Our Natural Playscape Experiment

My last post was about our Little World, an area of the backyard dedicated to the creation of miniature tableaus for pretend play primarily for our daycare kids .  The rest of the backyard has also been undergoing a slow transformation to an environment that incorporates as many natural elements as possible.  We have a tiny yard, so it has been challenging.  But, since getting rid of the 10 or so plastic playhouses, toddler climbers, slides and sand tables, I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the play habits of the toddlers I spend my days with.

I have 5 little ones, 2.5 years old and under, and they will spend as much time playing in this yard as I let them.  In the summer, that can be anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, broken up by meal times and nap time.   They are endlessly occupied in this yard, whereas before they would start to get bored after about a half-hour or 45 minutes.  The few plastic things I haven’t gotten rid of are our Step 2 Roller Coaster (the kids have a blast with it!), our picnic table (soon to be replaced with a wooden one), and the playhouse attached to the sand pit (also with a replacement in the plans).

Here’s the progress so far:

This is our teepee, surrounding by balancing/sitting logs and stepping stumps.  A pathway of portable tree cookies leads into it.  One little guy loves to pretend he’s “fixing” the teepee, while the girls like to have tea parties in it.

Our Sand Pit, Dirt Pie Kitchen, and Playhouse.  The benefit of living in where we do is that much of the town sits on an old lake bed.  Once we take off the sod and a bit of topsoil, we hit sand that goes much deeper than the kids could ever dig.  No need for store-bought sand!  And the sand is much better than store-bought too — uniform in size and texture.  The kids could play right here the entire time we’re outside.  They take the sand and pots into the playhouse and stage hour-long, 12-course meals in the comfort of their own little home!

The water trough and table is also incredibly popular.  The kids can pour water into the top of the vinyl (read: no sharp edges) eavestrough.  It pours down into the water table at the bottom.  This is my answer to the problem of incorporating water into our playscape.  Water is an essential part of a Natural Playscape, preferably with close access to the digging pit.  I’m not brave enough to allow mud play in the yard yet, so the water table stands at the opposite end of the yard to the sand pit.

This isn’t the greatest picture, but our painting wall is my own brainstorm.  It consists of a short length of vinyl eaves trough with end caps and several paintbrushes hanging from the fence using twine and eye hooks.  When it’s warm enough, I fill the trough with a jug or two of water, and the kids use it to “paint” the fence.  The water dries quickly and they start a new masterpiece when they’re done the first one!

We also have bird feeders, a garden, our own version of thunder drums, talking tubes, and our dome climber to enjoy too!

SOOO much better than our village of plastic, much more enjoyable, and much better for the kids and I to spend our time in!

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