I couldn't agree more with this quote: “Babies thrive out-of-doors. They sleep better, eat better, look better, play better, and learn better. Fresh air both soothes and stimulates. I always tell parents how much more easily they could raise healthy, “happy” children if they would make outdoor living a regular habit for their babies.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
I just read an article by one of my favorite child development thought leaders, Janet Lansbury, and I thought I should share about our outdoor classroom. You can totally make an awesome outdoor play space in a small (San Francisco-sized) yard.
Since our program is inspired by Reggio and RIE, we integrated the ideas of Reggio's loose parts and a safe "yes" space from RIE.
My goal is to have a "yes space" where the kids can really do what they want in the yard with few limits other than hurting each other. I wanted it be changeable, safe yet challenging, and allow for experimentation and dramatic play. We recreated some of the elements that they love from inside such as a mud kitchen, our magnetic wall, and also use outside friendly inside toys and materials.
Set it up so you can say "yes"
Our yard has two parts. One side is a cement patio and the other side is a grassy open space yard. We divided the two spaces with a low 3 foot fence which essentially turns them into "kiddie corrals" that Janet wrote about. Since we have mixed ages, we can keep the bigger toddlers away from the little babies when we need to.
We covered the cement patio with rubber tiles so soften falls from our early walkers which gives the kids a sense of security to explore their bodies more on the ride on toys and the slide.
On the grassy side, we put some small hills in, because it adds a little challenge. The hills alone are hours of endless fun and confidence building for an early crawler or walker. We love our "me do it" toddlers. They can move everything (ladders, tubs, crates, etc.) around to change the landscape and put on their own shoes and smocks.
A few of our inexpensive (or free) favorites of the children are: 1) the teeter totter which invites social play, as well as can serve as a great balance board, 2) yoga balls, 3) the milk crates which make create obstacle course steps or can be easily turned into train cars with the spark of a toddler's imagination, 4) our easy DIY ladders and balance beam, and 5) plastic kiddie pools.
The plastic kiddie pools are really my favorite. They are fun to climb in and out of, make large water/sand/sensory "table" and can be a wonderful protective "space bubble" for a very young infant to spend time outside.
We also have lots of the same things (a ride on toy for each for example) because we have younger toddlers who don't share and like to do parallel play. It really reduces conflict if you develop the space and have appropriate expectations of how they will play.
Bring the inside, outdoors
Who said baby dolls, dinos, kitchen dramatic play, lunch, and pretty much any other inside type of activity can't be done outside.
Baby Dolls and Dinos - The kids love washing their baby dolls, doing car washes, and having elaborate dramatic play worlds with the dinos. They are easy to wash up and bring back inside when we're done, so why not!
Playing house outside - We bring real pots, pans, and cooking utensils out when the kids are into making "soup" and cooking. We set out out kid sized picnic tables, and bring out plates and utensils if they want to cook and serve meals. And we have a mud kitchen that has lots of utensils, pots, pans and containers to "cook" with. The kids gather twigs, gravel, lemons, pinecones, flowers and whatever else they want to cook with.
Magnet STEM wall - Using a oil pan, we made a really easy magnet wall and used PVC pike and gutters to have loose parts for the kids to do experiments with. They can run water, ping pong balls, rocks or whatever else they want down it. All the parts live in a crate near the wall so they can choose how they want to set it up. We don't show them what to do, but it's amazing how fast they figure out what they can do with all the components.
Change it up without spending $ - Art, Sensory Play & Loose Parts
Loose Parts Theory quotes
‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.’ ~ Simon Nicholson, Architect
‘Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.’ - Malaguzzi
To create this loose parts, creativity laboratory we have to look no further than the ground, in the trees/bushes and our own recycling bins.
Loose parts may be manufactured or natural materials (Frost 1997) or recycled objects (Drew and Rankin 2004).
Manufactured items could include the following: ■ boxes ■ buckets ■ blocks ■ trucks ■ cloth ■ baskets ■ tools ■ dramatic play props ■ balls
Natural items could include such items as: ■ bark ■ sand ■ seeds ■ mud ■ stones ■ vines ■ leaves ■ tree stumps ■ twigs ■ straw bales
Recycled items could include: ■ cardboard boxes ■ building materials ■ packing pellets ■ old pots and pans ■ tires ■ milk crates ■ ribbon, rope, string ■ polystyrene ■ plastic bottles and ■ felt containers
Since children learn so much through their senses and by doing, we set up sensory and art materials on a daily basis that often hold their interest for long stretches of time and lead to many fascinating discoveries.