Our last blog was about which toys children really need - and don’t need - for outdoor play. However, it’s not just the ‘toys’ that can make your little ones want to go outside. Even if you have a tiny back yard or a balcony, it doesn’t mean you can’t encourage your children to use it. Here’s how…
1) A picnic mat or similar. Because you know those blocks, jigsaws, dressing up and musical instruments you use indoors? They still work when they go through the back door! Parents everywhere can relate to the moment when your child wants to play and there’s ‘just one more job’ you need to do. For some weird reason, if you put a mat outside, you’re far more likely to sit down on it and actually play with your child.
2) Encourage wildlife. If you’ve ever seen a toddler with a bug, then you know why this is important. Children are inherently fascinated by nature, even those who profess to be terrified of spiders or whatever. Children who think they’re scared of wildlife tend to forget their fear when they make a bug home, and come back the next day to see who’s inhabited it! Like so many outdoor projects, making a bug home simple or as complicated as you like (a bamboo cane for solitary bees or a full scale wall of slates, bricks and wood). Butterflies can be encouraged with decomposing fruit (itself fascinating to many little ones…) or a pot of something like thyme or buddleia.
3) Create ‘small worlds’. One little project that can include arts and crafts, gardening, creativity and imaginative play? And not a lot more input than a garden pot? The possibilities for small worlds are infinite - but fairy worlds, dinosaur lands and zoos are popular options. All you need to do is fill a pot (or an old tyre, or a tub, or anything similar) and let your imaginations run riot. You may want to build things, or plant things, or paint things, the choices really are endless. The simplicity and complexity, and the amount of involvement you have, will depend on the age of your child, and there is loads of inspiration online, like on this pinterest page. One of the beauties of this is that this isn’t simply some art and crafts project - you’re creating a space that your child can play with for months on end because they can use, own, develop and change it as they wish.
4) Mud kitchen Look online for mud kitchens and you will see some awe-inspiring constructions where carefully crafted pallets are lovingly adorned with bunting and hand-painted inspirational quotes. Fortunately for those whose pinterest-inspired projects generally end up looking like the two-year-old created them, a mud kitchen need be nothing more than a washing up bowl, a wooden spoon and a saucepan. ‘Mud kitchen’ is simply a name for the tools that allow children to make gloopy, gooey, messy concoctions, often adorned with dandelions or grass, that can be ‘fed’ to teddies or parents (beware, unsuspecting younger siblings…)
5) Explore what’s next door
We often think of outdoor play as something to be done in the garden, which is one of the reasons we fill our back yards with play houses, swings, ride on cars et al. In actual fact, many of your children’s best experiences can come from exploring new places, or interacting with other children in a park. Anyone who has ever taken the time to walk down the street at the pace their toddler sets knows just how fascinating every puddle, stick and bug can be. As children get older, the lure of a big space where they can simply run free is often just as enticing.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we must be doing ‘an activity’ or ‘creating an experience’. Simply being outdoors is often enough to keep your children entertained.