Back to Basics: 10 Timeless Tools for Outdoor Fun

Hayley Cyrus

Hayley Cyrus

Some things never change, including the way kids love to play, generation after generation.  Open ended activities with no rules, the time to do them in, and a few basic tools or ingredients can change a cranky kid into a bright-eyed, breathless child.  This summer  go outside, where there are few NO’s, no physical movement that is too exuberant, or voices that ring too loud. Here is a list of timeless activities and ideas for celebrating growing bodies and turning them loose into the great outdoors. Once your child is engaged with the activity, stay out of the way. You are not obligated, nor should you interfere with the momentum of self-directed play.  Turn off the TV, the I-Pads and computers and bring on the best memories of summer!

box1. Cardboard appliance box: These outsize boxes are often given away free at appliance stores, or grocery stores also have watermelon boxes with lids that work beautifully. Cut windows and a door in the box to make a fort. Have your child ‘paint’ the fort with buckets of water and sponge paint brushes, or use real paints and felt tip pens. Your child can decorate the fort and tape up cut out pictures from magazines or old family photos on the walls. Boxes also make a delightfully different place to nap or dance!

2. Wheelbarrows: a real child sized wheelbarrow is sturdy enough for heavy loads or a small passenger. A wheelbarrow also teaches the concepts of balance and displacement.

3. Wagon: Radio Flyers have never lost their appeal for a reason. They are wonderful tools for fun! Your child can launch a parade with the neighbor kids by decorating it and creating a float. A wagon will move dirt, pull a friend, or give a thrill down an incline with the handle pulled back and held. Your child can imagine a wagon into a pioneer’s covered wagon, a race car, or a truck. The possibilities are endless!

4. Tractor size inner tube: available inexpensively at tire supply stores. When I was a child, we curled up inside the inner tube and had someone roll us across the yard (the thought of it now makes my stomach lurch). Inner tubes are fun to roll, sit on, and they can be used as a sled pulled across snow in winter. A used tractor tire also makes a good sandbox (also available at tire supply stores–usually for free). Enlarge the opening by cutting off the rim, then fill with sand or pea gravel.images-1 2

5. Ladders: a short 2’ or 4’ A-frame step ladder works dandy as step up to trees or as a support for a tarp tent. A taller rung ladder can be used as an obstacle course run when it is laid flat (think football drills), or consider a short rung ladder (5’) with hooks on the end to hook over a fence or monkey bars. Remove the lower rungs to make it safe for toddlers (who should NOT be given ladders).

6. Tarps: make a tent, a water slide, a drag sled for leaves, a curtain for puppet shows, walls for a fort.

7. Safari Hunt: place or hide small plastic animals or dinosaurs around the yard, supply the kids with a small fish net GRK-871_1(available at pet stores), and a basket to hunt for them. After they are captured your child can make a zoo from sticks and rocks for the critters.

8. Scrap lumber: most building supply stores have a bin of scrap lumber that they give away for free. Make regular stops to check out the new supplies. Provide a lightweight hammer and nails. If your child needs a few ideas suggest a bird house, a doll house, or a bird feeder. Then turn her loose and do not offer any advice or feedback unless you are asked! Remember–the most awkward and homely birdhouse made entirely by the child herself has more merit and power than a kit or an adult supervised project. Smaller children may be content to simply hammer nails into a stout piece of wood

9. Sand or pea gravel pile: washed construction sand or pea gravel can be ordered very inexpensively by the yard from a gravel supply company (look under sand and gravel in the yellow pages). There are a variety of ways you can present the sand. It can be as simple as a pile in a remote corner of the yard, to a ground level built-in box on the deck (easy clean up! Simply sweep the sand back into the box!). You can also use a child’s plastic swimming pool as a sand box (punch drain holes with a large nail in the bottom of the pool before placing the sand), or see the tractor tire idea above. No matter how you place the sand, your child will spend many content hours playing in it. Provide any or all of the following: toy trucks, cars, funnels, old pots and pans, plastic cups, sieves or colanders, trowels, and hand rakes. Don’t forget that the sandy bodies and shoes and tracked sand around the yard are all welcome evidence of an imaginative mind at work! No one ever has happy childhood memories of a clean body and house.

10. Read the book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown then collect a special rock, wash it thoroughly, and make your own Stone Soup from veggies from the garden or the farmer’s market.Stone_Soup

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