. I bought the pool for $11 at Kroger. I wasn’t sure it would fit in the backseat of my sedan if my daughter was also in the car. I made it work although she basically had the pool smooshed on her face for the ten-minute ride home. She thought it was really funny. She’s a champ! 
  3. Fun tip: We have a tray for making large bubbles that is about twelve-inches in diameter. When we leave it out with bubble solution in it, it traps and kills mosquitoes. I feel like I’ve made the world a better place. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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