We’re one month into Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s “hunker down order,” and families are getting restless. Schools are now closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 year; parents are still figuring out this new normal of work-from-home/school-from-home system; and playgrounds are closed. But Anchorage parks are still open and ready to welcome your family for a bit of outdoor-themed creative fun.
Anchorage parks, all 223 sites, have their own unique features, playground or no playground. Last week I introduced you to Abbott Loop Community Park off Elmore Road in southeast Anchorage. This week I visited the Turnagain neighborhood and popular Balto Seppala Park, where flocks of kids usually congregate on the accessible playground and around the Little Free Library, sled down the hill, or play on the soccer fields. But there’s more going on at Balto Seppala than a cool play area; it’s also the perfect wide open space for a bit of compare/contrast thinking; and some cool sled-dog-themed exercise. Take a look.
Compare/Contrast (or as my son used to call it; “The Matchy-Matchy Game”)
- Grab some paint chips from your local store (or maybe you have some already in your garage. I found these (above) while doing some deep cleaning last weekend). As our weather warms and the season transitions further from winter to spring, then summer, colors will shift too, so find a variety of color shades and schemes.
- Head to the park (any park will do, or even your yard), and pull out the paint chips. What can you find to match? Make categories, if you like: Find man-made items; opposite colors; things that “belong” or “don’t belong” in nature. Turn the experience into a race with teams of family members. Who can find all the colors on the paint chip, first?
- Tips: Colors come in many forms. What you find doesn’t have to be pretty to be important. Discuss what you notice, and why you noticed it. Don’t be afraid to get down on the ground. Dress kids for slushy, messy fun. Watch for dog poop (no thanks to the jerks who don’t pick up after their pooches).
- Balto Seppala is one of several Anchorage parks to have been a beneficiary of the Schools On Trails program, a project of Anchorage Park Foundation and the Anchorage Live, Work, Play initiative to engage local schools with parks near their property. In 2015, Balto Seppala Park was upgraded thanks to Anchorage Park Foundation efforts and Turnagain Elementary, combining forces to create a 600-foot soft surface trail that explains the details of mushing and its importance to Alaskans. There are five interpretive signs around the trail, each with an interesting explanation about mushing as a lifestyle and Alaska’s state sport. So why not try mushing on your own, with your family?
- First, take a look at the way sled dogs are used as part of a team. There’s the lead dog, swing dogs, the wheel dogs, and team dogs. Who does what, and why? If your family were a sled dog team, who would take those roles, and why?
- Hitch up a sled using the rope attached (or attach a long cord/rope yourself), with one family member (or something heavy) in the sled. Can one person pull the sled easily? How about two, or three? All of you, in sled dog formation? See how far you can mush around the park (Balto Seppala is a huge place!). Afterward, go sledding — the hill is still in great shape. Just remember to practice physical distancing between your family and anyone else.
- For information about mushing, visit Iditarod.com. There are also tons of ideas for kids in the educator section.