After a stressful morning, my 19 month old son (T) and I headed to the park. Initially, I was thinking we'd walk quickly through the grassy & treed area to the play structure. However, T had other ideas. He started out by just running "fast" on the wet grass, away from me as I walked slowly and then back again. The terrain was relatively challenging, with lots of little hills and some slick, muddy areas. He identified items of garbage in the grass, saying "garbage" or "yucky." Then he spotted his first part of a fallen chestnut.
About a week ago, T and his dad spent some time with a chestnut tree at a park near our house. I got kind of a summary of this experience after it happened, but didn't think much of it until he saw the nut in the park and said: "chestnut." So we spent a few minutes looking around the ground for pieces of chestnuts. I had low expectations because I thought it was too early for chestnuts, but didn't discourage the hunt. It turned out that the "spiky part" (burr) of the chestnut was pretty interesting; some of them were a moist, bright green with less pokey spikes and others were dried and brown with sharper spikes. It was interesting to watch T handle the pieces of burr gently, picking them up carefully by the edge to avoid touching the spikes. He found a smooth chestnut that he liked, palmed it, and then we moved on with our walk.
Soon I spotted a water feature and pointed it out to T. While heading that direction, he'd periodically point to the water and say "water" or "fountain" and we'd continue on our way. When we made it to the water feature (a man-made pond with two water fountain spouts), he explored some of the perimeter, getting much closer to the edge that I was comfortable with and saying things like "in" or "get in." The pond was surrounded with large rocks and then wood chips, so the dirt and chips were loose around the rocks and then there was about a foot drop to the mucky brown water, which was about 2 feet deep at the edge. I responded to his comments with things like "not today" or "this water isn't for swimming," and a couple of times I had to guide him away from the edge because "you're just making me too nervous." Even though I was pretty sure he wouldn't get hurt if he fell in the pond, it was hard for me to watch him scoot closer and closer to the edge of the rocks. I did my best to let him experience some challenge!
Within a few minutes, his "get in" shifted to "toss in," as he feigned a throwing motion with the chestnut tucked in his hand. It seemed he was torn between wanting to keep the chestnut and wanting to splash it in the pond. He spotted a fish, which distracted him until the chestnut accidentally slipped from his hand into the water. After pondering the water for a moment, he started throwing wood chips into the pond. When his enthusiasm started to peter out, I guided him away from the water (mostly because I was tired of worrying about him falling in it!).
He interacted with a few passers-by before discovering a second chestnut tree. This one had quite a few nuts on the ground, and boy was he excited to find more chestnuts to throw in the pond! After a few trips from the tree to the pond, we came across a goldmine; a third chestnut tree was surrounded with mature chestnuts and interesting spiky parts. When he grabbed a chestnut to take to the pond, I grabbed two handfuls and offered them to him while he stood on the wood chips, tossing them into the water. The next time, he took a chestnut in each hand to the pond. After a few trips, he started to get reckless with his throwing - not really looking at where they were going and losing his balance by the side of pond. It was getting close to nap time, so I said: "this is the last trip, the last time we're throwing chestnuts in the water, and then we're going to walk back to the car." He was surprisingly okay with this and let me pick him up after the last toss and carry him past our third chestnut tree back into the grassy hills of the park.
There was a final moment when he wasn't done with the park - he didn't want to follow me up the last big hill to the car. I sat on the protruding root of a tree and checked my phone while he pushed boundaries, walking slowly away from me until I asked him to return (we were in a grassy area surrounded by gravel paths, so I just asked him to stay on the grass). He started to do his new little tantrum-y thing, where he arches and throws his head back, but quickly realized I wasn't around to catch him. So instead, he just kind of fussed a bit and begrudgingly walked back in my direction. After a few minutes, I got up and started walking up the hill, saying "it's time to go." He followed and started to fuss for me to carry him, so we alternated carrying and walking until we got back to the car.
After a complete outfit and diaper change, and a small snack, he fell asleep in the car during the 10 minute ride home. I was so grateful that I hadn't parked by the play structure, that we were both okay with soaking our shoes in the wet grass, and that the chestnuts were in fact ready for our enjoyment!