Van Life Challenges: Kids And Play Spaces
“Is it difficult not having your own garden / home so the children can just roam / play / potter?”
I was recently asked this question on Instagram, and wanted to write a blog post on my feelings on it. It’s something I’ve considered a lot, and am always weighing up the pros and cons in my mind.
Before we set of on our family van life adventure, I had assumed that one thing we’d be giving our children was lots of space and opportunities to roam around, especially out in nature. My perspective on this has changed as we have journeyed, so here’s my current thoughts.
Living closer to nature
We are undoubtedly all a lot closer to nature living in our motorhome. Even if we’re sat inside with the doors and windows open, we are in close proximity to nature – to the ‘outside’. Back in a house, we could easily be in a room, with outside feeling at a distance. Viewing it out of the window, as something ‘out there’. In our van, we feel a lot more like we’re part of the ‘out there’. I really love this feeling and closeness.
Unfamiliar places with children and toddlers
However, one of the trickiest things we’ve found is being in unfamiliar places, and the impact this has on our children. At the time of writing, our girls are 5 and 1 years old. Every time we park up somewhere new, the first thing we have to do is scope out the area and give our eldest daughter boundaries. I hope this doesn’t sound paranoid, but it seems sensible to me as her parent, to ensure the space she has to play in is safe.
Beautiful playgrounds in nature
For our 5 year old, she undoubtedly gets some fantastic places to explore and play in. As I write this, we are parked up in the mountains of north eastern Italy. There is a grassy meadow to one side of us, outcrops of mossy rocks, a mountain stream, trees to climb. What an incredible playground!
With our littlest daughter who is 1 years old, it has been about finding “safe” places for her to explore as she is still crawling. The beach has been perfect for this. The sand is gentler on the knees, she can be naked, and there is endless open space to roam.
Setting imaginary boundaries
Unlike our old garden (which was a fair size, with a wooded area), on the road we have to keep more of an eye on 5 year old daughter, checking in with where she’s at, and that she hasn’t wandered too far. You could argue, what’s the difference between the boundaries of a garden and the imaginary boundaries we set out in a woodland? The difference for me, is that both our daughter, and us, have to be much more aware, on-guard, of what she is doing and where she is.
Back in our old garden, she had reached an age where she could take herself off outside and just play. Uninterrupted, wherever she liked. She knew what was safe to pick, or eat (she liked eating herbs), and I knew she knew all this. I knew what birds, animals, insects, plants, she might encounter. As we travel around Europe, there is always that question mark over new insects or plants, whether she might come across a snake or some such unfamiliar creature.
Risks of outdoor exploring for crawling babies
Letting our 1 year old explore outside has been especially challenging for us. For all of the reasons given about for our elder daughter, plus her proximity to the ground. She has had a lot of what I believe are ant bites, and whilst they don’t seem to bother her, I feel sad that she has so many.
A lot of the places that we’ve stayed just haven’t been appropriate for her to crawl around – car parks, for example! There is the added risks of broken glass, cigarette butts, and so on. She puts everything in her mouth (unlike our eldest daughter who never did this), which makes me extra paranoid about letting her roam. In our old house she would have been able to explore our garden and put things in her mouth with little risk of injury. And with me a lot more relaxed!
The constrictions of indoor space
Our inside space in the van is considerably (!!) smaller than our old house. This means our 5 year old isn’t able to go off and play by herself, without us around, or her little sister. In the Baby Bus she has to carve out a tiny space for herself, and even then we are still always around. Before in our old house, she could go off to a different room, or play in our living room while I cooked in the kitchen. This gave her time to play unobserved by adults. Something we struggle to give her now on the road.
Lack of space for movement
When we left the UK, our littlest daughter was 11 months old. She was still crawling, and we’ve felt this has been a tough stage to have a baby in a motorhome. We’ve both felt that she hasn’t had the space to crawl and explore that she would have had in our old house. The floor space in the van in tiny and she has three large people who are trying to move around in it with her.
She has a lot of similar opportunities in the Baby Bus to what she would have had in a house, just on a micro-scale. I miss the freedom of space that a house would have given her. We especially notice how much she needs freedom to move and explore when we put her on a beach – she is off! I wonder if a lot of her frustrations are from too much energy and restrictions on movement.
How their play spaces on the road impact us as parents
I think that’s also part of it – the impact it has on us as parents. For example, not being able to just get on with bits around ‘the house’ while the two of them potter around the garden or living room. I feel like I have to micro-manage them a lot more, but perhaps that is specific to me, and other parents might not feel that way. I’d be interested to hear!
I don’t think I’m super paranoid on this issue. Previously in our ‘old life’ my girls could be found romping round our local National Trust parkland, splashing in muddy puddles barefoot, crawling through leaves and climbing trees. It was a familiar place to me that I felt relaxed about them roaming and exploring.
My answer to the question
In answer to the question, for me, I would say yes, it is difficult not having our own home and garden to allow our children to potter, play and roam on their own. I easily slip into worrying about the impact of this decision on our girls, especially our littlest. But instead I must focus on the positives of this experience, and the access to landscapes and environments they wouldn’t have previously had access to.
Our littlest daughter is almost walking, so I am certain that will bring with it a whole new set of challenges on the road!