I am constantly evaluating the learning environment as I observe the children at play. I make notes of things I’d like to add, remove or modify. Sometimes I can make the necessary changes easily, other times they take longer.
Bringing elements of music and rhythm to the outdoor play space has been one of my goals. It started a few years ago when my husband ‘rescued’ two large barrels made of heavy cardboard with a tin base. We lay these barrels on the deck and the children used them as animal dens, train sheds or other type of shelter that suited their interests.
When not in use these barrels were stored upside down in a sheltered area on the side of the deck to prolong their life. It was here that it began when one of the children discovered the sound that could be made when they banged on the tin end of the barrel.
Over time the cardboard barrels disintegrated but we kept the end caps – painted them, and attached them to the fence. Playing these ‘drums’ has been a favourite activity for the children.
Since then I have added some other outdoor sound items like the wind chimes and the windmill which when the wind is right makes a unique sound as it flaps against the cedars.
The children have been busy creating instruments of their own. With sticks, pails, tubes and more the combinations are as endless as their imaginations.
I was particularly impressed when they experimented with adding various amounts of gravel to this flexible tube and adjusted the placement to achieve an assortment of different sounds.
One thing is certain – the yard is never quiet.
Most people seemed surprised when I mention Parkour and childcare together. I’m sure that they imagine dangerous stunts and reckless behaviour that is completely inappropriate for a childcare environment.
To be honest, that was my reaction too when my teenage son first engaged in this activity. I warned him never to practice within view of any of the children or even talk about it when they were present.
Then, I spent some time watching him practice and listening to him and researching the topic on my own…and I changed my mind.
Sure it entails running, jumping, climbing and a bit of acrobatics but the focus is on control and precision. Instead of being competitive it involves collaboration, responsibility and play. In fact, the more I learned about it the more I thought – this is a great activity for children!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’d encourage toddlers to jump off buildings but the basic skills training can be adapted for all ages – and they think it is fun to exercise.
All summer my son has been playing in the yard with us and showing the children some of the skills and training he can do in our small space. The children are practicing and learning about spatial awareness, balance and their own physical abilities. They are setting personal goals, problem solving and overcoming obstacles. It’s perfect!
This three-year-old lands like this every time but never falls back — she has learned to lean forward and balance.
Even the two year old can balance on one leg on a log. What fun!
Our garden had run amok. With a combination of diverse weather and busy days with little time to spend in our garden it had become overgrown. The children occasionally ventured a few steps inside but no further. If the zucchini and cucumber plants were not so prickly they may have enjoyed playing in the ‘jungle’.
Other creatures were more impressed — especially the multitude of cabbage butterflies.
They were destroying our kale but I didn’t mind because the children loved chasing them around the yard. Nonetheless I decided it was time to do some pruning.
As I worked my way along the paths, I trimmed leaves and tied branches up to the trellis. The children were close on my heels — whispering excitedly about the progress that was being made. They were also thrilled about the discoveries we made as we ventured further into the garden.
The paths are still not very wide and the plants are taller than the children so the garden is indeed a place for adventure and discovery.
We first began making plans to renovate our yard last fall. We knew many of the elements that we wanted to include; a bigger garden, some seating areas, and a small hill with a slide and tunnel. We had the basic ideas but we didn’t plan any of the details and since the snow melted we’ve been slowly putting the pieces together.
There has been a circular area in the pea gravel reserved for the hill and the children have often asked when it would be built. To be honest, I’d planned to have it done long before now but I kept running into minor roadblocks which delayed construction. Well, as August arrived the hill began to take shape.
Like most of my projects I won’t ever consider it to be ‘completed’ because everything here is constantly changing. This hill, however, will be a very slow process because it is a ‘living’ hill and thus we have to wait for it to grow. I have planned to have native prairie plants covering the hill — their amazing root system will help to make it strong. I have to thank Shirley at http://www.prairieoriginals.com/ for all her help and suggestions for plants for this project.
So far I’ve only got a few small wildflower species started and the rest is covered with landscape fabric to prevent the soil from washing away. I placed some pots of day lilies to temporarily add some greenery but I don’t want these here permanently. Don’t laugh at them — they’re survivors — I had thinned them out of the front yard and for three weeks they lay in a pile beside the deck with only the soil that stuck to them when I pulled them out. I only plopped them in pots as an afterthought when the hill looked like it needed ‘something’. In my mind I can see the hill covered with wildflowers and surrounded by butterflies, birds, and of course, children playing.
The ‘tunnel’ is made of clear plastic panels through which I hope someday the children will be able to see roots and worms and other cool stuff. Right now I just like the pattern the sun makes as it shines through the boards on the platform above the tunnel.
After only a week the children are just beginning to create games and stories that use the hill but already they see its potential. As the hill evolves so will their adventures.
Tomorrow will be “Water Day” — an eagerly anticipated summer event. Each summer I schedule at least one day with a variety of outdoor water games and activities.
Today we went outside for our usual outdoor play time. The weather forecast predicted a 30% chance of rain but a little rain doesn’t stop us from going outside. We managed to get about 30 minutes of dry playtime before we felt the first few rain drops.
At first none of the children even paused or appeared to even notice the rain. We often stay outside in light rain if it is not too cold. Only a few minutes earlier there had been bits of sunshine peeking through the clouds so we were not expecting the rain to last. We were wrong.
Within minutes the rain became quite heavy. The children began to giggle and looked to see what my reaction was. I shrugged and said “Let’s stay out a bit longer”. They were thrilled. They ran and jumped and laughed and got wet. They were children having fun.
There was no sign of the rain letting up and none of the children had extra clothing so reluctantly we went in. Several hours later when their parents arrived to pick them up every one of the children had the same story to tell. “We had an early water day — we played in the rain and got wet but we’re dry now”. Until tomorrow….
During our outdoor play time one of the children built an interesting structure. When I asked what it was she replied “A fire” The other children had been playing a follow-the-leader/obstacle course game and asked her if they could use her ‘fire’ to set off their ‘fireworks’. She agreed so they built an extension to channel the fire to the fireworks station.
The obstacle course was redesigned — over the balance beam, across the walkway, jump on and off the log, and complete a circle on the stepping stones. One by one they tried the course while the spectators watched from the log seats.
After each successfully completed course the imaginary fireworks were triggered and the audience applauded. They adapted the course for the age and skill level of the participant. The baby didn’t have to complete the whole course without touching the gravel area as the others had to. If the course was too easy for some they had to complete more laps in order to trigger the fireworks. Bonus fireworks were awarded for doing spins or fancy tricks along the way.
This is the power of free play. An independent building project evolved into gross motor activity that enhanced social skills and creativity for the whole group. It was better than anything I could have planned.
Our outdoor play space contains a wide variety of loose parts. Some items have been donated by parents, some are found items, and others are leftover pieces from various projects. Whatever they were before it’s always interesting to see what the children can do with them.
Sometimes the children work independently, other times the whole group is involved. Often there is an intricate story behind their creations.
This was a shed on the side of the roadway:
These were part of and elaborate zoo:
And here they are going on a camping trip. Most of the group is waiting in the car but some are hooking up the trailer.
which is on the other side of the yard….
Today all the children aged 3-12 were digging holes in the pea gravel to see how deep they could make them. As they were digging many of them were also collecting rocks that they found interesting or unique. Two of the girls decided to use the hole they had made to create an “underground church” and recruited the others to collect the supplies they would need. They began by using sticks to reinforce the edges of the hole.
Suddenly, one of the girls realized that she had misplaced her “pretty rock” and the whole group stopped construction and began searching for it. As she provided details about the size, shape and color of the prized rock the other continued to scour the 350 square foot area of pea gravel without any thought to the chances of finding the correct one. Their optimism was amazing and their efforts paid off when they located the “smooth rock that looked like a broken sea shell”.
They now returned to complete construction of the church. They assigned roles including “architect”, “designer”, and “supplier”. They put a sturdy roof on the hole and added steps, decorations, and fancy stonework until an hour later they completed their project.
As they admired their work and asked me to take a group photo I heard “Hey, where’s my rock?”….