Category Archives: Outdoor Play

With or Without

It is no secret that I enjoy walking. There are so many great reasons to go for a walk. It could just be a means of transportation to get from point A to point B. Maybe you want to spend some time outdoors exploring , getting fresh air and/or exercise. Walking could be a social activity you do with your friends or a solitary activity you use to reflect, rejuvenate, and unwind.

For me, walking is all of those things. Below I have my Fitbit data from some of my recent walks. The route and distance for the the first two walks is the same but the difference is whether I am walking with or without children.

This first one is one of my 4:30 am ‘perfect-way-to-start-the-day’ brisk walk without children. This is an exercise walk – I wear my weighted vest and sometimes ankle and/or wrist weights too. I walk quickly and throughout the walk my mind is busy too. I make mental lists of what I need to do that day, what food needs to be prepped before the children arrive and what supplies I need to gather for the day’s activities. Sometimes I even ‘write’ drafts of blog posts during these walks. I was actually surprised that this ‘exercise’ walk didn’t have a much higher heart rate – probably because it was a lovely spring morning – my -30 C winter morning walks are more strenuous.

This second walk is with six children – three of which are toddlers. Two of the children in group were enrolled during this past winter – they are not yet familiar with our long hikes but have gone on a few shorter walks with us. Even though the route is exactly the same as my morning walk, this second walk is slower – taking almost twice as long to cover the same distance. Notice my step count is also higher – I take smaller steps when holding toddler hands. Although the time is doubled on my walk WITH children, my ‘active’ minutes are not because we do stop to look at things periodically. I don’t set the pace for these walk – usually the older children do but occasionally I have to remind them that the toddlers have very short legs.

Now this third walk is a different, much shorter route with children. This walk is half the distance of the first two but it takes us through a park where we stop to play. The step count is about the same as my early morning exercise walk but this walk with children is half the distance and takes more time.

Both my walks with children averaged 4 calories per minute and my exercise walk was 5 calories per minute – not as big a difference as I would have expected. I guess that even though my walks with children are much more relaxed than my walks without, they are still good exercise. Also, there is so much more talking during my walks with children – talking burns calories too. These conversations are one of my favourite parts about walking with children – here you can read more about walking and talking.

Winter Yard 2

We plan go outside to play every day throughout the year in all types of weather. In winter there is only one restriction that I put on our outdoor time – we don’t go on long hikes. We do still go on some shorter walks on warmer days but on cold days we just stay in the yard.

In winter the weather conditions are unpredictable. Even on short walks we’ve discovered that what feels like a lovely mild winter day can suddenly feel like a blizzard when you round a corner and face the wind. Toddlers in particular can go from comfortable to too cold in a very short period of time and the return trip will be nearly impossible if we’ve wandered very far.

My yard is sheltered from the wind and faces South so it gets plenty of sunlight. There are very rarely days that we feel are too cold to go outside to play – in fact, this year so far there have been no days that we didn’t venture outside for at least a little time. There may be days that are too cold to sit or stand outside and do nothing, but the children don’t do this and neither do I. When we are outside I spend the majority of my time ‘sculpting’ the yard.

Yard sculpting is a continuous process which some of the children enjoy helping me create but most just ‘use’. There are some children who would still love playing in the snow if I did nothing to the yard at all. Others – especially the littlest ones – sometimes find the snow and ice frustrating. I don’t want them to become discouraged and end up sitting somewhere shivering – learning only that winter is simply a miserable cold season.

I have a fairly small yard – only about 650 square feet – so I make the most of it by ensuring there are some special places and enough variety that no one gets too bored. There are many different spaces and activities to keep the children engaged, moving, exploring and most importantly enjoying their winter play experience. The little ‘cave’ under the cedars which provides a natural shelter from the hot summer sun also provides shelter from the cold winter wind.

The tipi is a constructed shelter which also serves as a storage area for loose parts. All our warm weather toys are not available here in the winter but we still have our pots, sticks and pipes.

Instead of toys I’ve added some coloured blocks of ice. I thought the children might like to use them for building blocks but so far they mostly just use them as hockey pucks.

As the children run and play I use my shovel to clear snow from some areas and pile it in others. I don’t just have one path from the house to the gate, I have multiple interconnecting trails that allow the children to go over and around obstacles. There are places to climb, jump, roll or slide and places to build and dig;

There are six circles to run around, five tunnels to crawl through, a bridge to go over, many steps/stumps, four different elevations to provide a variety of viewpoints, some flat open areas for building or playing group games and two hills. All together there is roughly 250 feet of trail with many forks and endless route options.

When I’m not shoveling I’m packing the trails. My Fitbit has auto-recognized a 30 minute hike while I repeatedly walked all the circles and loops around my yard. It is not unusual for a little toddler train to follow along behind me while I traverse the trails. When people marvel at the super long summer hikes my toddlers are capable of, I point out that summer hikes are pretty easy compared to our winter adventures on ice and snow while bundled in layers of heavy clothing.

Most of the pictures in this post were taken before the last big snowfall so we do have a little more snow than what is shown here – we would still like much more though. Sure, we love the other seasons too but we’re not tired of winter yet so come on Mother Nature – let it snow!

Frigid Cold

I’ve been working on a post about our winter yard and what we like to do out there. I will not have time to complete that post today but I did want to write a quick post about the weather.

Today’s weather forecast states the high temperature will be minus 25 C with wind chill of minus 44 in the morning and minus 35 in the afternoon. Yet, the children and I will still be going outside for at least a brief period of time.

Why? Well, first of all, any of the children who arrive here today will have at some point had to go outside so saying ‘It is too cold to go outside’ would not be true.

Second, if I don’t take them outside there will at some point be a mutiny because at least some of the children really want to go outside and I definitely don’t want to keep them inside all day.

Third, and probably most important, cold weather like this is a fantastic learning opportunity. As we prepare to go outside we will discuss how to dress appropriately for the weather. All the children (even the littlest ones) will work on completing self help skills, independence and decision making. We will experience the way the sun warms us and the trees shelter us from the wind. We will build resilience.

The children will make the decision as to how long we can play outside. They will learn to realize how they and others feel – are they warm enough but their friends are too cold? What can they do to help?

So, I didn’t get a chance to complete my post about our winter yard, but this quick little post may be the perfect introduction to the importance of having a outdoor play space designed for winter.

Mud Day 2018

The problem with having Mud Day on the Friday before my vacation begins is that then I’m too busy working on my vacation projects to write about anything.  So, since my ‘vacation’ is nearly over and my projects are almost complete here’s a very quick post about June 29, 2018.

The weather forecast said there was a chance of rain and there was a tiny bit of rain before we got outside – we wouldn’t have minded if it had continued.  Once outside, the children immediately ran to check out the pool full of semi-dry soil;

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Some were curious why it was only dirt but then I asked them if they were certain it was only dirt.  They dug deeper…

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Surprise!

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It took much longer than I expected for them to find all the ‘dinosaur bones‘ hidden in the dirt so I didn’t bother bringing out the new activity cards – today the mud play was their main focus – I’ll introduce the card activities another day.

The children were becoming less interested in playing in the pool of dirt and seemed to prefer playing in the bins of water meant for washing the dirt off the bones.

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So, I changed it up a bit…

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Some of the children liked this much better;

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Later we added some corn flour to the mud to make mud dough which the older children enjoyed playing with all afternoon while the littles napped;

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As I watched the children engaged in their mud day activities I was already making plans for Mud Day 2019.  I knew that one of my vacation projects was removing the old deck – where we were currently playing with mud – but I also knew that there would still be space for mud play and so much more.

You though, will have to wait until after my vacation is over and I’ve finished all my projects before you get to see the new outdoor play space. 😉

Mud and More

June 29th is International Mud Day – something we celebrate every year.  This year the school-age children were thrilled that there was no school so they were able to join in the day’s activities.  I had the water table set up full of dirt – it was up to the children to add the water and make the mud;

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I also put out another bin with plain water for hand washing but some of the children enjoyed making repeated trips from mud to hand washing and back so really there were TWO mud bins.  I cleaned the hand washing bin and added fresh water several times but it always looked like this;

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Because of this;

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We were outside all morning and the children took breaks from mud play to build bridges;

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play tag, and capture things like this;

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There was a five minute downpour which was very exciting after I reassured the children that we would NOT have to go back inside.  We do often play in the rain but because we didn’t have raincoats and boots some of the children were concerned that we were not properly dressed for the weather.  However, it was Mud Day and everyone had clean clothes waiting inside so  all that rain was just a bonus 🙂 It created some muddy puddles and the tarp became a slip and slide;

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and the mud table got soupier;

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Then, one of the children notice that the first tomato has begun to grow.  Three of the children decided to ‘watch’ it for nearly 20 minutes ‘waiting for it to turn red’.

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I think maybe it will be ready when they return in two weeks – after my vacation.  I wonder if they will remember to check, or will they be too interested in exploring all the other new things – my ‘vacation to-do list’ is two pages long.  I love vacation time but the return of the children is so exciting too!

Winter Yard

Last summer I rearranged the stumps in the yard to create a path to and over the rocks on the little hill/tunnel.

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At that time I wasn’t thinking about winter but now that the snow is here we have been creating a BIG hill in the yard by piling all the snow inside the stump circle.

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This picture was taken before the recent snowfall.  Yesterday we spent nearly two hours adding more snow to the pile so now the hill is much bigger 🙂 Watching the children play on this hill makes me dream of permanently filling that stump circle so we have a big hill in the summer too – but I would miss the inner stump circle and the tunnel too.

With all the snow piled up one side of the tunnel is now blocked so the ‘tunnel’ is actually a ‘cave’.

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This cave is now a favourite – not so secret – hiding spot.

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Found you!

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Another favourite space is inside the tipi.  In summer it is nice to be able to see through the tipi and into the lane beyond the fence.

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In the winter I pile snow behind the tipi and it becomes a wonderful place to sit when you want shelter from the wind.

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We love our winter yard.

A Lovely Autumn Hike

We have a new favourite park.  I’ve passed it often in the car but for some reason always thought it was too far away to take the children hiking there.  I failed to realize that it was really just a block passed some of our other routes.  Yes, it may be too far away for some toddler groups but my current group has no problem with the distance.

The weather was wonderful on Friday – it was hard to believe it was October already.  The park was quiet;

15-10-fall01We headed to the bench.  This was the halfway point of our planned route so it was the perfect place to take a break.  It also offered a relaxing view of the river – the children all sat quietly, mesmerized by the scenery;

15-10-fall02We met some new friends – they were wary but let us get fairly close;

15-10-fall03The children got very excited when they saw a ‘new’ bridge.  We have never walked over this one and wouldn’t today either but we got close;

15-10-fall04We did stop by one of our other bridges on our way back but we couldn’t sit on the bench this time;

15-10-fall05As we passed under the big bridge we listened to the echo as usual.  One of the toddlers expressed concern that he couldn’t see our shadows anymore.  We walked a little farther and there they were again – he insisted that I take a picture now that they were back;

15-10-fall06It was a lovely Autumn hike in the city.