Tag Archives: Outdoor Play

Summer 2017 – The Hill Project

As usual my summer ‘vacation’ project list was very long – too long for the two week time slot I allotted.  The back yard was not actually on the list at first but in June I suddenly had an idea to solve a concern I had about ‘the hill’ (sometimes called the bridge or tunnel).  This is a picture taken last summer of the view of the hill/bridge/tunnel from the tipi;

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The hill was originally created back in 2010 when the old play structures were removed leaving the gravel area looking quite bare.  I didn’t want another large structure but I did think the space needed something.  The hill originally had a slide on one side, the tunnel was very popular, and the native prairie plants provided some much needed greenery in the yard at that time.

The slide and log steps never stayed as secure as I would have liked so they were soon removed.  For a few years the platform and tunnel were very popular for many dramatic play and gross motor activities like ‘Motabular’ (the children named that activity). As the interests of the children enrolled changed, play on the hill also changed and two years ago I added some rocks.

The children liked to use the platform to ‘play hockey’;

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And sit on the ‘bridge’ to go fishing;

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But there were many disputes over who would be on each side.  There were also problems with reckless behaviour like racing up and down the hill or jumping off the bridge without first looking for obstacles or hazards. Additionally, the structure was beginning to show its age.  I decided it was time for the hill to go.

My first step was to gather some supplies (thanks Annika);

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Then I spent two days removing rocks, transplanting plants, moving pails of soil to the other gardens, disassembling the bridge and cribbing and raking gravel.  It was beginning to take shape;

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I used the new stumps in addition to the old ones to create a full circle with little space between the stumps.  The majority of the gravel was raked to one side of the inner circle to three distinct levels.  Outside the circle the gravel in the ‘walkway’ is about 8 inches deep and fairly well packed as we haven’t dug here in years.  Inside the circle there is no gravel, just an old blue tarp on one side and nearly two feet of gravel on the other side.  The slope between the two sides is held in place by all those big rocks that used to be on the hill.  So now the gravel area looks like this;

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And from the other side;

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The view from the tipi now;

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And in case you were wondering what happens when it rains….I said it was an old blue tarp – it has holes in it so the water drains out.

Within seconds of entering the yard on the first day back after vacation this is where the boys were, happily chatting about what they did on their vacation;

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Spring Roundup

Spring is such a busy time for me.  As usual I’ve been collecting pictures to use in blog posts but not leaving myself enough time to actually write posts 😦

So, here is a roundup of what should have been three posts;

I made a batch of homemade glue for an art project but then realized the recipe made much more than we needed and it doesn’t keep for very long. So, I dumped it in a big bin along with paper bits from the shredder, wool scraps, glitter and paint powder.  The children enjoyed mashing it all together – no pictures of that part because it was way too messy to have a camera nearby.

Initially the mixture was extremely sticky and some of us were not impressed by the sensation of having our hands coated in the goo.  Eventually the paper absorbed enough of the glue and made the mixture easier to handle.

Later each of the children took a portion of the mixture to work with;

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Or form into mini balls and throw around the room;

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They pressed the mixture into the shape of the bowl and then we let it dry;

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It took a lot longer than anticipated – nearly a week before they were dry and ready to take home;

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Outside, now that the snow is gone, the boys have been begging for me to open the ‘summer toys’ bin. So far I have resisted – knowing there will be a big issue over who gets the one Batman figure (which may mysteriously disappear).  They’ve managed to keep themselves busy with the loose parts and eggs;

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The longer periods of outdoor time have meant some are very tired by nap time (or earlier).  One however, has been using quiet time to become a jigsaw puzzle expert. He has now completed ALL of my 100 piece puzzles several times and can finish two of them in one afternoon.

I decided maybe we should try something a little more challenging – so I brought out a 500 piece puzzle.  This part took him two days with no assistance from me;

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He did find the trees and mountains a little more difficult so I assisted with sorting some of the pieces. He is persistent and refuses to give up without finishing.  By the third week – after about 12 hours of actual work – he had done this much;

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I think that is very impressive for a four year old 🙂  I’m not the only one who has been busy.

 

Hiking in the City

It has been just over a week since I returned home after Nature Summit 2016.  I’ll admit that for the first few days I did seriously consider putting my tent up in the backyard because I really missed spending all day, every day outside.  Summit was fabulous as usual – I got to participate in many outdoor workshops.  I went for a ride on a zip line, climbed almost to the top of this;

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And of course I did a lot of hiking through the woods.

I know I really enjoy a nature hike and so do the  children in my care.  I also know that, even in the city, there are many places where we can hike and feel like we are out in the wilderness.  However, a city hike can be pretty special too – especially to a group of boys who can tell me the name and purpose of almost every type of construction vehicle. 🙂

My little group and I have spent the last few months exploring the the nearby neighbourhoods.  Our city hikes vary in length from just a few blocks to up to 8 km.  They can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours and it is rarely the children that suggest we’ve been walking too long and it is time to go back.  Pretty amazing when you consider that these are 2 and 3 year olds.

So, what do we see when we go on an 8km city hike?  Back hoes, buses, dump trucks and trains.  Cement trucks, front loaders, street cleaners and cranes.  Yes, there is a lot of noisy traffic but there are also many quiet spots too.  In fact, one of our favourite paths takes us through the cemetery.

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We look for birds – the children know where all the nest boxes are located (there is a nest box in the above picture but it is hard to see).  We listen to the wind in the trees and watch the river in the distance.  Inevitably the river sparks the topic of bridges – which one will we cross today?  Within walking distance of the cemetery there are FIVE bridges we can go over, and THREE that we can go under.

There are several more bridges we can explore if we pack a lunch and make it a day long hike but that tends to be too much even for this active little group.  Once this past summer we did make it to two distant bridges but the children were obviously tired and there was not much excitement.  Besides, when we stick to the familiar, nearby areas there is a whole more to our hikes than just walking.

In some cases we can cross one bridge and examine the structure of another bridge at the same time.

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There are bridges for people, bikes, cars and trains. Only some of our bridges cross over water.  Others cross over roads or train tracks and give us a whole lot more to talk about.  The children often complained that there were never any trains on these tracks when we crossed over them – but twice this summer there was a train here!  So of course we had to stop for a while to watch.

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One time the train was moving so very slowly that we were able to continue our walk, loop around and walk under the same train we had just been standing over.

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Standing under a train bridge while a train slowly squeaked and creaked, clanged and banged overhead was a new experience.  Trains on bridges sound much different than cars on bridges. The children also enjoyed yelling ‘ECHO!’ as they do every time we venture under bridges.

We don’t spend all our time on noisy city streets.  For contrast we also explore parks and riverbanks along the way.  We get to hear and smell the difference between the roadway and the forest.  On this particular hike the ‘big’ boys were with us and the ‘littles’ enjoyed showing them all our favourite spots.

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Just as we use the bridges to compare the traffic and trains from above and below we can also do the same with the river.  Standing on the bridge we watch the water flow, count geese and ducks, and watch sticks and other debris float by but there is the noise of the traffic crossing the bridge too.

It is amazing how just a few steps away from a busy road can feel like a totally different world.  What can you hear now?  Our river bank trails offer another perspective of the water.  We can get closer to the water – but not too close, this is not a swimming river.

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There is a tree they want to climb.  Normally I’d say yes to a tree climbing adventure but a quick risk assessment resulted in a ‘No’ to climbing on this tree;

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Yes, I love a good nature hike but a city hike offers something special too.  We could read books or watch videos and memorize facts about cars and trucks, trees and birds, rivers and roads or we can go for a city hike, experience it, and begin to understand the impact we have on the natural environment.

Rough & Tumble

Many parents and childcare providers are uncomfortable allowing children to engage in rough and tumble play or ‘fighting games’ for fear that someone may get hurt.  However, the problem isn’t the type of play but the ‘environment’ – both physical and emotional – in which that play takes place.

I firmly believe that rough and tumble play is very beneficial but in my program I do enforce some basic guidelines.  The first ‘rule’ involves location.  ALL play involving chasing, wrestling, jumping etc is discouraged when we are indoors.  Our main indoor play space is just 150 sq ft and when you add toys, shelving and up to eight children there is simply not enough room – the risks are greater than the reward.

That changes when we get outside.  Although my yard is not a large open space I did design it for gross motor play. There are still some rules like ‘If someone is in front of you, you have to slow down/stop’.  There are many obstacles and the walkways are narrow so when two or more children are trying to maneuver through the same space pushing someone out of your way  is not allowed.

One of the greatest benefits of chasing games and rough and tumble play is that they require/teach awareness and self control.  If you are unable to avoid colliding with another person it is not ‘an accident’.  The problem is NOT that ‘they got in your way’ or ‘they were too slow’- it IS because you were not watching where you were going or you were going too fast for the conditions.

The consequence for knocking someone down isn’t yelling ‘Sorry’ over your shoulder as you continue running away.  The consequence is that you need to stop, help them up and make sure they are OK before you continue playing.  If that is not something you are willing to do then you are not ‘playing’ you are being mean.  If you got hurt too then getting angry and blaming the others isn’t the solution – you need to be more observant, adjust your speed, or find another game to play.

Another ‘rule’ I have is that we only use imaginary weapons.  Now, this is not because I’m totally against weapon play with toy weapons but I have concerns about using toys as weapons in a mixed age group setting.  Yes, I have seen a group of older children involved in a wonderfully cooperative and respectful fighting game using toy weapons.  I have also spent hours/weeks/months teaching toddlers that hitting hurts.  The children and I have many conversations about how super heroes ‘help’ others.

Certainly most school age children can visualize an imaginary scenario, understand the difference between soft and hard objects, regulate the amount of force they use and aim appropriately but the  toddlers are not developmentally equipped to do all this.  The little ones watch, they see hitting and laughter but they don’t understand all the concepts involved and someone will get hurt. So, the imaginary weapons allow the older children to play their game without encouraging the little ones to hit with toys.

The third and most important ‘rule’ is that ALL the children involved in any type of rough and tumble play or fighting game must be willing participants.  This includes ‘shooting’ non-players even with imaginary weapons – in fact, I usually say ‘no people as targets’.  Each player must agree to their role in the game.  If at any point someone says ‘STOP!’ – even if they are laughing – the activity must stop.  If someone cries or gets upset then the game play stops until the problem is resolved.  Stop always means stop or the game is not respectful.

If someone wants to play and agrees to the game rules the others may NOT exclude them. If someone doesn’t want to play there has to be some type of mutual time/space agreement so  multiple activities don’t interfere with each other.  If someone says they want to play but cannot/will not follow the group’s game rules then that person may have to find another activity.

Creating game rules is an important part of the activity and all the children who want to play must be able to participate in this process before play begins.  When only one child is in charge of  creating the game, assigning roles, making the rules, and determining the ‘winner’ then it is not a cooperative game.  This ‘do as I say’ type of activity often enables bullying behaviour and allows the ‘leader’ to change game play in order to control outcome.

One wonderful example of a cooperative rough and tumble game was ‘Fight Club’.  The group of children who created and engaged in this activity were all between five and eleven years old.  They set boundaries for play area.  They chose opponents or teams based on physical abilities and size. They set rules for entering and exiting the game including the option to tag in/out when you got tired. They only played this game outside when there were no little children present. This particular group engaged in this activity on/off for more than a year and never needed me to intervene.  It was perfect.  And it never would have happened if there were no fighting games allowed.

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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.

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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