In this guest post Amber Greene of Happy Crafty Family shares some of her family’s favourite ways to play outdoors!
I’ve been a mum for almost 20 years and I’ve been a kindergarten teacher for decades but it wasn’t until my own little boys (aged 6 and 1) came along that I truly valued time outdoors! My boys need the space to run off energy and noise, as well as dig, hunt, climb, scamper, battle, and discover. Oh, and did I mention roar?
I delight in their outdoor play. Being cooped up all day inside with my boys and their exuberance, noise and energy can be a bit much sometimes. Going outside with them is the perfect antidote, plus it gives me a chance to enjoy a (hot) cup of tea and a ray of sunshine while they go about their business of play. While most of the time, my boys are content to find their own way and direction, there are a number of quick tricks I use to encourage their play, helping them be constructive, self-regulating and engaged in their imaginative doings. Perhaps you might like to try some of these ideas too!
1. Instead of one giant container, fill three or four tubs of differing shapes or sizes with water, and place them on a big outdoor table. This set-up invites children to either play alongside one another with their own water-based game or join forces across tubs. Why not try floating ice boats in one tub or adding big soapy bubbles to another? Underwater treasure hunting using small fishing nets or sandpit shovels is fun too. Pop a few polished stones, large crystals, or big shells into the tub and let the children dig or scoop below the soapy bubble layer.
2. Join together to wash up all the sandpit pots and pans one sunny day, then let them drain on a dish rack in the sun. A little sparkly clean up every now and then helps children to find new ways of using old favourites. While you are out and about, set about scrubbing all the children’s furniture too. Give each child a small bucket of warm soapy water and a hand-sized sponge, then let them scrub to their delight. Carrying on the water-theme, children love to ‘paint’ with water. An old brush and a small container of water with a carry handle is all you need to invoke hours of make-believe enjoyment.
3. Host a water tube relay. Gather two long 4 or 5 metre lengths of clear plastic tubing. Help children to wind each of these gently around the outdoor chairs, fence posts, table legs, cubby stairs, wire fences, or through gate rungs in a zig zag, higgledy piggledy fashion. Place a funnel on the top of each tube. Fill two large containers with coloured water (add drops of food colouring to make your chosen hue) and then it’s.. ready, steady, pour! Whose water travelled through the fastest? Now, reroute the tubes and start again, and again, and again…
4. Set up shop. A plank of wood across two chairs makes for a lovely shopfront. Make mudpies, sand cakes, and cups of tea to ‘sell’. Or perhaps the kids would like to deal in real coins and save for a big day out instead. If that is the case, it’s time for the kids to decide what to sell. This Apple and Berry Tray Bake is easy for kids to bake, delicious and can be cut up into large slices and served on a serviette. Or you might prefer these raw chocolate balls. To keep these cool and firm, place a few handfuls of ice into a deep biscuit container. Place the balls on a pretty side plate and nestle it on top of the ice while they wait for these to be snapped up by willing friend and family ‘customers.’
If they (and you) would prefer to do something other than cook, loom band bracelets are a hot item on the market these days. Or finger knitted headbands or bracelets which are quick and easy to make. Or wind up some funky pom-poms like these apple ones to hang on a tree display.
All that is left is to cover the plank in a pretty tablecloth, help the children to whip up some fancy signage, and wait for customers to roll in.
5. Recreate a favourite sideshow alley game with a bunch of balls and a washing basket on the lawn. Or for a trickier version, children can throw ping pong balls into a tall container. Or cut a hole in the centre of an old sheet from the op-shop and hang the sheet from the washing line for old-school throwing fun.
6. Blow up a few balloons and play a hilarious version of volleyball over a rope tied between two trees or fences. You might like to try balloon badminton, balloon ping pong, balloon tennis, or even musical balloons too!
7. Sand play can almost become a form of hands-on therapy – helping small children articulate their fears and worries using small trinkets and toys that allow them to share their stories and ideas. Collect a bunch of palm-sized toys, ornaments or mementos such as plastic dinosaurs, people figurines, matchbox cars, farm animals and the like, and line them up artistically in front of the sandpit. Watch in delight as your children scramble to gather their favourites and then create wondrous stories and adventures in the sand box.
8. Inspire new play by bringing some of their favourite things outdoors for a visit. I love to watch my boys expand their train station set-ups on the grass in every which way they can, without the constraints of lounge room walls. Our teddies have come outside to climb trees or swing alongside their owner. We’ve built long meandering roads from old fence palings for our indoor cars, and built cubbies using our wooden dining table chairs on the deck. It’s such fun, and a little sneaky, to play with things in places where these things don’t usually belong. Just be sure to take all the toys back ‘home’ again!
9. Books on a rug under a blue sky can invite even the most boisterous of children to sit and snuggle for a moment or two. Why not enjoy a picnic while you are there?
10. Make use of nature as a play prop. Fill individual cane baskets with pine cones, banksia pods, black bean tree pods, avocado seeds and helicopter seeds, and invite children to create their own imaginary worlds with these raw materials. Pile up some tree rounds – both large and small, large river stones, smooth rocks the size of your palm, driftwood finds, a bucket or two of bark mulch, and seasonally, the odd bale of hay, and you’ll never need to buy from a toy catalogue again.
11. Nature crafting is fun too. There is no limit to what you can create outside if you keep a small pair of scissors, a ball of string and some natural raffia close by. My favourite is to make little people. Last year, I made ‘Stick Man‘, complete with his own felt backpack. He’s cute, and adventurous to boot! My 6 year old quickly fell in love with this guy, and his companion, Pearl, the stick girl. Stick Man and Pearl girl can be made in as little as ten minutes, and that small investment of your time and effort in helping them to create will only inspire more of their own creativity and imaginative play. Imagine what this might lead to!
I like to think of outdoor play as a restorative tonic to the many stresses that children face in this hectic world. I’m striving to make a commitment to spend more time outside than in. It’s not easy when I’m an indoor homebody by nature, but the benefits have proved themselves to me. When my boys have enough outside time, the time spent indoors is more likely to be harmonious, calm and purposeful. That for me is enough reason to keep ensuring my boy’s feet touch grass or dirt every single day.
What do you think? How do you manage outdoor time? What tricks or fun ideas do you have up your sleeve?
Amber Greene is a fun-loving mama, who delights in making things with and for little children including her own two small boys. Her mission in life is to support women and children to ‘fire up their creative spark!’. She’s also a born storyteller who shares her ideas and crafts on her blog, Happy*Crafty*Family.