Patty Goffinet is author of Go Outside and Play: Why Kids Don’t and Why They Should. Patty is part of Homeschool.com’s Summer Freebie Extravaganza, and tomorrow, she’s giving away autographed copies of her book. Only a limited quantity are available, so check the freebies early in the day.
Below, is Patty’s guest blog post for today–
Summer is here! It’s a great time to go outside and play. Parents everywhere are holding the door to the backyard open to shoo the kids out. But instead of the cheerful patter of feet racing by, some parents hear tortured groans as children, with their eyes firmly fixed to the TV screen, plead: “We don’t want to go. There’s nothing to do there. It’s boring outside!”
The kids could be right. Maybe it is boring outside. Something must be done before your plans for an outdoor summer fizzle like a dead sparkler. It’s time to really examine the yard. It may be green and neat and meet your standards. Kids, though, want more than good- looking grass. They want great playability. Has the drone of mowers, blowers, edgers and trimmers, the sounds of keeping a well-watered, well-fed landscape under control, replaced the cheerful squeals of children playing? If we want to get the kids outside without nagging and threatening them, we need to make the outside the kind of place they want to be.
To create a yard that kids want to spend time in, try to see it through their eyes. The yard should have a little of everything: some sun and some shade, water and food, some open space as well as good places to hide. There should be room for somersaults and quiet, cozy nooks to read books in. A great yard should not be taken in all in one glance. It needs mystery, hidden corners and unexpected perches to discover and explore. There should be water. Enough water to attract frogs that lay eggs that turn into tadpoles is ideal. Water to cool off in and water to mix with sand or dirt is essential. A good climbing tree is an excellent child magnet, but if it’s not there already, it’s going to take time. Go ahead and plant a tree now so it’s ready for the next generation. Forts are fun, but the bones of really great kid yards are planted rather than built. Plants change constantly. They grow, bloom, fruit, die back, and this change means there is always something new to discover. If you bring in plants that squirrels, birds and butterflies are attracted to, you’ll end up with a yard that children are attracted to.
One reason why yards with lots of different plants are more fun to play in is that they have more loose parts. Loose parts refer to objects that have no set meaning. A toy gun is not a loose part. It is always a toy gun. A stick though, can be a gun, wand, golf club or a dozen other things depending on who has it and what they are in the mood to play. The uses of this stick are limited only by the imagination of the child holding it. The more loose parts or different things a child can find, the more creative that child can be, the more fun they can have. Outdoors is naturally loaded with loose parts. It’s a place where kids can let their imaginations run wild as they play out complicated scenarios and invent intricate games using the objects around them. In our quest for the perfect, nothing out-of-place yard, we have thrown out the loose parts. We poison weeds, plant only a few kinds of plants, kill off bugs, and rake up sticks and stones.
Have you oversimplified the bit of outdoors your children play in? Is it too tidy for fun, too static for adventure? Is it boring? There is an easy litmus test called the Fairy House Test (FHT for short) to measure the quality of your child’s outdoor space. Simply look at the quality of the fairy homes she builds. The better the construction materials, the better the houses. The more twigs, leaves, pinecones, pebbles, berries, feathers, flowers, etc. that the young builder can combine, design and build with, the more creative her fairy houses become and the more creative your child becomes. If the yard can support an entire colony of custom fairy houses, it is a high-quality kid yard with excellent playability. If the fairy house potential of your yard ranks down near Astroturf, it may be time to rethink your gardening priorities.
The kids are entertained and comfortable inside, but they’re missing out on all the outdoor adventures their parents and grandparents had when they were children. The grass may be green and lush, but this isn’t getting the kids off the sofa and out of the house. Street appeal can’t compete with air conditioning and computer games. A yard with excellent fairy house potential can. Good luck!
Visit Patty’s website at www.PattyGoffinet.com for more information on her book and a link to Amazon where it can be purchased.