I’m not an outdoorsy person. It’s not because I lived a sheltered life, ensconced in my air-conditioned home surrounded by plastic toys that beeped and walked, leaving me no desire to experience the outdoors—no, it’s quite the opposite.
I grew up in the jungle. Literally, the jungle. My parents were missionaries in Belize and my playground was the river. When I read and reread my books, it was from my favorite seat in the mango tree far enough away from the house that I could pretend not to hear my mother’s voice calling me back to finish my chores. I hiked through miles of mud, stepped on snakes (accidentally!), and on the rare occasion I wore shoes, I always checked them for scorpions and tarantulas before I put them on. I practically lived outside!
Then I grew up, and I moved to the United States of America. And, YOU GUYS!! You have indoor plumbing here!!! Air conditioning!! Screens on the windows! Comfortable beds! And couches!
I never wanted to leave the great indoors, EVER!
But now I have small children. And as I scroll through the internet on my functioning laptop while sitting on my soft sofa with my feet propped up on an upholstered ottoman in my climate-controlled living room (sipping a latte), I’ve learned that green space and time outside is vital for the mental health of children.
So this year, I made the difficult decision to turn my yard into a kid-friendly, free-play, gross-motor-sensory experience. These terms are code for “things my kids will play with for a long time while I sit close enough to the house to still use the WiFi.” And today, my friends, I am sharing with you a few of my favorite backyard successes–all cheap or FREE!
- Sticks and rocks and dirt. I don’t like dirt, but I had to get over myself and realize my kids are going to need baths anyways, so I might as well embrace it. Someone gave us a used sandbox, so my daughters dutifully carry the sand around the yard in small containers and then dump it “accidentally” where we still have real grass left. Before the sand box, they did the same with a pile of dirt.
- Hammock. We hung ours really close to the ground to lower the chance of serious injury, and it gets used a lot!
- Paint brushes, buckets, and water. This one I love, because it’s just water. Let them paint on raw wood, on the sidewalks…basically anything that changes color when it’s wet! Big paint brushes work best. They can lie down on the sidewalk and trace around themselves, paint the entire fence, write meaningful haikus on the sidewalk–literally anything! And the magical part is that it disappears within ten minutes without any clean-up on your part! It couldn’t be more splendid!
- Things to climb on, over, or through. Garage sales are my jam for outdoor toys! I like things that can be used for imaginative play, like the climbing tunnel pictured, which also makes a great caterpillar costume!
- Mud kitchen. On Pinterest, you can find all sorts of very trendy, earthy, Instagram-worthy mud kitchens for your little forest children, but literally anything works. I have a pink plastic kitchen and some ugly plastic dishes that I set beside the sand box, and my kids spend hours cooking up every sort of mud-inspired food! If you don’t have any sort of kitchen, give them a box for a stove and a bowl for a sink. Presto! Handcrafted, eco-friendly, upcycled, mud kitchen! (Because you, my friend, are just that cool.)
- Buckets or other water carrying containers. One of my daughter’s daily summer chores is to water all the plants around the yard. She faithfully pours water on the grass, flowers, bushes, trees, and more, even if it’s raining. It takes a long time. I’m a big fan of things that take a long time. Add rags and you’ve got a car/scooter/wagon wash!
So there you have it! Cheap ways to make your backyard summer-fun ready!
May the Lord bless you in your enjoyment of the wonders of nature he created for you!
Anita grew up in Belize as a missionary kid. She has lived in 3 countries and traveled on 5 continents but can’t resist the allure of subzero winters so she now lives in MN with her Egyptian husband and two daughters. She blogs about God, motherhood, and appreciating beauty at anitamatta.com, and pretends to be trendy by posting pictures of coffee as @anitafmatta on Instagram.