*This post is brought to you in collaboration with Crazy Sales.
The Winter school holidays are great aren't they? There's so little pressure to do stuff when the weather is less than ordinary. It's wonderful to lounge about the house all day; eating, watching TV and rarely bothering to get dressed at all. However, kids do start to irritate us grownups pretty quick-smart in this season for reasons which need little explaining here!
Then there's glorious Spring with its patches of sunny warmth, blossoms and greenery and the glimmering promise of even greater things to come.
Spring is definitely the time of year to throw open the windows and doors and get the kiddos dusted off and marching for the garden.
Yet kids can be so difficult to push outdoors can't they? Who'd have thought kids need structure, tasks and incentive to play amongst the treasures to be found in their own backyard? I think that truth has to be one of the most surprising and startling discoveries in all my time as a parent:
...That kids don't just play, they often need encouragement to do so.
And so I have put together a list of tried and true sanity-saving outdoor play ideas that have been road tested by my brood or observed by myself when I do manage to get them into the garden. As the title suggests, they are either free or cheap and super easy and could well net you some much-craved 'me' time.
To begin with, most successful outdoor play sessions involve a parent. Before you freak out and yell "That most certainly is NOT me time!" - you don't necessarily have to participate; just be close or within viewing distance. Oddly, if I leave the door to the garden open, the kids will stay out there happily. If I shut the door, they're back inside in a flash! Just give them the impression of being available to them. Better yet, actually go outside and do something like gardening (which may just begin to involve the kids in itself), or simply read a book in the sun.
Guaranteed success without even trying!
Been cleaning out your kitchen cupboards this Spring? If you have old crockery, plastic cookware, mixing spoons and pans, pop these into a tub and give them to the kids to create with in your yard. My kids love it when I donate old kitchen stuff to their outside play. Before you know it, they'll be making mud pies, casseroles with grass or will simply be putting their collection of pots and pans to use by creating forts, bike paths or whatever in the corner of the yard.
Bug catchers: You can buy an official bug catcher for next to nothing at the toy shop or make your own easily with old plastic jars such as those used for peanut butters. Simply wash these well in the dishwasher so that the label comes off, punch some holes in the lid and pass them out to your kids. I give my kids access to handheld shovels and sometimes dessert spoons to dig with and collect their bugs. A magnifying glass to get a close-up look at their collections is a good idea to expand on this activity too. One season we found several huge praying mantis' which became much loved pets we kept for around a year - they even had 1000's of babies! Now that's successful bug catching for you!
Painting: Gather some old paint brushes and give the kids a bucket of water and position them at a wall or fence to 'paint.' Kids love this one! It's just like real painting with all the satisfaction of seeing something actually applied (water). Better yet, get them to 'paint' something that would benefit with a good clean such as a garage door or car.
Water pistols: With the return of the warmer weather, kids are keen to get wet and water pistols are a fun way to get everyone harmlessly involved. You can pick up a packet of cheap water pistols at your supermarket or newsagents for as little as $5. These provide hours of entertainment in the sun and there's little mess too.
Trampoline games: Most families have one so I've included it here. Kids don't need much encouragement to enjoy one of these. If you don't have one yet, chances are you can buy one cheaply second hand on a classifieds or auction website, or source one locally via your region's newspaper. We have a Springfree which has a safety net. I have observed my kids having a great game of ball on the trampoline many times. Basically, they collect every ball in their possession, climb into the trampoline and zip up the net - then they bounce along with all those balls! Lots of laughter to be had with this one!
Sandpit play: If you don't already possess one, you're missing out on some valuable me time. You can buy a 'shell' for a sandpit at most department and hardware stores for around $30 or less. Simply visit a hardware store and buy a few bags of sandpit sand (around $5-$6 a bag) and fill your vessel. Pop some toy cars, spades, dinosaurs etc into the pit and the kids are off... You can make a small bench top sand basin for tight play areas too (or younger ones) and place it on an outdoor table which has the added benefit of making sand play portable.
Outdoor pop up equipment: tunnels, teepees and tents. Many of these things can be bought cheaply and can provide hours of entertainment for the kids year after year. How about this great teepee and tunnel play tent from Crazy Sales? These are brilliant for keeping the kids off your back and pack away tidily when not in use. They can also be brought indoors for when the weather turns. Versatile play fun!
Leaf boats: I credit my Husband with this nifty invention which had my boys entertained outdoors for several hours last Summer. If your garden has some plants with nice big leaves and you don't mind sharing a few for the sake of craft, then this is your ideal water play activity. Fashion different leaves into boats of all shapes and sizes and secure their parts with toothpicks or thin sticks to make sails, rudders etc. See who can float their boat, race them and build improvements to your initial design.
Tree climbing: In this sterile world we live in these days, kids seem to miss out on the simple fun we ourselves had as children. If you have a decent tree, let the older kids climb it for some great exercise and adventure.
Chalk: Buy a cheap tub of pavement chalk and let the kids get creative on the path and walls at your home. Simple and pleasurable and best of all, it washes off in the rain or with a quick hose.
Hide and Seek: Quite simply, the best game ever. Sometimes I play this one and it still gives me an unnatural thrill! Why is this game so darn entertaining? I still do not know.
Finally, pop a basin of soapy water at the door and a bath towel so that kids can clean themselves up before entering the house when they are spent. This is an essential around here with so many kids and their constant grub and takes the edge off the housework for me. (It has been noted frequently that kids will play endlessly with this wash tub too!)
How would you like to win your very own
play tent combo as pictured here for your child?
Thanks to Crazy Sales, I have one to giveaway to a reader of
Five of my kids jam themselves into this at once and totally love it!
The tents construct easily via strung-together tent poles which interconnect and require very little thought to assemble. (There are instructions included if you're doubtful.) Best of all, this pop up tent set folds down to store in one small, round carry bag so when it's not in use, it's not taking up valuable space around your home.
The Teepee Tunnel Play Tent is suitable for both indoor and outdoor play being fully lined with rip-stop PVC waterproof flooring. It is sturdy and large and you can configure it to fit any available space. This great set is priced at just $39.95 plus postage, making it a small and worthwhile investment for your kids' long term enjoyment well into the future. What a great and impressive Christmas present to tuck away!
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*Disclosure: Six Little Hearts received payment and product for this article.