Transitioning from the freedom of summer to school is bittersweet, even with the positive benefits of a scheduled routine, return to youth sports, and other extra-curricular activities. For both students, teachers, and school staff, being indoors for 7+ hours a day is made harder when Inland NW weather is still sunny and warm. Which is why intentional efforts to spend time outside as a family is important during fall.
A strategy for weekday afternoons after school is to find shared respite in nature, picnic in the park style. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Head to the nearest neighborhood park or conservation area, a walking trail, or other urban (or near-urban) public land green space—or “blue space” with a view of water.
As for a picnic, anything works—whether leftover lunch items, to-go ice cream, fun beverages, or a home-prepared or take-out dinner before or after sports practice. Food is just the incentive for children to go along, especially for adolescents. Whether you sit or walk, eat or talk, or just be silent with your kid and enjoy the view, it will mean a lot that you took the time to be with them. No expectations—just time to relax and rejuvenate by using the power of nature to refresh mental-emotional health.
Visiting a green or blue space, no matter how small or big, helps people feel more connected to nature. And when this happens, well-being improves, including “a type of contentment that goes beyond just feeling good and includes having meaningful purpose in life,” according to the American Psychological Association (apa.org). On sunny fall days, Vitamin D and serotonin levels will be boosted by sunlight exposure, which improves mood and focus and reduces stress, according to Mental Health America (mhanational.org).
Based on my experience with my own two children, now both in middle school, I know their preference is to go straight home after school to chill out with a screen to de-compress after an over-stimulating school day with hundreds of people. I often feel the same way after work. But when I take the time to do a picnic-in-the-park outing, we all leave more content. With all our phones tucked away, after some minutes of silent sipping, my kids will start talking about their days and share what’s on their minds.
Here are some of my favorite destinations in the Spokane area, including lesser-known and small public parks, for a short after-school picnic or nature session:
- Spokane River overlooks: Summit Blvd and Pettet Drive in West Central (trail along the roadways with parking pull-outs and benches); Centennial Trail access points off East Upriver Drive; People’s Park and Sandifur Bridge. There are many other popular, well-used trail access points from Kendall Yards east through the University District too.
- For trees and trails: Holmberg Park in Five Mile; Audubon Park; Finch Arboretum in the Sunset Hill neighborhood.
- For sunset views: High Drive Bluff on the west edge of Spokane’s South Hill.
- Historic parks with ponds: Manito Park (don’t miss the Rose Garden—blooms last until early fall); Cannon Hill Park.
- Mirabeau Point Park (Spokane Valley): The trail to Mirabeau Springs with a waterfall and pond; Spokane River views along the Centennial Trail.
- Spokane River views in Post Falls-Coeur d’Alene: McGuire Park, Falls Park, Black Bay Park, and Johnson Mill River Park. //
Amy McCaffree is a longtime Out There contributor and writes the Out There Kids column for each issue.