Nature Area Mini Scenes

The major portion of our most recent playroom renovation took place back in April – read about it here.

There were some smaller projects – both indoors and out – that I planned to work on as time permitted throughout the spring and summer. One of these was the mini-scenes in the nature area. They were originally built back in November of 2011 (wow, doesn’t seem like it was that long ago).

Last year I wrote a post about how the children were using – or rather NOT using – the mini scenes. That post is here.

The original mini scenes were created using scrap lumber and was attached directly to the wall. The decorations also were attached to or painted on the wall and shelves. This made it difficult for me to modify or repair them when necessary.

Last winter we decided we needed to put a heater in the nature area because it does get cold in there. In order to put the heater under the window we would have to move the shelves – perfect time to rebuild them.

This time I planned to build free standing shelf units that, although they are attached to the wall for stability, can be moved. The decorations are now attached to panels that fit in the shelves. This way we can change the mini scenes panels later without taking the whole unit apart.

The new scenes are slightly larger than the old ones and the heater separates the ‘indoor’ house section from the ‘outdoor’ scenes. It is impossible to get all of the nature area in one photo but this is an overhead view of the new nature area – it shows the shelves and the floor space but not any of the trees;


The ‘bridge over the river’ is also the stool the toddlers use to look out the window. My daughter sewed the felt logs and fire for me – I don’t like sewing but that is another post.

These are closer shots of the shelves – ‘The Forest’, ‘The Meadow/Garden’, and ‘The Beach’;


‘The 2nd Forest’ (would be the jungle if I had other decorations), the ‘Winter’ scene, and the ‘Underwater’ scene;


The house scenes are still a work in progress. I started decorating but there is some more furniture I want to make and I want to add a bathroom too – bathrooms are the children’s favorite rooms;


I will be adding some windows and other decorations – winter projects. I considered cutting a whole in the back of the kitchen shelf because the ‘real’ window is directly behind this shelf so there could be a ‘real’ view from the dollhouse kitchen window. My husband muttered some comment about a ‘sickness’ that he thinks I have…I’ll just paint the kitchen window like I was planning to do in the other rooms.

The new scenes have been very popular. When we are inside there are always children playing here. There are many different toys the children can use here but they particularly like the dolls I recently purchased from Quality Classrooms;


It has been difficult to take pictures of the children playing here because it is a small space for the six or seven children that like to congregate here. I’ll keep trying. I’ll also post some more pictures when I have added more decorations and furniture. As usual it will never be ‘finished’ but it will continue to evolve like all our other spaces.

The Store

We’ve had a covered seating area in the yard for several years. It was originally built to cover the BBQ and benches were added later after we no longer used it for the BBQ. Over the years the configuration of the benches and the position of the entire structure has changed.

Most recently we moved the benches to one long side and added a fold-out table to the other long side by the storage box. Both ends are open and the decking provides a bridge-like walkway from the grass area to the gravel area.


This summer the children have decided that this area is ‘The Store’.

Every day ‘customers’ line up in the grass area by the ‘counter’ and a ‘store clerk’ stands on the walkway and gives the customers the items that they request.  The items are always imaginary and the clerk sometimes has to search on/under the benches for quite a while before finding just the right items.

Often the customers are very specific when placing their orders.  “I would like a small green rubber ball with yellow stripes and pink dots.”  The clerk cannot always find the exact item but will offer substitutions. “I can’t find one with pink dots but this one has yellow stripes and purple dots.  Is that OK?”

This store is a magical place carrying almost anything you can imagine.  One of the favorite items is ‘A hamster…in a cage.’  The customer placing that order always pauses briefly before adding the cage as if they are not certain if they want/need the cage too.

Yesterday there were three children playing in the store.  The three-year-old was the clerk and the two almost-two-year-old children were the customers.  The clerk asked ‘What would you like?’ and one toddler replied ‘Apple’ so the clerk handed over an imaginary apple.  The other toddler held out her hand and asked for an apple too.  The clerk said ‘Sorry, no more apples today.  The store is closed.’ and she walked away. 

That was how the riot began.  Two toddlers screaming at each other, pushing and grabbing an invisible apple from the others hand.  I tried to offer them another apple……


The two toddlers looked at me.  They turned and looked at each other and then looked at me again.  They seemed confused. ‘Who is this crazy person and does she really think there is an apple in her hand?  Does she realize that we see only air?  Back away slowly and maybe she will not follow us.’  

United they retreat to the other side of the yard, whispering to each other and looking over at me.  I’m standing alone at the store – wondering what is wrong with my apple….I thought it was a perfectly wonderful apple…. 

Creative Summertime Freeplay

This has been a quiet summer.  Quiet meaning the children have needed very little direction from me.  This year’s group is very independent which has left me plenty of time for observation.

Indoors the trains have been neatly organized in the tubes instead of the block bin with the train tracks.  It was not my idea but I like it 🙂


That is the only indoor picture that I have because we’ve been playing outside most of the time.

All the loose parts have provided endless opportunities for creativity and symbolic play.  These ‘eggs’ are neatly arranged by size;


Of course there were many picnics and restaurants;


The little tree cookies were used to create paths between and around the larger stumps;


There was an ice cream shop with a wide variety of menu choices;

4-icecream shop

A grand pony expedition – I love that these children can use action figures creatively without following a movie script;


There was also an elaborate dramatic play activity involving the whole group.  The main characters were ‘sabre tooth grizzly birds’ and since I had trouble envisioning what they would look like I asked for a picture of one;


This picture was made possible thanks to an accessible outdoor art area.

I also asked them to make a list of art items they’d like to have available.  There is plenty of paper so I was a little surprised by the size of the list they made;


Even our outdoor snack time has been a creative activity;


And finally, this little pine cone family has been waiting patiently all weekend.


I wonder what they will be doing when the children return…

Spiders & Others

We have more spiders in the yard than we have ever had before.  There are webs everywhere.  This one in the hyssop is catching all the flower bits;


There are some with built in homes – the spiders disappear into the holes when we get close;



Sometimes the children try to rescue the other insects that get trapped in the webs.  They usually give up quickly – those webs are sticky!

We have some other – unwelcome – visitors too.  Our ornamental cabbage is being eaten;


We have six of them in the garden and planters.  I showed the children how to look for the cabbage caterpillars that were causing all the damage.  There were so many of them.  The children were excited – an endless supply of ‘loose parts’.

All week there were caterpillar schools and caterpillar day cares and the girls even tried potty training some caterpillars. I have no pictures – don’t ask.

By Thursday there were no more caterpillars.  The girls were very disappointed.  However, I was quite pleased that the cabbages are now free of pests 😉