Clothilde yells, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!” while wearing ear protection.
If you’ve ever visited our house, you will know something about us – we have junk. Lots of junk.
I don’t necessarily like junk. Actually, if I had things my way, there wouldn’t be a scrap of junk and someone else would sweep the driveway. But the problem is, I live with my family, aka, people who LOVE junk, especially my kids (and my husband, but that’s a whole ‘nother subject).
There are such beautiful toys that you can buy for children – colorful, lovely, imaginative toys that are said to inspire free-play and imagination.
If it were possible, I would ONLY have our vintage-style red fire-engine wagon parked by the garage, the neat plastic slide next to the magnolia tree, and the stylish enamel pail with polka-dots from Nova Naturals sitting enticingly in the sandbox…but everyone else has other ideas…because kids just love junk.
They love it better than expensive, pretty toys. I know because kids that only have expensive, pretty toys go crazy at our house with all the junk and have to be carried away, sobbing, when it’s time to go home. I have saved to spend money on beautiful, natural, creative toys, only to have them be left behind in favor of junk. The truth is, even the most beautiful, natural outdoor fairy/elf house is just not as interesting as….junk. Remember, imagination isn’t kindled by something expensive or already formed, it’s fed by raw materials, unformed things that need the spark of imagination to bring them to life.
So…save your money for healthy, nutrient dense foods for those growing bodies! This is what our “urban playscape” is made of:
A stump littered with old bottles, plastic measuring scoops, a bent-up metal colander – most of them scrounged from the recycle bins, or from the old homestead at the farm, a plastic ice-cube tray filled with colored sidewalk chalk (my children don’t draw with it, they make “potions” with it), and a rusty cheese grater they found:
This is actually an active kitchen/restaurant, where delicious mud pies and beautiful deserts sprinkled with flower petals and pollen are served. A few smaller stumps serve as chairs and restaurant tables. Sometimes it will become a laboratory for science experiments, or even a wizard’s potion table where all kinds of magical potions are brewed. There are frequent expeditions for secret spices and magical ingredients, and even an old vanilla bottle might hold deadly poison, or something that will turn you into a frog.
A swing made from a stick tied to a branch with a rope:
Mirin climbed the tree and made this swing a couple of years ago, and the neighbourhood children have spent hours playing on it, much to the distress of their parents. It just looks dangerous, and it probably will be at some point. Luckily it is right over the mulch pile for maximum cushioning effect in case of falls. There have been countless games played on this swing, and children have cried over not having a long enough turn. You can buy swings like this for $50, but all you really need is a stick, a sturdy rope, and someone who climbs trees.
A pile of boards/pallets:
Don’t underestimate the entertainment attraction of a pile of boards, pallets, or PVC pipe. These boards have been built into numerous forts and structures. They have been castles, houses, scenes of cowboy stand-offs, etc. Short pieces of PVC pipe make excellent blow-guns with acorns for ammo (we require safety glasses for this game).
A “fairy house” made from an old feed tote:
We get grass-fed dairy ration feed in 1,500 lb “totes”, which are tough fabric sewn with a hole at the bottom. You can lift them up with a fork lift and release the tie at the bottom and dispense all 1,500 lbs of feed into a feed storage unit. It’s very useful, but we didn’t realize quite how useful until Ethan hung one up to dry on the zip line. Then, suddenly, it was the funnest toy ever. Whether they were playing “wolf” and crawling into the bottom hole before the puppy could get them, or just swinging around in it, their shrieks of laughter would make you think it was an amusement park. The latest game was to climb in the top and be “birthed” out the bottom in different ways.
A pile of old feed bags/cardboard for the garden:
Sack races, cardboard houses, costumes…Rose made a bunch of funny-looking “friends” by drawing a face on the bottom of feed bags and standing them up as a whole army of giant paper dolls with stories and personalities attached to them. Cardboard has served as targets for archery, spears, slingshots, as well as whole villages.
Four wooden shipping containers:
These are about 3x3ft and maybe 5ft high, they are wooden boxes missing a side we got from a local brewery where we get spent brew grains for the pigs. Ethan wanted to make a couple of them into smoke houses for bacon and ham, but instead they became the “village”. Part playhouse, part town, there are all sorts of games that have been made around them, whether they are stores, or shelters, or spaceships.
None of these things were set aside specifically as “toys”, and yet children have created hours of fun around them. One thing I think is important to mention is that none of these games were suggested by an adult. They were created entirely by the imagination of children, who spent hours outside in the fresh air, exercising and cooperating and having SO much fun.
As an adult, I tend to see the outside aesthetic view (it’s ugly! It looks like junk! ) rather than the hidden potential that the children are seeing. Childhood should be fun, and we grown-ups sometimes forget something simple – fun is free!
Do you have an urban playscape in your yard? What crazy fun things have your kids found to play with?
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Our new “toy” is some hammocks in the front yard. It’s a shower curtain and a window curtain strung up with rope and slung between trees. The kids do gymnastic tricks and occasionally lay in in them reading a book.
They also recently dug 2 giant holes…
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Giant holes are the best toys!!! Thanks for sharing!
The hole Ethan dug in elementary school is still there! Even after 20+ years of putting leaves and fallen branches in it, it is easily identifiable as a hole.