When I was a child, I was fortunate to have a large open backyard to conquer. My brothers and I spent long afternoons building forts, climbing trees, catching butterflies, and flooding small cities in our sandbox. This was possible because the space was mostly ours to explore, and it didn't matter if we messed up the landscaping, or got our clothes dirty.
We call this wild play. A time to be out in nature with no agenda, no toys, and a spirit of adventure. It's easy to inspire this kind of play with your own children, no matter how much space or experience you have. Here's what you need:
First, find a “rough” area. This is a term from Last Child in the Woods for a space that children can manipulate, explore, and call their own. It can be a corner in your yard, the patch of woods nearby, or an area behind a large bush. This space will get messy, muddy, and unkempt, so you may want it in the backyard away from nosy neighbors.
Make sure that the area is safe: no sharp debris, poisonous plants, or loose wires (cable or electrical). If your spot is on the edge of the woods or near water, make sure your children know how to be safe in these environments. Read about teaching swimming skills and sharing basic outdoor knowledge if you're not sure where to start.
Look for areas that offer natural hideouts, or the materials to make one. You'll also want to provide access to water; a rain barrel or watering can is best for very young children, while older ones can use a hose and faucet.
Now, add some materials! Your children will find natural materials to play with, but a collection of creative props like these below would be most welcome. To keep things organized, make sure everything has a place to go back to that your children can easily manage on their own.
Here's what's on my wild play loose parts shelf:
Use what you have around your house, this is just an example of what you could include. See more ideas here on our outdoor spaces Pinterest board. And while you're preparing spaces, get the rest of your outdoor area ready for exploring, practice, and fun!
Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions