Tag Archives: Outdoor Play Space

Reuse, Recycle

Warning – I think this might be a long post but I don’t want to try to break it up into two or three smaller posts.  Persevere through the rambling history – it will be worth it, I promise…

 

Often my husband complains people comment that I am always building/making something but really I am always moving/changing something.  Inside and outside my childcare home I create the furnishings, equipment, lofts, storage units etc to fit a specific space or purpose to suit the interests/needs of the group of children enrolled at that time. Sometimes there are items in stores or catalogues that I like but the dimensions or features are wrong for my application so I draw a plan and make one that will work.

Sometimes I feel my projects may seem incomplete/unfinished – maybe I didn’t have enough time to complete my vision due to inclement weather or other delays.  Possibly the project has several phases or there was something I forgot to take in to consideration when I made the plan.  I’ve taken down shelf units and discovered that the wall behind them was a color that is no longer on any other wall in the house and I have had neither the time nor any extra paint to fix it.  That’s OK because for me everything is really just temporary – it may not be long before I devise another plan that will require another change and that wall will be covered again.  The original project may even be abandoned entirely in favor of a better idea.

When I remove something from the play space I rarely discard any of the pieces – there may be another use for them at another time.  Sometimes I’ve even secretly dug a piece or two of scraps from the cut off bin that I felt were too valuable to have been put there.  It drives me crazy to watch those home renovation shows when they take a sledge hammer to the place and destroy perfectly usable parts. Go ahead, label me a ‘hoarder’ but I can’t count the number of times I’ve said something like “You know what I need here… wait…  I’ve got something in the basement/shed/bin that just might work”.  Occasionally I even ‘attach’ items that are not really needed at the time but it is easier than finding a place to store the extra pieces.  It is better for the environment if I can reuse something.  Besides, I find shopping for new stuff is so time consuming, often stressful and definitely more expensive.

This spring/summer I have changed at least a portion of every part of our indoor and outdoor play spaces.  In fact, I just looked at the slideshow on my homepage and realized that NONE of the spaces pictured there exist anymore!  Yet, for all my recent projects and changes I estimate the total cost of supplies to be less than $300 – that is a small price tag for a fairly major renovation.  Of course, that doesn’t cover what labour costs might be if I didn’t consider renovating to be an exciting recreational activity – I’d rather be in the midst of a construction project than traveling or laying on a beach any day!  That comment now leads perfectly to the real topic of this post;

‘What I Did on My Vacation – 2016 Edition’.

This year the bulk of the work was done to the outdoor play space – hooray, plenty of outdoor time!  There were several preliminary projects that were done earlier in the spring.  The biggest of those involved moving the garden – this couldn’t wait until vacation time because our seedlings needed to be planted earlier than mid-July so the garden phase was started in May.  For a while the old and new garden spaces were only partially finished and had to wait for other project phases to be done.  The most noticeable change took place during the first week of July – the removal of what was left of the shed.

Here is a little shed history.  The original 8 x 10 backyard shed was built a long time ago – I’m not even certain of the exact year but I’m going to estimate that it was about 1999.  My husband designed it and the entire space belonged to him – the children and I used only the 12’x30′ ground level deck, the gravel area and a small storage shed beside the upper deck.  In 2009 when I wanted to plant a garden we disassembled the entire shed and then reassembled it on top of the deck adjacent to my little shed.  This enabled me to use the ground space where my husband’s shed had been in exchange for a portion of the deck that we rarely used.

That worked for several years until 2013 when we moved half the big shed to the side yard.  The side yard shed contained the tools and allowed my husband to work in his separate side yard space at the same time as the children and I were playing in the back yard. There wasn’t room for the whole shed in the side yard so we left half of it on the back deck.  Last summer we put windows in remaining section of the backyard shed thinking maybe it would make a good playhouse type space.  However, it was only used maybe three or four times in the past year and I felt the open deck space would be more beneficial so down it came.  Of course I’ve safely stored the windows and all the other usable parts too.

Throughout all these shed projects the only time we purchased new wood was when we didn’t have old pieces that were long enough.  Consequently there was a lot of nostalgia as the shed was disassembled.  I found grey boards from the original shed, green and purple boards from the old wooden play structure, white boards from the old fence, black pieces from the old wooden wagon and even a couple dark brown stained pieces that may have even been from the shed at our old house!

So, I bet you are wondering what the ‘new’ back yard looks like.  You’re probably getting tired of just words so how about a bunch of pictures with just a few words.  Here is the view of the gravel area from the ‘new’ entrance;

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And a closer view of the tipi corner;

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This is where the entrance to the gravel area used to be – I always had to trim the willow back so we could get by.  Now I can let it grow and it makes such a cozy seating area (you can hardly see the benches in the corner).  The cinder block ‘chalk wall’ was extended too;

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Here’s another view of that corner;

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This is the new little ‘bridge’ entrance to the gravel area;

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The entrance to the gravel area was moved to make way for the new garden space so all these projects were done in May.  This is what our new garden looked like in June – peas, beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, wheat and flax;

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And in July;

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From the other side;

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Here’s the new seating/play area where the old garden had been.  The children call this the ‘trampoline’ because the thick layer of mulch is spongy to walk/run on.  Part of the old garden is still here – Milkweed and herbs.

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Here is what you see if you sit on the benches and look toward the gravel area;

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This is Frank – a friend I made when we first began the shed demo.  I kept moving him to safer places so he didn’t accidentally get squished.

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So beautiful and friendly.  Kept distracting me.  Almost forgot to take the ‘before demo’ picture.  Here’s an ‘already started but still mostly there’ picture;

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The new open, freshly painted deck space after shed demo – all this space was under the shed in 2009 and half in 2013;

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Combination wooden bench/balance beam/toddler table/moveable space divider and also a fun little fold-up/down table (extra parts).  This is the same camera angle as the ‘before demo’ picture.

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View of new space from the gravel area;

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Wood, gravel, garden, mulch – texture everywhere 🙂

 

 

 

Yard Projects

As mentioned in my previous post there have been many small yard projects I have tackled this summer.  Several years ago we put our old claw foot tub in the yard – re-purposed as a fire pit.  It was placed as a divider between the gravel area and the grass area but because of the rounded shape of the tub it didn’t really prevent the gravel from spilling over into the grass.  Originally we just had a board that sat just inside the tub to prevent access to the soot and debris but it didn’t prevent rain from soaking the fire pit.  Last year my husband made a cedar cover for the tub.

15-10-yard00It drives me crazy that he didn’t arrange the different coloured boards to create a pattern but I do love the smell of cedar so I try to focus on that instead.  The tub cover makes a great table for many of our group activities like this one;

15-10-yard01 However it doesn’t do anything to prevent the gravel from spilling over into the grass.  So, this summer I placed some cinder blocks along the cribbing beside the tub.  They line up with the edge of the cover and as an added bonus they make a great surface for chalk drawings;

15-10-yard0215-10-yard03There was another issue with the tree stumps too.  The children often like to use the stumps as tables – nothing wrong with that but it did sometimes get in the way of the children who wanted to walk on the stumps.  Some of the children also didn’t like to sit on the gravel beside their ‘table’ but had trouble finding suitable items to use for chairs.

As mentioned in my last post, this summer I rearranged the stumps to create a circular path around and over the hill.  I also had my husband cut a couple of the smaller stumps in half.  These were then put on the other side of the yard in front of the tipi along with one of the biggest stumps to create this;

15-10-yard04Since ‘the table’ is not part of the stump path dramatic play ‘meals’ don’t get in the way of active play.  Yes, sometimes the children do like to climb on these stumps too and sometimes they still use other stumps as tables but at least now they have more options and fewer disputes.

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Rock On

There were several yard projects that I had planned to do during my too short vacation.  They didn’t get done then but because they were all fairly small projects I have been able to work on them  on evenings and weekends.  I’ll discuss two of them today and leave the others for another post so this one doesn’t get too long.  First, some background info…

It was seven years ago that I removed all the plastic play structures from the yard and began creating a more natural play space.  In 2010 I added the ‘hill’ but it never really became the what I had envisioned.  I had used logs to create ‘steps’ on three sides of the hill and intended that the children would actually climb on the hill;

15-09-hill00I chose hardy native prairie plants that I hoped would stand up to the traffic I expected there would be.  Over the years I have planted 10 varieties of native plants here but only the Pasture Sage and the Giant Hyssop have adapted well.  I do love the Pasture Sage but the Giant Hyssop has been a bit of an annoyance.   It has spread all over the hill and surrounding areas – I believe it has driven out most of the other plants I liked better.

It has also made climbing the hill impossible.  The Hyssop grows so tall and thick that it hinders playing on the hill.  It also attracts a lot of bees which we do like to watch as they work but we don’t want to bother them.  So the hill is mostly just a tunnel and a bridge but even those are difficult to use if I don’t continually hack off and tie back hyssop overgrowth to the point where it doesn’t even look pretty anymore.

15-09-hill01 In the past I have used various trellises to control the Hyssop but ultimately these just create more barriers around the hill.  In fact, I don’t think any of the children even think the hill could/should be climbed on.   Last year another issue developed too with the stumps that I had arranged randomly throughout the gravel area around the hill.  Here you can see the trellis barriers and the stumps;

15-09-hill02Yes, I do like the way that looks but it did not function well.  There was not a lot of space between the stumps for the digging/building projects the children enjoy.  The school-age children would race leaping from stump to stump as quickly as possible and they were not very observant about where the little ones were walking/playing.  The little ones were not able to anticipate and avoid the route the older children were planning to take because there were several options.  Attempting to copy the older children some of the younger ones were beginning to take risks that were far greater than their abilities.   I was spending far too much time redirecting play – something I don’t like to do.

So, I arranged all the stumps in a half-circle with each end reaching a different side of the hill;

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The stump path is now defined and they are close enough together that most of the preschoolers can manage them all.  The older children have other options to challenge themselves – all of them require some self control and precision instead of speed and distance.  One option that they enjoy is using the smaller tree cookies to create shortcuts across the circle.

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There is now also a large gravel area for group digging/building projects if that is what the children want to do.  The area in the center of the circle also makes a good corral/cage for their dramatic play activities.   The half circle stump path becomes a full circle when you notice what I did to the hill.  Side one;

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and side two;

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My inspiration to add rocks to the hill came from this playground in Oslo.  I was originally planning to cement the rocks in place like they did but our little hill is not very steep and the rocks seem secure in the soil.  For now I will leave it like this – besides, I’m curious what the native plants will do next spring.    I may add some other small, rock garden type plants too.

Full circle – rock on;

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The Summer Yard

So, I was looking through my ‘Blog pics’ directory – the place where I store the pictures I plan to use in blog posts – and realized I had taken a lot of pictures of the yard space but had never written a post about last summer’s yard renovation.  A mid-winter post about the summer yard might be just what we need 🙂

It was back in 2013 that I first wrote about the plans  to move the fence that separates the gravel area and the parking area.  You can read more about those plans here.  We didn’t have enough time that summer to complete that renovation so it was slated for summer 2014 instead.  This is a ‘before’ photo taken from above;

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And this is an overhead view of the yard after the fence was moved;

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It is a little difficult to see but we lost a small triangle section of the gravel area on the left side of the picture but gained the same amount of space near the lane past the neighbour’s garage – where the tipi is now.  This extra space allows us to see what is going on outside the yard which was nearly impossible when the fence ended at the corner of the garage and our van parked perpendicular to the lane.

Here’s the view as you come down the steps from the house to the deck;

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As I walk across the grass area and look left toward the garden;

 

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and right toward the covered seating area;

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Walk through the covered seating area and enter the gravel area looking towards the right side of the hill;

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Then look through the gravel area to the left of the hill towards the corner of that used to be playspace alongside the carport;

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Now in the gravel area looking back toward the house and deck – here you can see the old water barrels which have been re-purposed to store the loose parts;

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Turn around and look toward the ‘new’ playspace past the hill where the tipi is now;

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This is the most popular space.  Even in winter the tipi is the favourite sit spot – as snow is cleared from the parking area it is piled behind the tipi making it a cozy little spot;

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We love our outdoor play space in every season.

Exploration

The bees love the giant hyssop in the garden and the children love to watch the busy bees.  Yesterday we were excited to have a new visitor who stayed for most of the morning;

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The children have been busy too, there are so many new spaces to explore in our yard.  The toys and loose parts are now spread out around the yard so the storage area isn’t so congested.

One of my vacation projects was to re-purpose our old rain barrels into loose parts storage bins. The two that cracked this past winter are now located in the North-East corner of the gravel area;

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The oldest water barrel – which has been waiting for years to get a new purpose – now stores all the larger pieces of scrap lumber.  It is located in the South-West corner of the yard by the tipi.

 

This ‘new yard space’ was created in what used to be the parking area and is now the children’s favourite space.

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The toy bin is in the South-East part of the gravel area.  I’ve trimmed the lower branches off the cedars and this is where the babies like to play.

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I took some close-up pictures of various objects in the yard and used them to create ‘Where-Am-I’ cards.  The children enjoyed searching the new spaces to locate each item on their card.

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These are also useful for learning to recognize our plants by the shape/colour of their leaves or the texture of their bark.

Most recently the upper deck has been transformed into a outdoor art area.  Yesterday was the first time the older children got to use it during quiet time when the little ones were napping.

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We’ve enjoyed exploring all the new spaces and are looking forward to many more adventures.

Summer Holidays

So, today is the last day before my ‘holiday’ begins.  As usual I have a HUGE list of projects to complete this summer.  Some of them are smaller projects that will be done on weekends.

The ‘big’ project will involve rearranging the parking area, moving the fence,  and an overhaul of the gravel area and loose parts storage.  I wrote about the plans last Spring – read about it here.  We already built/moved the sheds but ran out of time last summer to complete the project.

I’ve had nearly a full week with my new summer group and it was wonderful.  Everyone is settling in to our routine and the lack of a school-defined schedule has greatly improved the ‘flow’ of the day.

Outside I have all the new stumps stored in the corner of the yard waiting until the yard project begins.  Interestingly, the older children have deemed this to be the ‘perfect cooking spot’.  Hmmm, I’ll have to modify my plans a little so we can continue to accommodate this;

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The old stumps are still as popular as ever.  The lone boy in the group seems somewhat concerned about all the climbing and jumping about.

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Later he put on the construction helmet and did this;

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‘No climbing here’ 🙂

I found a dead moth and gave it to the insect lovers.

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Turns out it wasn’t dead – just injured – so it was rushed to the emergency room. For nearly an hour a team of dedicated medical personnel worked to save the moth – or at least make it a little more comfortable.  Here is his x-ray/chart;

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As excited a I am about all the renovations I have planned for the next two weeks I am also going to miss these kinds of activities too.  However, I’m certain we’ll have many more adventures when we return.