Tim Meek: Outdoor play, use of the garden
Tim Meek has a mind that is full of ideas for playing outdoors. On his website he lists and describes projects and adventures he has been on with his kids which is well worth visiting to pick up ideas. Here Tim describes ideas for making better use of gardens for outdoor play.
Outdoor play is important for balanced and healthy child development; children need space (physically and metaphorically speaking) to explore, experiment and invent in … to play and learn freely, outdoors. But in our efforts to protect our children from the dangers of modern society (real and perceived) we could actually be (un-necessarily) denying them some important early childhood experiences.
There is no doubt that the roads and streets are busier and more dangerous today than they were in my childhood days; so, understandably letting our children play freely on the street might not be something we can allow until they are sufficiently mature enough. But children can, and I would argue should, be encouraged to play outside more (even if it is simply in their own gardens… and not just when the weather is warm and dry).
In an attempt to encourage children to adopt healthy and well-balanced outlooks (including awareness of risk and an appetite for adventure) we should actively encourage them to leave the comfort and appeal (and addiction?) of the computer, TV or games consoles, and to go and have a play outside in the garden.
My family and I live in a city and only have a very small garden, but we have tried to make it an ‘interesting’ place to be because we believe that, with just a little effort, even the smallest garden has the potential to promote and support outdoor play, exploration and adventure.
Here are a few things we have done to enhance our garden:
All-weather scratch pad
A simple piece of MDF, painted with chalkboard paint is all that’s needed to give your children a scoreboard, sketch pad, notepad… whatever they want it to be. Just supply chalks; the children provide all the creativity.
Buy some cheap climbing holds from the Internet and attach them to a piece of wood and create a traversing wall, or an adventurous access to a raised area of the garden (or into a tree-house etc).
Not looking so impressive at this time of year, but our nature area has a collection tray area (for stones, fossils etc the children find on walks in forests, on beaches etc) and a small ‘pond’. I use the term pond with creative license here, as it is just an old supermarket basket that we have sunken into the ground. But despite its size, it’s home to a frog and a toad… as well as some usual pond life minibeasts.
A playhouse creates an important ‘private’ space for our children. They can use this whenever, for whatever they want; playing cafes, quiet reading, role playing various scenarios and even as a Roald Dahl-esque writing hut. Add some cheap battery operated lights and they sometimes even venture out there in the evening before/after tea.
For some, fun, simple skills or exercised-based activities, try some garden games such as these:
The clutter or modern living sometimes distracts from the simplest things in life – like the need to regularly encourage our children to play outside. We get lost in work, and before we know it our (and children’s) play suffers. I’m writing this post to help me keep the importance of play and adventure upper most in my mind. I maintain the humble www.dotrythisathome.com website for the same reason, because each day, no matter what your age, is precious and should be lived and if possible, ‘played’. Following @loveoutdoorplay gives me timely prods and calls to action too – for which I am grateful.