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If you plan on spending a lot of time outside this summer then one of the first things you should teach your children is how to stay safe.
What safety means is different depending on where you live but in general you want to make sure they know which local wildlife to avoid, how to observe from afar, how to back away if they come across something unsafe, etc..
One aspect that I really wanted to include in our outdoor small world play area was blocks.
But blocks can be quite pricey and I didn’t want to invest in something that might be damaged in the weather, misplaced during playdates, or even stolen from our yard.
Using blocks made of natural materials satisfies my children’s need to create as well as my need to keep costs low.
Plus, I found an excellent idea online to tie our block area into our geography lessons.
When I first set off to build an outdoor classroom in our backyard, I asked my son what he would like to see, what he would find most useful. Among a few other reasonable requests, LittleMan asked if we could build a catapult.
Watching wildlife in their own backyard is one of the most rewarding and inspiring activities that a child can do. I don’t even know the innumerable hours I spent as a child watching the squirrels gathering nuts for the winter and birds building their nests in the spring. Many seasons I sat in quiet observation of the raccoon kits as they outgrew their mother’s care and the flowers as they over-flowed their garden beds. I befriended the toad who made his burrow beneath my patio and awaited his awakening each evening as the day came to an end, frequently catching little fireflies to feed him.
Nothing makes me happier than knowing I can give my children a similar experience. Sending them outside everyday to connect with the world around them, in their own ways.
Many older houses come equipped with clotheslines in the backyard. Our home is one such place.
The large metal pole cemented into the ground in the middle of our outdoor classroom was an eye sore for me to look at every day.
So I sat down and brainstormed up a few ways that we could take that eye sore and make it useful.
I try to waterproof as much of our outdoor materials as possible. I’ve even found ways of making water-proof books and board games that can be left out in all sorts of weather without being damaged. But there are other things that I’d rather not get left out in the rain. Things like chalk. Magnetic letters. Dress-up Supplies.
Last year we built a mud kitchen for our children and it was wholly popular among our children and their friends. Lots of big time messy play went down at that mud kitchen. While we loved our old mud kitchen, it wasn’t very easy on the eyes. This year we decided to revamp the idea; build a new, more visually appealing mud kitchen.
What would an outdoor play space be if it didn’t have a sandbox?
We’ve had our share of sandbox phases throughout the years. When LittleMan was just an infant, not quite old enough to be trusted not to eat a handful of sand, we filled his paddling pool with colored rice and construction vehicles. After that we moved on to a small sensory bin of plain sand. Then a sensory bin of plain sand and water. As he gets older though, he has more of an interest in designing sand castles and digging elaborate tunnels. These activities require just the right sand mix so they don’t crumble apart.
A while back I was reading into what makes a outdoor space really welcoming for children and I noticed three main components that presented themselves quite a bit: loose parts for open-ended play, lots of opportunities to connect with nature, and some small spaces to hide away when they need a rest. I went through a lot of DIY playhouse plans and ideas before I settled on the teepee neighborhood.
Children love to plant gardens, and it is especially beneficial for them to do so. Unfortunately, plants can take an awful long time to grow and children are not known for their patience.
And I have learned the hard way that if you attempt to grow a garden with starter plants rather than seeds, the children might be tempted to dig them up and replant them frequently, which can cause root damage and undo stress to the plant.
In an effort to minimize the damage to our live plants, I created this pretend play garden for my children and their friends, and it has so far been a roaring success. (more…)