Loose Parts and Open Ended Toys in the Outdoor Classroom.

I've been thinking about our outdoor space lately.  The weather is getting warmer and we are spending more time outside.  We are very fortunate with our yards.  We have two, an upstairs yard and a downstairs yard.  

Our children are not in nature deficit by any means but I like to think of our play yards as an outdoor classroom and challenge myself and our staff team to be intentional in what we provide for the children.

I did a kind of assessment by taking some photos of what we have.

This is our mud kitchen.

This is the mud kitchen from a different angle.

Some ideas I have to further develop this area is to add some mirrors and some colorful (fake) flowers, and maybe a cloth canopy.  Some drought resistant potted plants would be a welcome addition too!

Timber blocks for climbing or driving cars on.

These blocks can be configured numerous ways to be more or less challenging.

More timbers.  The toddlers don't move these around as they are heavy, but the staff can create different spaces and provocations by re-arranging them from time to time.  We had a parent who worked at a mill and he generously brought some end pieces.

We have a variety of bins and buckets.  The white bucket above is actually attached to a pulley.  The toddlers are intrigued with pulling it up and down.


Planks for ramps.


We recently created a Dinosaur World with two tires.  We also have plans to use some tires as planters this summer.

We were given two of these fabulous wooden reels.  The toddlers climb on them and are able to flip them and roll them around the yard.  That requires a lot of large muscle co-ordination.

This old horse has seen better days but he is a tough old steed.  His tail is missing and his leather ears are wizened up but the toddlers don't mind one bit.
I actually "borrowed" him from the 3-5's  yard three years ago.  I hope they don't miss him too much!

Come back Cowboys!  Come back!

The downstairs yard has a steep bank with a path that goes to the upstairs yard.  This bank provides challenges of its own as toddlers navigate their way up and down.

One of their favorite things to do is to roll the large balls up the path and then run down ahead of them as fast as they can!  They are amazingly adept at this game.
You can read some more about the ball rolling game here.  Talking of risk taking, in one corner of our yard, beyond the patio, we installed a toddler sized zip-line.  The toddlers are loving it and use it successfully.  You can read more about the zip-line here.

We added in two hanging bars when we noticed the toddlers attempting to hang from the tree branches.

This little tent is set on the top corner of the bank as a quiet invitation.

There ends the tour of our downstairs yard, not including the patio space.  We also have a collection of animals, balls and medium size construction vehicles.  Judging by the length of this post it seems we have a lot going on in this space.

Over the last few years we have given away a lot of plastic items and introduced loose parts and other natural materials.  We still have some plastic toys but we are liking the direction we are moving in for now. 

I find there is always a very fine balance of just enough and too much. Our yard is not really that big and it can seem cluttered at times, but at the same time there needs to be enough interesting materials for the children as well.  

It takes team work, thought and persistence to find and keep the balance.

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