If you have read anything about early childhood, or childhood in general lately, chances are you’ve heard about the importance of play, especially outdoor play. The great outdoors can provide different play opportunities than indoors and often in bigger, louder, and more adventurous ways! Spending time outside helps children explore nature, develop coordination and strength, and gain self-confidence. Here are a few ideas for some powerful play in your own backyard!
Take those blocks outside!
We all know the endless benefits of block play. Many of us have blocks in our homes, but have you considered setting up a block-building area outside? You will need a hard surface for children to build. Depending upon the age of your children, this may be a patio, deck, steps, or even driveway.
The next thing you will need for a successful outdoor block area is- cool stuff! Look for interesting and beautiful items for building. When we think of blocks, we often think of Legos or wooden blocks. Consider adding old CDs, wood rounds, candlesticks, tiles, spools, spindles, cones, seashells, pinecones, plastic-coated children’s wire, or anything else you can think of to your children’s current collection. These materials can be continuously changing. If children find items beautiful and unique, add them!
Get their WHOLE body moving through play.
Some other great additions are “messy materials.” The name may be intimidating, but these are simply items requiring full-body movement to build and create. Examples of popular “messy materials” are milk crates, laundry baskets, sheets & clothespins, cardboard boxes, sticks, long branches, and even wood rounds and stumps. These challenge children to think in scale to their own bodies. The outdoors is the best place for these materials because space is not limited, and children can bring their BIG ideas to life. Watch closely and enjoy the collaboration to build forts, stages, picnic tables, houses, cars, and more! These materials add so much movement and creativity to play.
Good Old Sandboxes and Mud
Children absolutely love mud. Even those who do not wish to have their hands in it find it hard to resist poking a stick in and stirring. Consider adding a space in your backyard simply for digging and playing. Children love making tracks, building hills, creating bridges, digging holes, and burying “stuff.” All this creativity, and engineering, washes away easily with the dump of a bucket when they are ready to start over again.
If mud is not an option, think about a sandbox. Old pots and pans, muffin tins, spoons, cups, artificial flowers, toy cars, pieces of wood, etc., do wonders for sandbox play and offer the same great opportunities for creativity and engineering. I am amazed by how a bucket of water in the sandbox engages children and truly extends play.
Move art outside!
Art outdoors can be so much messier- and fun! If you have an easel, move it outside. Have no worries when children paint their arms, legs, or each other when OUTSIDE. That garden hose is close at hand for easy clean-up! Grab a tote and try keeping paper, markers, sidewalk chalk, and paints available to further extend play and design on items made with their messy materials, blocks, or even sandbox creations. With just a little paper and markers, you will start to see children create signs, labels, and more.
Bring a little nature into your art by gathering various natural loose parts: wood rounds, acorns, pinecones, seashells, dried seeds/pods, rocks, pebbles, etc. Children enjoy lining these up, making patterns, and creating pictures and stories from these natural items. Then, let them use watercolors or washable paint to further explore and create. If you have an old mirror, place it on the ground or on a picnic table. See if your children can paint the clouds or the leaves on a tree. Such a fun and unique way to appreciate nature through art.
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