Hi everyone, happy New Year!

OK, that’s a bit late I know. It is almost March, after all.

I haven’t been blogging lately. We went on a giant massive holiday and I’ve really only just settled back into the routine of the year.

Plus, my baby girl is one now, and not napping for quite as long during the day as last year. Nap time was blog time last year. This year, I’m not really sure where it fits. But, we shall see.

I also haven’t really been “setting up” many exciting kids’ activities lately. I was trying to think why this was, when I realised it’s because it’s the height of summer and we’ve been embracing lots of

free play outside.

And it’s been really glorious. Nice and simple. Water play, sand play, etc.

The kids just potter around outside, doing their thing. Or, they fight each other on the trampoline, and end up crying…. yup, that happens in my house too. 

Plus, most of the time, they’re running around half naked, which doesn’t really work very well for me to take photos for the blog!

But what I wanted to share, is our back yard.

In our yard we’ve been quite intentional with the spaces we’ve created for the kids. For example; last Summer when I knew I’d have a newborn and two active preschool boys on my hands, we deliberately built a larger sandpit that I knew would keep them busy.

So now our yard is a place where I can say “kids, go outside and play now” and they do, quite happily. (Most of the time).

They have spaces that they can make their own, spaces that they can get deep into play, spaces to hide, and spaces where they can be unsupervised for periods of time and I can know that they are safe.

We’ve lived in our house for four years now. It’s not a HUGE section, by any means. Pretty standard for NZ these days at not quite 500sqm.

When we moved in it was a rental, with an EXTREMELY tidy lawn and easy care garden. It was honestly pretty sterile and not really that inspiring.

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We managed to keep it tidy for the first six months while we were renting it. The agent would tell us to pull the weeds out every now and again.

We started off with just one small wee clam shell sandpit, which kept the kids happy when they were younger wee toddlers.

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As our family has grown (and we bought the house, WAHOO!), and as I have learned and applied more knowledge about how children play, our yard has transformed quite a lot.

I truly believe that kids don’t “need” much “stuff”  to play with. It’s more about the environment that is provided, the base landscape which they make their own games from.

Our yard is not a “pinterest perfect” yard… it gets muddy, it gets messy, the edges get untidy, the bushes get overgrown, and the veggie garden has dead plants in it. I did have a pinterest board for our yard (link) ages ago, but yeah… how many of those projects do you think got completed? NIL. No surprises there, right?

So instead, our yard is now kind of a mish-mash of projects and play spaces. Which I’m cool with.

 Sandpit Area:

Here you can see how our sandpit has expanded with our kids’ needs (compared to the photo above).

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Tyres and wood from our loose parts area.

This is where most of the kids’ Summer (and some Winter) play happens. A good sized sandpit is a true investment in free play for your children, as well as being an investment in your sanity as a parent! We managed to build ours into an area without sacrificing any of our lawn.

It’s probably only *just* big enough for our three kids. And as you can see, we haven’t quite managed to dispense of the clamshell. We just seem to need that extra room for play!

A recent weekend project I had was to put a small pallet up on the fence for storing the sandpit toys in.

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I’m so happy with how it turned out! And so were the kids – the minute they saw it they were straight out there, pulling all the tools out and played in the sandpit for a whole HOUR. Win!

{Inspiration from Kindy. NOT Pinterest, haha}.

Tree Hut:

The summer of 2015/16, my husband got it into his head he wanted to build a tree hut for our boys. I thought he was a bit nuts (he’s not really a DIY type of guy). But I have to hand it to him, he TOTALLY blew it out of the park and built this epic tree hut.

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This is the yard project that has cost us the most money – for the materials.

Being a single income family, we’re a bit budget. Most of our projects cost very little to NIL. But this was a great investment (of both money and his time).

This summer we put on an extension on the front of it, creating a little closed in area for the kids to play in. We need to do a bit more work on this for them to access it easily.

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Loose Parts Area:

OK so going on from that photo above, you may have noticed a giant eyesore pile of wood leaning up against the tree? I will admit, this section of our yard looks a bit like a junk yard.

This is our ‘loose parts’ area. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘loose parts’, it’s defined in play as:

“materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials.”

We didn’t intentionally set out to have a loose parts area. It’s basically just stuff we’ve collected for various projects. Pallets, and tyres, and a ladder for the tree hut, pieces of wood, stumps.

And yes, it does look like a bit of a junk yard…

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Except it’s not “junk”…

It’s pretty amazing how these loose parts get played with.

Some days, it’s a boat (they like to sail to either America or Australia). Or it’s a dragon’s cave:

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We experimented with levers and made a swing:

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Our one year old developing her physical skills and confidence:

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And, we do make some pretty epic obstacle courses!

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Trampoline:

Obvious fun. However. UNDERNEATH the trampoline is also amazing. In Winter, it turns into a GIANT mud pit. It gets holes dug into it, things buried in it, and huts made around the outside. Obviously we’ve given up on growing any lawn underneath here!

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Using wood from our loose parts to create a track, escaping the heat on a hot day.

“Secret” Hiding Space:

We have a bunch of ferns growing in one corner, beside our sandpit. They have now grown big enough that it creates a bit of a hidey space underneath the fronds. I just trim the lower (dead) ones away every now and again, and layer them on the ground so the kids can sit on them.

Kids love to have a bit of a hiding space away from the prying eyes of adults, right!

Occasionally they’ll play in there, it hasn’t been top of the list this Summer though… but it creates another area that I can utilise if we’re at our wits’ end – go hide some dinosaurs or teddies in there for example.

 Bug Hotel:

When you have a small child who’s obsessed with bugs, you build a bug hotel in your backyard. Or in our case, you just randomly shove pieces of bark and paper and pine needles into an old pallet, and hope you get some bugs!

If you search “bug hotel” on pinterest then you’ll see some fancy versions. Our’s is the true blue budget “Kiwi backyard” version, that works well for me to say “hey, why don’t you go check your bug hotel?!” when I’m needing 5 minutes of peace (who, me?!). 

We also have these pretty fantastic log stumps that spiders like to live under, which makes for cool exploring.

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Slack Line:

Because I am such an occupational therapist, when I saw a video online of a backyard slackline, I just had to get on out immediately and set one up for our kids. Plus, I knew they’d love it.

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And love it they did. My eldest was 4 and he was straight on like a monkey. Crazy.

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We’ve since taken it down because it was bending the trees a little. But it would be neat to have a proper one up. With a proper ‘actual’ slackline, not just cheap ratchet straps from Mitre10.*

*don’t try this at home folks. (No, do! And please tell me about it).

Herb Garden:

We also have a nicely overgrown, herb garden, which is important to mention as we talk a lot about the bees and how they like to visit our herb garden in it’s flowering state. It happens to be near the sandpit, so there’s plenty of mint and oregano that gets used in sandpit play.

Swinging Chairs:

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I can’t write a post about our backyard without mentioning these wonderful swinging chairs that were gifted to us a few Christmases ago. Sorry for the super boring photo but I couldn’t find any on my phone, so just walked outside and took a photo as I write this!

Every Occupational Therapist appreciates a good swing, because of the effect it has on a child’s vestibular (balance) system. Swinging can elicit an extremely calming effect for children. And there have been MANY times when our kids have chosen to swing for 20 minutes or so, just by themselves, to self regulate their emotions. It’s their happy place.

So, there you have it – a pretty stock standard Kiwi section, adapted to be a place for kids to explore and be free in.

I’m pretty proud of how we’ve created these spaces for our kids.. they are happy to be here and love being at home playing, which is the absolute BEST result for us as a family. It’s cost us a minimal amount overall too – lots of this stuff could be sourced for free or from your local community.

So, what do ya think? Have you got room for a “loose parts” area in your back yard? Or would you set up a slack line (*please do buy a proper one, they have grip on them, not like the ratchet tie downs that we used!).

Share your back yard projects with me, I’d love to see them!

facebook, instagram

xx Rach.

A resource about loose parts: (click ‘download resource”)

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