How To Set Up Your Backyard For Independent Play
Use these 5 tips to turn your backyard into a place your children play independently for hours!
The backyard is a wonderful place for children to play. When set up properly, your backyard can really become a haven, not only for your kids, but also for you. The key is to design it as a space where children can play independently. Of course this means it needs to be safe, but there are also a few other things to keep in mind to encourage independent outdoor play.
Steps to Prepare Your Backyard
In this article we discuss the following steps to help you create the ultimate backyard play space for you and your kids. The steps we will cover include:
- Preparing the space
- Sensory play ideas
- Creating a purposeful space
- Play ideas
- How to encourage outdoor play
Scroll down to read more…
Prepare the Environment
In Montessori classrooms, the outdoor environment is considered just as important as the indoor environment. This means that toys and tools are carefully considered, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. It also means that children are expected to put things away when they’re done and to take care of the items they use.
Try including a sturdy outdoor shelf or cabinet to store outdoor toys. If you do not have a way of storing items like art supplies outside, consider including a shelf by the backdoor or even a rolling shelf you can easily move between the house and backyard.
Make sure to remove items that get cracked or broken and try to rotate toys periodically. It’s amazing how a small change like a different kind of shovel can inspire a renewed interest in outdoor play!
For older tots, you may also want to include a small table and chairs where your child can work on a puzzle or have a snack.
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For most children, the outdoors provides a calming environment, perfect for focused play and rich sensory experiences.
To encourage this type of play, provide a source of water and either sand or dirt for the children to play with.
You can use a water table or even simply a large tub that you fill with water each day. An inflatable pool or even an outgrown baby bathtub actually work great for this! Include a few different cups, scoops, and buckets for your child to transport the water.
If you don’t have a sandbox, try designating an area of the yard where your child is allowed to dig in the dirt, or provide a large tub of dirt for digging.
With just water, dirt, and items like sticks and flowers that can be found outside, children can experience all sorts of imaginative games from making mud pies to creating little habitats for bugs and snails.
The beauty of having this set up in your own backyard is that your child can revisit their pretend play daily, building on their games over time and really delving into their own creativity.
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Sense of purpose
The backyard is also a perfect spot for your child to experience purposeful work. Include items like a child-sized rake, a small broom for the patio, and a children’s watering can for the garden to encourage your child to care for the environment around them.
This is not only great for teaching responsibility, it also gives children a wonderful sense of pride and satisfaction to feel that they are really contributing.
Mix of active and calming activities
Many of us think about running around, climbing trees, and other high energy activities when we think about the backyard. These things are wonderful, but don’t feel limited to active play when you set up your backyard.
Including a mix of active and calming activities encourages children to play outside, no matter what their mood.
For active play, consider including things like a balance bike (or pedal bike for older tots!), a scooter, a jump rope, a wagon, something to climb on, a few different balls, a climbing frame or a swing.
Almost any activity can be done outside so don’t be afraid to get creative!
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Initiate, then back away
Even children who love playing outside often need a little help getting started. This doesn’t mean they need us to play alongside them the entire time though!
Try introducing an activity, like making a sandcastle or painting rocks, and then slowly back away so that your child is leading the activity or doing it on their own.
This strategy has several benefits. First of all, it allows you time to do something you want to do while your child plays. Secondly, it ensures that your child’s play is child-led.
Many children love it when we as parents lead playtime, creating scenarios or suggesting activities. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this from time to time! But it’s also important to give children the chance to initiate and experience focused and independent play on their own.
Play is a crucial part of childhood and it’s how children process the world around them. Encouraging them to play independently is a great gift with lifelong benefits.
While, for many, summer camps may be canceled and vacations put on hold, there is plenty of outdoor exploration that can happen in your own backyard. And if your tot is happily playing independently, you can get a little bit of a break too!
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