Category Archives: Outdoor Play

The Hill

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 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.

Loose Parts

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….

The Quest

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?”….