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15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

These are the ways that we have transformed our backyard into a super fun and engaging backyard haven for our five young children. We have about an acre of fenced in land behind our house, and with everything we have created, built, and purchased, we are very content to just stay home and enjoy ourselves. This works out especially well right now seeing as how we have a newborn this summer!

I believe that children should be free and have autonomy to choose their own activities and be independently entertained. I also believe in giving kids as many natural settings and experiences as I can to help them develop their creative and imaginative minds. By incorporating these things into our yard over the past three years, I think we have done just that.

Here’s a video of our yard as we gear up for summer.

1. Sandbox

When we moved into our house three years ago, building a sandbox was the first thing we did, and our children LOVE it! They play in it every single time we are outside.

Our Sandbox

Our Sandbox

2. Stock Tank Swimming Pool

We wanted a durable swimming pool that all of us could fit in that wouldn’t break the bank, and this stock tank swimming pool has been perfect! Learn how we made stock tank pool here.

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

3. Garden

Our kids love every aspect of gardening from preparing the soil, to planting the seeds, to harvesting the garden. It’s a lot of work to put it in, but I love maintaining it and reaping the benefits. Read about the benefits of gardening with kids as well as to see the gardening tips and tricks I have here.

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

4. Obstacle Course

Our kids love challenging themselves with this simple obstacle course put together with nothing more than some old tires, boards, and a few screws.

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

5. Teepee

I got the idea for this teepee from the one my mom made in their field and from the one at Blanford Nature Center in their natural play area. Every year we add more sticks, stalks, old vines, etc. to it, and the kids love using it for imaginative play.

Our Backyard Teepee

Our Backyard Teepee

6. Stepping Stumps

This was another idea I got from Blanford Nature Center. Whenever we see someone chopping down a tree, my husband races over with his pick up truck to collect the stumps. The kids love walking back and forth on them and jumping into the sand that is piled below.

How to Make Stepping Stumps

How to Make Stepping Stumps

7. Hills

The first hill we made was unplanned. As we were digging up the sod for our sandbox, we decided to pile it up making a little hill. We were surprised at how much our little ones loved running up and down it, so we got some dirt and added a few more. This slide has also been a really fun touch.

Our Big Hill

Our Big Hill

8. Tent

I love setting up an outdoor tent in the spring, summer, and fall as both a holding tank for blankets, toys, and books, as well as a retreat for anyone wanting to duck away from the wind, cold, sun, or people.

Our Backyard Tent

Our Backyard Tent

9. Sports Equipment

I love having a basket with a variety of sports equipment that the kids can use freely. We have soccer balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, frisbees, baseball bats and balls, rubber kick balls, and more.

Sports Equipment

Sports Equipment

10. Swing Set

We initially got a swing set like this at our local shopping market, but we always wanted a big wooden structure like this. As luck would have it, we knew someone getting rid of one for free! It took three guys seven hours to take apart and put back together, but it has been perfect for our older children.

Swing Set

Swing Set


Wooden Play Structure

Wooden Play Structure

11. Electric Cars

For a brief time in my childhood I remember having electric cars, and my brother and I LOVED them! We now have an electric dune buggy, jeep, and mini four wheeler for our kids, and they get used every time we go outside. This is the 3rd summer we’ve had them, and with the exception of some new rechargeable batteries, they have held up very well.

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

12. Water Pouring Station

In the winter, I have been brave enough to bring this inside, but in the summer, it is so nice to have the mess outside! My little ones play with this water table every day. I like having some kind of table (like this tool bench) nearby to hold the cups, teapots, buckets, and other pouring supplies. I also love having it near the sandbox so they can incorporate sand into their water play.

Water Pouring Station

Water Pouring Station

13. Playhouse

Having a playhouse encourages all kinds of imaginative play. The kids love this one especially because of the little seats, windows that open and shut, and small door. We usually pick a spot for the house to stay for the season because it kills the grass underneath, but you could always move it around.

Playhouse

Playhouse

14. Mini Kitchen

With the mini kitchen, we also have a kids sized picnic table, mini grill, and baskets of play food and plastic dishes. The kids love preparing pretend meals and feeding us hungry adults.

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

15. Basketball Hoop

Our daughter Ophelia has particularly enjoyed this basketball hoop. She stands on a little stepping stool and the balls are collected in this little wagon. And of course we have an adult sized hoop as well. We debated laying some concrete, but have enjoyed simply having the ability to shoot baskets.

Basketball Hoops

Basketball Hoops

In Conclusion

Occasionally, we do like to go places, but mostly we just enjoy staying home. Between the 26 learning stations we have inside and the fun we’ve created outside, our kids are never bored and neither are we.

Here’s a video of us getting our yard ready for summer last year. You can really see how much things have changed!

What's So Bad About Phthalates?

What’s So Bad About Phthalates?

I’ve done a bit of research about phthalates to know that they are bad, but I wanted to dig a little deeper to see just how bad and learn more about the possibilities for exposure.

My Health Journey

As a health conscious mother of four (soon to be five) and also on a pretty strict budget as a stay at home mom, I’m always trying to balance out health and cost. I first of all try to serve my children as much nutrient dense food as possible while at the same time try to eliminate as many toxins as I can. That being said, stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol which leads to inflammation, free radical damage, and a weakened immune system, so I try to avoid that by not getting too paranoid about things that can affect our health.

I believe the best health journey is one that is continuous and involves baby steps. Once, I tried throwing out everything processed and only purchased organic whole foods, but the cost was overwhelming and something we couldn’t support on one income. (Also, organic isn’t a magic label freeing us from all toxins.) So now, we do what we can, and I’m always trying to just focus on the next step rather than the final destination.

In this series of articles, I would like to explore some of the toxins that are lurking in our everyday lives, explain what they are, how they are hurting us, and discuss how they can be avoided. I hope that this research will serve our family as we continue our health journey, choose better and safer products, and try to live the best life that we can every day for both our current and future health.

What are Phthalates?

Most phthalates (pronounced f-THAL-ates) are plastcizers that are added to plastics (such as vinyl flooring, raincoats, shower curtains, plastic toys, and IV drip bag tubes) to make them more flexible and harder to break. They are also added as a dissolving agent (solvent) and fragrance carrier to many personal care products including soaps, shampoos, deodorants, and laundry detergents.

*On a side note, phthalates are not commonly found in things like plastic wrap, food containers, and water bottles…although these plastics do contain other dangerous chemicals that can leech into your food and beverages that I will discuss in future articles.

Finding Phthalates on Labels

If you’re a label reader (like me), the scary thing about phthalates is that under current law, they can simply be labeled as “fragrance”, even if they make up to 20% of the product.

If you’re looking at your labels, you may notice different acronyms and names:

  • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) – used in nail polish and other personal care products
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate) – used in personal care products, such as deodorants, perfume, cologne, aftershave lotion, shampoo, hair gel, and hand lotion
  • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) – used in vinyl flooring, car-care products, and personal care products
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) – used in insect repellent, plastics, and solid rocket propellant
  • DEHP (di-phthalate, bis-phthalate, or 2-ethylhexyl phthalate) – used as a softener in PVC products, such as IV bags, tubing, and other medical devices

*In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed a law calling for the phthalates DBP, DEHP, and BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate) to be banned in all toys (including teething toys) and bedding intended for children 12 and under. There are, however, no regulations on phthalates in toys made in China, and they have been tested to have very high levels (28%-38%).

Why are Phthalates Dangerous?

While most studies reflect the effects of phthalates on animals, the results have been disturbing enough for people to start taking notice. Most adults will metabolize phthalates through the digestive system and excrete them via feces or urine, but this isn’t really possible for fetuses in the womb and particularly dangerous for the immature digestive system of infants and young children, so they are most at risk.

While more research is needed, animals studies show that low exposure to DBP phthlates (found in most grocery store cosmetics) can damage the reproductive system of males and that DEHP (used to soften plastics) is toxic to the developing fetus (especially at high exposures such as experienced by those undergoing medical procedures). Other studies show that,

“there is a potential for phthalates to impact birth outcomes, including gestational age and birth weight, fertility (lower sperm production), and anatomical abnormalities related to the male genitalia,” states Maida Galvez, a pediatrician and director of the Mount Sinai Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit in New York City.

Phthalate exposure is also linked to asthma, the timing of puberty, childhood obesity, and other health conditions such as breast cancer.

How to Avoid Phthalates

While I don’t think it’s practical or possible in this day and age to chuck every man made material possession and move deep into the woods to be free from human influence or innovation, there are some ways that we can start to eliminate our phthalate exposure both gradually and practically.

  1. Look for phthalates or fragrance on labels. Avoid anything with “fragrance” or any mention of any type of phthalate. Instead of using air fresheners, just put a few drops of essential oils into a spray bottle filled with water.
  2. Look for phthalate-free labels. This may seem like kind of a no-brainer, but it is a pretty good way to find things that are free from phthalates. 🙂 Look for phtalate-free labels on cleaners and cosmetics especially.
  3. Check the bottom of plastic bottles and choose those labeled #2, 4, or 5. Avoid #3 and #7 because they may contain phthalates.
  4. Use a french press for coffee. The plastic tubing and high heat in coffee pots are a recipe for high phthalate exposure.
  5. Don’t buy plastic toys from China. If you buy children’s toys in the U.S. (made after 2008), they cannot contain phthalates, but even still, you might want to steer towards wooden toys like these wooden teethers that my friend makes! And don’t buy plastic toys from China (or other countries) where there are no regulations on phthalates.
  6. Know where your milk comes from. Even organic milk may have passed through plastic tubes (with DEHP) on the way from the cow to the bottle. The fatty acids in milk basically pull the the DEHP out of the plastic tubing and into the milk. We actually get raw milk from a farm (that we have visited) where the milking is done by hand and never touches plastic of any kind.
  7. Sweat more. Sweating helps your body to eliminate phthalates twice as effectively as elimination through urine. So, adults can exercise more or visit the sauna!
  8. Be careful when painting. Most paints have DBP to help them spread better, so make sure there are no children are around and the room is well ventilated, or look for natural paints without DBP.
  9. Choose non-vinyl options if possible. For example, you can check out these non-vinyl shower curtain options and these PVC and phthalate free raincoats at Puddlegear that will not produce chemical off-gassing bringing phthalates into your environment. *These options are expensive and things I would save for more advanced elimination.

Conclusion

The people most at risk from phthalate exposure are unborn babies and infants (especially males), so it’s especially important for pregnant mamas and parents of young children to be aware of things that contain phthalates. During human studies, women have tested higher for the type of phthalates found in cosmetic products, so women are typically at greater risk as well. So before slathering lotion on yourself or your baby, spritzing on some perfume, or washing your clothes, check your labels and know what you’re putting onto and into your body.

Like I said before, I don’t think it’s worth the stress to get super paranoid about every possible danger in life because we’re all going to die one day anyways, but by taking thinking of it as a health journey instead of a health destination, we can continuously choose one thing at a time to improve in our lives that will help not only our current health, but our future health, and the health of future generations as well.

4 Ingredient Slime Putty

silly putty colors

Slime Putty Colors

We are always looking for quick and easy art projects, and this one fit the bill! Ruby actually found this recipe on YouTube Kids, and we just so happened so have all of the ingredients to make it laying around! This recipe was an instant hit with the kids, and after playing with the first batch, they wanted to make a variety of colors. This was quick and easy to make and the kids have really enjoyed playing with it…which is a win, win, win!

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Dump out the glue into the bowl. Tip those bottles upside down and get out as much glue as you can!

    elliot adding glue to make slime putty

    Elliot Dumping Out Glue

  2. Mix in the food coloring. Start with a few drops, stir, and then add more as needed to achieve your desired color.

    elliot adding food coloring to make slime putty

    Adding the Food Coloring

  3. Make the borax mixture. Fill up a cup with warm/hot water and mix in about a teaspoon of borax. Let it sit/stir it until it dissolves.

    mixing borax and water for making slime putty

    Mixing Borax and Water

  4. Add the borax mixture to the glue. *This part is really tricky and very easy to mess up! If you add too much of the borax mixture, it will turn to a hard blob, if you don’t add enough, it will stick to your hands.
    adding borax mixture to glue to make slime putty

    Adding Borax Mixture to Glue

    You want to add just a little bit, stir, stir, stir, add a bit more, stir some more, mix with your fingers (about 2 minutes), then only add more if it’s still sticky. Trust me, add less than you think you’ll need and you’ll be just fine.

    mixing slime putty mixture by hand

    Mix it By Hand

  5. Final Slime Putty: The consistency should be soft and stretchy, but not sticky. (Although, if you do what Elliot is doing below, pieces WILL get stuck in your hair, and watch out, because this stuff can get stuck in carpet and on clothes too if you’re not careful!)

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty on His Head

    Elliot Wearing His Slime Putty

  6. Play with your goo! Stretch it, pull it, roll it, and have fun! Store it in a ziploc bag when you are done so that it won’t dry out.
    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty with a Rolling Pin

    Elliot Rolling Out Slime Putty

    *Now that you’ve got your Borax out, you might want to whip up a batch of some homemade laundry detergent!