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Ella and my first family vacation was in Bermuda, and it’s a family memory I hold dear. Every year I buy myself a hibiscus tree not just for the gorgeous flowers and pop of colour, but also to bring a bit of Bermuda into our home as a reminder to slow down and enjoy the memories.
Today, I want to share with you how I set up our backyard this summer for memory making – with just a hint of the tropics and a whole lot of mess-making opportunities!
Now, I’m going to be completely honest with you: I am not a gardener. My dad has been working hard over the past couple of years to really learn and understand gardening and I’m happy leaving most projects to him.
However, slowly easing myself into gardening by having his tips and reassurances has been mostly positive. I killed everything in my garden last year because I was too lazy to hand water the plants twice a day, so this year I’ve invested in a hose to make that maintenance easier – although I do try to use the rain barrel if I’m already outside with the kids and not just running out to give the plants a quick drink.
I hit up Walmart for some supplies, including some all® Fresh Tropical Mist™ laundry detergent to help put us in that tropical mood with it’s new fresh tropical scent. We’ve been using all® for a while so I know it will help remove any stains from the backyard, like grass, mud, and picnic spills thanks to it’s in-wash pre-treaters. I’m really enjoying the light, floral scent – just like walking down the narrow, hibiscus-lined lanes in Bermuda – and it has inspired me to bring a bit of the tropics to my backyard!
I also grabbed several things to help set up our backyard – from butterfly solar lights to toys and digging tools for the kids. It was also important to me to set up some spaces that would make being outside pleasant and enjoyable for me – setting up seating for entertaining, getting easy-clean lounge chairs to set up near where the kids play, and bringing lots of beautiful tropical plants into the backyard for a gorgeous and wonderful-smelling sensory experience.
First, everything needed a good scrub down from either being in storage or being left outside for the winter.
We then sectioned the yard off into “zones” and tried to determine what kinds of play the kids would enjoy the most this summer. Every year, their interests and abilities change. Right now, organized games aren’t really a focus, but mud pits and gardening are a good use of space that the kids will enjoy.
I try to keep a variety of different toys and play-area set-ups for the kids at any given time, without letting the backyard get too crowded. Open-ended play is key for creative thinking, so I try to have spaces that the kids can really transform with their imaginations. Sometimes with things like our water tables, I add in extra or new elements like putting foam in the water table or adding in animal figures.
Here are some of the messy play zones we’ve created:
A Child-Sized Fairy Garden
Ella can re-arrange her life-sized fairy garden however she’d like, and it gives her a quiet spot of her own in a sometimes crazy backyard full of younger kids.
She crosses the reclaimed bridge (formerly the back of a patio chair) into her fenced garden, where some of the plants have been left in their pots but dug into the dirt, so she can re-arrange them at her will. A mushroom sitting stool provides seating, while butterfly lights provide ambience and she has a smaller fairy garden complete with fish pond for some imaginative play.
Right beside our rain barrel (which helps save money on gardening), we have a makeshift mud pit. We’ve found so many ways to play with our mud pit:
- mud kitchen, with easy-to-clean pots and pans
- construction zone (above)
- play garden, with fake flowers and empty pots
- dinosaur tar pit
Outdoor Art Time
We also like bringing our portable art cart outside for some nature-inspired creations (or just when I want to let the kids get messier than I’d let them get inside the house).
Outdoor art projects we’ve done include:
- painting on the easel
- chalk drawing
- painting clouds on mirrors
- painting with our feet (below)
- painting with mud
- painting stones
- painting planters
- painting with natural objects
Outdoor Sensory Play
Everything from water play, to bringing slime outside, and filling the water table with pink lemonade foam – having sensory play outside makes things easier to clean up and adds a whole new sensory element to the mix.
Old Standby: The Sandbox
We’ve had so many different sand box set-ups over the years, I think we’re going to stick to a standard version for this year. We’ve used smaller containers when we didn’t have a yard, we’ve used colored sand, and a few other configurations but this set-up is easy to customize by swapping out the toys and it’s easy for several children to enjoy at once.
It’s also a good alternative to the mud pit for my mess-averse kids.
And finally, this is the garden created and tended to by the kids.
They have their own tools, they have a small bench they can sit in and observe their garden, they have helped pick the plants we are growing. This is truly their garden.
We also have:
- a slide and swing set
- a play house equipped with a variety of old household items, like a corded phone with large numbers, etc.
- wide open yard space
- small paved area for smooth car riding and chalk drawings
By making the backyard a fun place for the kids and a beautiful, comfortable space for me, we’ve ensured that their childhoods will be filled with fun memories and positive associations with being outdoors. We live in a society where most people spend 90% of their time indoors, so developing a love of nature and showing children the amount of fun they can have outside is truly a long-term investment in their well-being and health.
How have you set up your backyard or home for messy play?