Archive for the ‘fun in your garden’ Category

Our two boys are completely obsessed with dinosaurs and recently created their own La Brea tar pit in the flower bed, so this July I thought I’d channel their paleontology interests into slightly cleaner activities (they were so covered in mud after the impromptu tar pit episode that no skin could be seen on their arms and legs and every one of their toy dinosaurs had ‘fallen in’ and been covered in wet mud).  Two of these activities were big hits, kept them occupied for a long time and didn’t require too much prep or clean up on my part.

1. Ice paleontology

You do need to plan this a day or so in advance, but it’s pretty simple to do. Just fill a plastic bucket with water, add some plastic dinosaurs and freeze. The next day, dump the dino filled ice cube on the lawn, give them some tools to chip away at the ice and invite them to be paleontologists. The boys had great fun excavating the dinosaurs and then experimenting with the left over chunks of ice.  One note of warning–the freezing process can make the dinosaurs a bit brittle. Ours survived the process without real damage, but I wouldn’t use any favourite dinosaur models just in case.

Dinos On Ice

Dinos On Ice

2. Make a fossil, Break a fossil

This was a two-day activity. On day one we made our plastic dinosaurs into fossils. The boys had great fun making the fossil mixture in their play kitchen in the garden. We mixed 1 cup of water, 1 cup of soil, 1/2 cup of sand and 1/3 cup of flour together in a bowl. We then added the dinosaurs and covered them in this dirt goop before fishing each one out and laying them on a (plastic film covered) tray to dry in the sun.

The mud mix

The mud mix


Twenty four hours later the fossils were dry and the boys were able to play paleontologists and excavate each dinosaur.  Again, the dinosaurs can get a little banged up as the kids chip the dirt away so I wouldn’t use any beloved models (we kept our “special Allosaurus” on one side to watch).

Cooked and ready to excavate

Cooked and ready to excavate




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I love summer – always have: long days with nothing scheduled, nowhere to go and plenty of time to relax outside. My kids seem to feel the same. While I had been a little apprehensive that they would find all this ‘down time’ a little dull after the busy school year, they’ve really embraced the slower summer pace and are enjoying pottering around the garden inventing their own worlds and games.

That said, a day in the garden with a baby, a two-year old and a four-year old is a long time and they do sometimes look to me for entertainment.  Partly out of necessity (the Bug is currently learning to sit up and requires constant attention) and partly inspired by my educational philosophy (that preschoolers need invitations to creativity rather than organized games) I’ve been trying to find play prompts that capture their imagination, lead to long play periods, and don’t need to much adult intervention. I thought I’d share our more successful outdoors play ideas in case there are other families in need……

The Busy Town Garden Game

My older two (both boys) are interested in logistics, maps and transport. They also love the Busy Town books and have in past weeks used this books as a spring-board to ask about town organization.  To combine and extend these interests, and to keep them happily engaged outside, we invented the ‘Busy Town Garden Game’.

The Suburbs

The Suburbs


One afternoon I cleared the patio, took out a box of chalk and drew three boxes on the ground each a few feet apart. I labeled one the ‘school’, one the ‘shop’ and one the farm. I told the boys this was the start of their own ‘busy town’ and invited them to complete it.  They took to the idea immediately, connecting these ‘buildings’ with roads. And then the game took off and they thought about what other buildings and institutions a town needed and added them to the patio.  Over several afternoons, the map has grown ever larger with increasingly specialized businesses and vast suburbs. The boys added cars and traffic signs to the town and are asking to start building structures out of boxes tomorrow to add to their project.  I love how this has stirred their imagination. I also love how busy it has kept them.

'The Busy Town 101'

‘The Busy Town 101’




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Truck Farm is running a perfect contest for the outdoors toddler this month. The challenge is simply to plant a seed in the most creative place you can think of, watch it grow, take a photo of the baby plant, and send the picture to the contest website before June 10th.  I like this contest for two reasons. The first, most preschoolers will find it a lot of fun. The Monkey, my 3.5 year old, is really interested in the changes of spring this year and loves to be silly, so planting a seed somewhere odd is a perfect activity to engage his attention.  The second, it’s a great way to teach kids about science.  By planting a seed somewhere unusual (ie not in the ground) you can talk to your kids about what seeds actually need to germinate and grow.

Contest details can be found here.

The whole Truck Farm website is also worth a peek. Ian Cheney has created a small vegetable garden in the back of a flat-bed truck and is using it to educate inner-city children about farming and healthy eating: an educational, eye-catching, and low-cost idea.

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I’m not usually into buying too much stuff, but my bug-mad kids went crazy for these roly-poly playgrounds (at REI).  They’re perfect for letting toddlers look at bugs without hurting them, and kept my kids occupied in the garden for hours.

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Buttermilk wouldn't melt in my mouth

Our garden was bountiful this citrus season, and we now have a freezer packed with frozen lemon juice. With all this lovely warm weather we’ve been enjoying lately I’ve been inspired to use some of it to make popsicles for the garden.  During this process I came across a recipe that sounded a little odd, was (relatively) low sugar as these things go, but that I felt was worth a try. Well, it was DELICIOUS and the kids loved it – so I’m sharing it for your outdoors use.  Enjoy.

Add 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice to 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 cup of buttermilk. Stir thoroughly. Pour into popsicles moulds and freeze.  Easy. So easy, in fact, that it’s a perfect recipe for making with your preschooler (as long as they understand that freezing the popsicles takes several hours…)

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I thought today was going to be one of those looooonng days where the kids are going crazy trapped inside by super heavy rain.  Especially after we had inside preschool in the morning. They are, after all, Outdoors Kids right?  But it actually proved to be a really fun afternoon.  The weather vaguely co-operated and we were able to get outside for a few hours.  I also discovered that rain days make perfect science days, which little boys really enjoy.

The boys are fascinated by rain.  They haven’t seen too much of it this year, so it’s novel, and it makes everything — in their opinion anyway — so much more interesting.  First, we decided to see how much rain was falling this week and whipped up a quick rain gauge. It wouldn’t win any prizes for beauty or scientific accuracy, but it did the job and was constructed entirely from items we found in our recycling bin.  The Monkey is fascinated with numbers and measuring things, so he loved explaining how the gauge would work and finding a good spot for it in the garden.  It better rain enough over night to make it satisfying to look at tomorrow.

Five pounds of rain Mom!

Then we went to our local park and noticed all the changes the rain had made in this familiar landscape.  We talked about why the wood chips and sand had changed colour and why some areas of the park had remained dry.  We talked about how and where puddles form. Then we pondered how different the creek might look after rain.  The Monkey, after his current favourite TV show, likes to make hypotheses (“Mommy, a hypothesis is an idea you can test!”), so I encouraged him to guess how the creek would have changed from our last visit.  He suggested it would have more water and be running faster.  We clambered down to the creek to check and he was delighted to discover he was right–the creek was running really high and fast.  We then spent a happy thirty minutes paddling in the creek as we had our rain boots on anyway.  Rain? It’s just an opportunity for science, right?

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The boys were at a loose end in the garden for a while today.  They gathered up their ride-on cars, a bucket of water and brushes and set up a car wash.  I think it’s a great idea and, once the weather warms up, we may expand the car wash.

Nice and clean

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We decided to make ‘cloud dough’ today, slightly adapting the recipe from Tinkerlab.  I put 6 cups of flour and 1 cup of oil into a large tray and let the boys mix it up and play.  We tried all our play dough toys and several items from the kitchen and, of course, cars.  The boys loved it.

Cloud dough is all very well

But after a while they decided it need an additional ingredient. Rainwater.  So the boys transferred the rainwater that had collected in their water table into the cloud dough mixture. At first it was such a sticky mess that they were both put off.  After they’d worked it for a while, however, it became very dough-like and they had great fun shaping it into snakes, balls and pancakes.  It was an important lesson for me in embracing the process and not aiming at a particular product. It also reminded me why we do these projects outside–my kids make everything extra messy.

but rain dough is better

Now we can make a real mess

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Although it seems early, this week we started thinking about our summer veggie garden. I’m told by my green-fingered neighbour that now is the time to plant seeds so that the baby plants will be ready to transplant in a month or two. Sowing seeds directly into the soil round here just doesn’t work–far too many slugs. You can wait a couple of months and plant shop-bought seedlings into your beds, but I thought it would be fun for the boys to grow our plants from seed this year.  Our winter veggie garden was only a moderate success.  We did get some broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage out of it, but the weather was just too warm and the frosts too few for these plants to flourish.  I have higher hopes for our summer garden.

worm stew

So this week I took the boys off to our favourite local nursery to get some seeds.  They then had heaps of fun planting the seeds in a mixture of potting soil and home-made compost.  The compost worms were a big hit with both kids, although extracting one from The Puppy Dog’s mouth was not my favourite mothering moment.  That child has a deep attraction to all things slimy and gross.  The Monkey seemed to get the idea of what we were doing and enjoyed it, even if The Puppy Dog kept wondering round the garden planting seeds everywhere.  Who knows what we will find growing where.

In the end we planted sunflower, snap pea, snow pea and cherry tomato seeds and are watching for them to germinate. We also bought some pumpkin seeds as I want to grow our Hallowe’en pumpkins this year, but they can wait a month or two for planting.  A certain element of surprise has been added to the process by The Monkey who, when my back was turned, pulled all the labels out of the planters declaring “we know what we planted Mommy! We don’t need them!”   So we’ll have to try to identify the plants as they grow.  We may yet end up with a Mammoth Russian Sunflower teepee rather than a snow pea one. We’ll see.

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Sometimes I have to work hard to remind myself how different the world looks to my toddlers.  They’re often intrigued by things I would never have thought about.  The bushes at the end of the garden are a good example. Now these bushes are especially big and, well, bushy and have been a source of fascination and anxiety for The Monkey ever since we moved in.  They’ve long remained unexplored territory, however, and he’s been happy to inspect them from a safe distance. If his ball went behind them, he needed Mommy or Daddy to venture back among the leaves to retrieve it.

Do we dare?

But no longer. Today was the day The Monkey explored the bushes.  When his ball went back there this morning, instead of running to me and asking for help, he slowly crawled in among the leaves.  He was very excited by his own bravery and delighted to find a hidden path and shady hiding places between the bushes and the fence.  The Monkey spent the whole morning exploring, gradually enticing The Puppy Dog, who is rarely daunted by anything, to join him.

Plunging in

To me, they’re just bushes.  To the little ones, they’re a whole world to be explored where daring and independence can be tested and adventures enjoyed.

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