On a whim one afternoon while shopping at Walmart, I decided to purchase a trampoline for our backyard, and it has been one of the best parenting decisions I have ever made! We are entering the third year of owning this trampoline, and I don’t think we’ve gone one day playing outside without using it. All five kids love jumping together, and it’s even good exercise for Scott and I when we jump on it with them.
Jumping on the Trampoline
Purchasing a Trampoline
We got ours on sale at Walmart, and it was almost half off, so I would be on the lookout for a deal like that. Some of the Walmart reviews are terrible, but we haven’t had any serious issues. I have seen some trampolines online that have the net on the outside of the springs, and I’m not sure what the advantages would be, but it doesn’t seem very safe in my opinion. I recommend purchasing the type that has the net on the inside of the springs like this. We have the 14 foot option and really like it, but you could get a 12 foot option as well.
If you have little ones, I highly recommend getting a little step stool so they can get in and out easily. Our kids also like jumping with huge balls. I usually buy the cheap ones from the dollar store and they all eventually pop, but this exercise ball would make a far more durable option.
Jack Using the Stepping Stool to Get on the Trampoline
Setting Up the Trampoline
Wow, this took a lot of trial and error because the instructions were horrible, but after taking it apart and setting it up a couple times because of the move, I think we’ve finally figured it out. Well, at least I thought so until I just watched this tutorial on how to set up a trampoline! So rather than me telling you everything not to do, please watch this very helpful 6 minute video. The trickiest part is putting together the part you jump on, so at least skip to that part.
I have heard many horrific tales of broken bones and other terrible trampoline injuries, but besides the occasional bump or bruise, we’ve had nothing serious even though seven of us jump regularly together. None of us do flips or anything, but we do try jumping really high and play a variety of games that involve physical contact. We have a few rules that help with safety.
Close the Opening: The number one rule we have is to zip the entryway closed when everyone is jumping. I remember one time Scott and I were jumping with Julian, and Scott gave him a super bounce which launched him right out of the little opening and onto the ground. Thank goodness he was okay!
Stop Jumping: Whenever someone new comes into the trampoline, everyone must stop jumping until they are in and the door is closed.
No Shoes: We let Jack, who is 3 years old, wear his shoes because he’s so little, but everyone else has to wear socks or go barefoot. When it’s really cold outside, many of them choose to wear double socks.
In Case of an Injury: If somebody gets hurt and especially if someone is crying (I will warn you, this happens just about every time they jump.), everyone must stop jumping and someone must go over to the injured person and say, “Are you okay?” and then try to make them feel better. No one can jump again until the person is done crying.
Wrestling with Daddy on the Trampoline
Favorite Trampoline Games
It truly blows me away that they still enjoy jumping on the trampoline every single day. Their imaginations are incredible, and they are constantly making up new games to play. Here are some of their favorites.
Knee Pull Game: One person jumps on their knees in the center of the trampoline while everyone jumps around them. The person on their knees tries to pull everyone down. Once they pull you down, you stay down until there’s only one person left, and that person gets to be in the center.
Spider Tag: One person closes their eyes and walks around trying to tag people. Once you’re tagged you sit down until only one person remains, and then they are the spider. Elliot said his favorite thing to do during this game is to stretch his arms out and spin around in a circle going around the inside of the net.
Ball Fighting: The kids said I shouldn’t share this one because it’s too dangerous, but basically they put one giant ball on the trampoline and everyone wrestles and fights to get the ball. I’ve also seen them all sit on balls and bounce.
Simon Says: Someone starts off as Simon and directs everyone to do certain a action for example, “Simon says do a booty-bounce” (which is where you bounce on your butt and then immediately pop up to your feet again). This repeats until the person doesn’t say “Simon says” before the action. If someone does the action we say, “Simon didn’t say!” and then that person is the next Simon.
Static Tag: Wear socks and rub your feet on the trampoline, run in a circle, and try to zap people!
Jumping with Balls
We’ve been currently trapped inside due to the horrible weather and confined to our homes due to the Covid-19 quarantine, but I’m happy to say that we may be stir crazy, but we are definitely not bored! I’m so glad that the kids have a way to get their energy out when they play in our backyard, and it is truly the best money we could have spent to entertain our children. I know the weather is crummy, but spring and summer are truly right around the corner and what better way to enjoy it than with your very own trampoline. I share many more ideas for entertaining your children in your backyard this summer here, including how to set up your own stock tank pool! If you’re going to be stuck at home, you might as well enjoy it!
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/why-every-family-should-have-a-trampoline.png400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2020-04-22 14:23:432022-10-12 18:41:31We Use Our Trampoline Just About Every Day!
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Wooden Play Structure
11. Battery Powered Cars
For a brief time in my childhood I remember having a battery powered car, and my brother and I LOVED them! We now have an 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 Battery Powered 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
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.
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.
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!
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/backyard-park.png400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2017-05-28 10:16:132020-11-20 13:23:21DIY Backyard Ideas for Summer Fun with Young Children
Setting up a tent outdoors isn’t just for camping! Every spring, we set up a tent in our backyard to use as a sanctuary and a holding tank, and it has been a very beloved location, especially when we have little babies. In Michigan, we get REALLY excited when spring arrives! The problem is that even though the snow thaws, it’s still pretty chilly (and windy) until June. Having this permanent tent set up ensures that we always have a warm place to play that will allow us to enjoy the fresh outdoor air while staying protected from the elements.
Tent – We usually just go to the nearest box store and pick up whatever is cheapest. (We learned the hard way this year, however, that it’s very important to make sure the tent has a window so you can get a cross breeze.) We’ve been setting up outdoor tents for the past 4 years and have never had a tent that lasts more than one year. By the time snow falls, the walls of the tent are so worn, they just rip apart. Because of this, we usually go with a cheap tent like this. This tent would be a a bit more luxurious and if you’re looking for a really permanent tent, you can go with one of these canvas tents.
Waterproof Cover – There is always a bit of water getting into the tent for one reason or another, so it’s a good idea to cover your foam padding with something like this.
Sheet – I like to put a fitted king size sheet over the waterproof cover.
Blankets – I don’t think we can ever have enough blankets in this household, so I am always on the lookout for good blankets like this at garage sales and thrift stores. I put one blanket down under the pillows and baskets of books and another blanket loosely on top. This second blanket can easily be taken out and shaken if it gets covered in sand and debris. This is also the blanket I’ll use if I want to have a blanket on the grass.
Pillows – Having about 3-4 pillows makes it really nice to stretch out for a little snooze.
Books – I love having a wide assortment of books, but I don’t keep my best out here in case of water or other damage.
Coloring Supplies – This is the first time I’ve included coloring supplies like coloring books, workbooks, blank notebooks, pencil boxes with pencils and crayons, and the bigger kids really enjoy it!
Toys – Because I have kids ranging from newborn to elementary school age, I have a variety of different toys that everyone can enjoy.
Little Chair – The kids especially love this little chair when I put it out on a blanket in the grass. Reading is always more fun when you’re in a little chair!
Diapers and Wipes – Because our tent is a little ways from the house, it’s nice to be able to change a diaper without having to go inside.
Outdoor Tent in Use
Find a good location. It’s nice to have something that can be in shade or partial shade so it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. It’s also nice to have the opening of the tent facing an area of high activity so that you can see what’s going on when you’re in the tent and vice versa.
Set up the tent. We keep our tent in the same spot every year, so after the grass died and it was all dirt, we leveled it with a rake to make it flat.
Put some sheets of wood in front of the tent. You could also use a big rug or Astro turf, but basically you want something to keep grass and dirt out of the tent.
Fill it with fun stuff. Based on the ages of your children, location of the tent, and the purpose of the tent, you will want to fill the tent with things to suit your needs. I like filling my tent with books, coloring supplies, toys, and pillows and blankets.
Play inside the tent. I like to keep the tent closed if it’s going to rain, but as soon as we head out to play I like to open it up and let the kids come and go as they please.
Use the tent as a holding tank. If we want to hang out outside with babies, I like taking a blanket out of the tent and putting toys, books, and the little chair on it.
Keep it clean. When our tent gets full of sand, dirt, grass, and leaves, I am so happy that I keep my extra blanket nestled lightly on top so that I can easily shake it out. If it gets really dirty, I’ll take everything out and either sweep or use the leaf blower.
We enjoy setting up our tent as soon as the snow is gone and leave it up until snow threatens to fall again. We have enjoyed having a tent every year for the past four years and will probably continue to enjoy one for many years to come.
*Update: We had a big windstorm that ripped our tent to shreds, so we opted for a bigger more expensive tent, and boy am I glad we did! My husband recently spent the night out here with our two older children, and they all loved it!
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/play-tent-sanctuary.png400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2017-05-03 20:03:042020-11-20 14:22:19Setting Up an Outdoor Play Tent Sanctuary
“You want to make a mud pit…on purpose…in our yard?!?” I can imagine your spouse yelling as you try to present the idea of creating a mud pit in your backyard, but hear me out…
Having Fun in Our Mudpit
We kind of made our mud pit on accident when we were trying to cover a dirt hill with sod (which is a story for another blog post), and in the process, I noticed how much the kids absolutely loved playing on a hill of pure dirt. They would climb up it, roll down it, dig tunnels through it and holes in it, and basically get really, really muddy. We would have to strip them down before they entered the house, and it created a lot of messy laundry.
Well, the hill was eventually covered with sod, and the parts that weren’t covered sprung up with grass and other foliage, but the hole that we dug the sod out of still remained, ready to be used. We originally were going to make another sandbox on top to mimic the one we liked at Blandford Nature Center, but well, we kind of ran out of money and were looking for a cheaper alternative.
I had a bunch of leftover seeds and plants from planting our summer garden and the kids were still begging for another dirt hill, so I went to work digging and made a dirt hill surrounded by a moat, surrounded by a path, surrounded by some plants. We stretched three hoses connected together to allow water to flow to the furthest regions of our yard, and walla! Mud pit!
Plan It. Find a space in your yard that will be just perfect for a mud pit…preferably away from any pools you have, not right near the front door, but close enough to a water source.
Dig It. Using a pointy shovel, dig out small squares of sod. You can use them to build a small grassy hill if you’d like. Just place the sod pieces on top of each other. Eventually they will settle in and make a nice little hill. Our kids love playing on ours!
Shape It. Try to give it your mud pit some character. Build it up high in some spaces, level it out in others, use your imagination, and try to visualize how your kids will use it. I really think having a moat type structure is a good idea because it traps the water in and makes it more usable.
Use It. I highly encourage all play in the mud pit to be conducted with bathing suits on! This way, kids can be sprayed off with a hose, jump through a sprinkler, or jump into a kiddie pool to get clean afterwards! With a few shovels, buckets, and watering cans, this mud pit has entertained our kids and their friends for hours.
Playing in the Mud Pit
Yes, making a sandbox or setting up a stock tank pool are definitely cleaner projects, and ones that our kids have enjoyed very much, but there is just something so primal about a mud pit that I think all kids should have a chance to experience. Being able to interact with nature, feeling the cool mud with its abundance of free electrons boosting your immune system, getting completely filthy, and creating, digging, and exploring the properties of mud are all hallmarks of any good childhood.
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/mudpit.jpg400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2016-06-26 09:41:112022-10-09 12:45:52How to Make a Mud Pit for Summer Fun
With school out and summer upon us, I find myself wondering how I can make the best use of time with all of my children. Yes, I want to sleep in late, be outside as much as possible, go to the beach, make forts, be silly, and have the freedom to do whatever we want at a moment’s notice, but by having a routine in place, I can ensure that my children continue to learn and grow while we have fun together and don’t spend all day asking me when they can have their iPads!
The Importance of Routines
I am a huge fan of routines, and as a former teacher and now a parent, I have seen them work wonders in many situations.
When routines are in place, especially ones that allow for flexibility, kids feel safe and can run on autopilot without constant hovering and redirection.
After my daughter has been in kindergarten all year, and will now be spending her summer days with her three younger siblings, I knew that a routine for her and her four year old brother especially would be very beneficial to keep them productive, to minimize the fighting, and to minimize them wanting to just watch TV or play on their ipads all day.
I am also a big fan of making charts, and I love how making them with my children gets them to buy in to what I’m trying to teach them. I usually set up the structure for the charts on my own, then get their input as I begin to fill it out, fill in most of the rest of it on my own, and then get their final input. They especially like to get their help with the coloring!
Ruby Helping Me Color Our Charts
For the purpose of this summer routine chart, I knew that I would need to provide my kids with routine, ideas, and flexibility, so I decided to include our daily routine, ideas for activities they could do, and a separate goal chart to remind all of us of what they needed to work on.
Summer School and Goal Charts
Your charts have to work for you and your kiddos. They have to reflect both your needs and theirs. I have a lot of work to do around the house on a daily basis, and I need to spend a lot of time with the younger two, so my charts reflect this. I also want to be able to guide and scaffold my children during teachable moments, and these charts serve as a good reminder for how I can use my time wisely with them.
Setting Up a Learning Environment
I know that my teaching experience may make it easier for me to get into “teacher mode”, but the things that I do are so simple and easy that anyone could do them.
The number one thing that I do is create a stimulating learning environment.
I believe that children like to learn, they like to be challenged, and they like to stay busy. By setting up little learning stations all over the house, I can ensure that my children can do all of these things independently. This also allows me to jump in at opportune “teachable moments” to help scaffold them to the next level. (Check out how I set up a learning environment in my blog: How to Create an Environment that Encourages Independent Play and Learning.)
I am a big advocate of giving children choices, and the charts allow children to see what all of the possibilities are. Sometimes I like to make a big list of all possible activities so my kids know what all of these are and sometimes just need a reminder of all that is possible. When thinking about new activities for my children to do, I like to create learning goals to guide the activity choices. (To read about how I write learning goals, check out this article, and to read some examples of learning goals that I have created for my children, click here. Also, check out the preschool learning stations I have set up around my house here.)
2 Year Old Julian Playing in Our Homeschool Room (I added this picture awhile after writing this blog.)
Examples of Activities:
Write a story
Favorite things books
Build with Legos or blocks
Usually, my children know how to use their imaginations to entertain themselves (because I’ve worked really hard on this with them), but if they ever falter, then I just drop what I’m doing and get down on the floor and play with them to help scaffold them to independence.
After writing out a list of all of the activities, I created our daily routine.
I wanted to create a routine that would get them to use the best parts of their brain first thing in the morning.
I have found that we can all be most productive if we get up and get dressed right away. My oldest daughter is so used to this anyways from her school routine and both her and my four year old (who will be attending preschool next year) will need to do it again, so I think it’s best to leave it in place. I also needed something that would allow me to do some direct instruction, but also allow me some flexibility if I need to be with the younger two. You’ll need to tailor your daily routine to meet your specific needs, but here is what works for me.
I like to tell my children specifically what they are good at (Check out by blog: When You Tell Your Children They Are Smart, It Actually Makes Them Dumb to see how I use specific praise.) and in addition to that, I like to talk to them about what they should be working on next. So with Ruby, for example, who at 5 is reading fluently at a 3rd grade level, we are going to start focusing more on writing. With Elliot (4), we will be working on reading skills and basic math, with Ophelia (2) we will be working on reading as well as language development, and Julian (1) is all about beginning reading and vocabulary development.
While it is helpful for the children to know what their goals are, it is even more helpful for me so that I can keep my mind aware of where each child is and what he/she is working on.
Then, I can design learning stations, create activities, and look for resources to support each of their goals. Click here to see my blog about learning goals that I set for my children.
Other Tips and Tricks
It will seem really hard at first, but it will get easier. The first day always seems impossible and like an incredible amount of work, but the longer you stick with it, the easier it will get. After about a week, they will get the “feel” for their new routine, and you will be surprised how well they do with it.
Find time to fill their tanks first. I love trying to find one on one time to play and cuddle with each child as soon after they wake up as possible. Once their tanks are full of love and cuddles, it’s much easier for them to play independently.
Create an independent environment. Make sure that there are games they can take out, toys they can play with, and activities they can be engaged in that don’t require your direct involvement or supervision.
Be consistent. Be really strict and consistent in the beginning, otherwise they will know that the routine is merely a suggestion instead of “just the way things are”. No matter how much you want to take a shower or get some free time, don’t turn on the TV no matter how much they beg! If you give in even once, it will set a prescience for future behavior.
Be patient, you’ll get some time for you…eventually. When the summer first comes, I initially say goodbye to any free time I ever had, but once we settle into our new routine, I start to find more pockets of time for myself.
When Things Aren’t Working
It’s inevitable that problems will arise even with the best laid plans.
One of the best lessons I ever learned as a teacher is that if you see a routine not working, don’t try to change it right away.
For example, one day in my 3rd grade classroom, I noticed that as we got lined up to go to lunch it was too chaotic, too noisy, and it was just not working. It was a gradual progression that all of a sudden came to a head, and I knew that something would have to be done.
Rather than talk to the students about the way they were lining up and how it was not okay in the moment, I bit my tongue and I waited. When they came back from lunch, I planted a seed by asking them how things went. Kids started sharing about how it was noisy, how it took a long time, and how we were late for lunch. I simply told them that we’d try to do better the next day.
The next day, I had a chart ready. I made the title “Lining Up” and then made two columns. One said, “Looks Like” and the other had the words “Doesn’t Look Like”. Then, long before we needed to line up for lunch, I had the kids act out what it would look like to do a really bad job of lining up. We wrote down on the chart paper all of the things they observed. Then, I had them act out what it should look like, and we wrote down on the chart what that looked like too.
When we lined up for lunch that day, it went so smoothly, I could hardly believe the difference. After lunch, we talked about how it went, and they were very pleased with themselves.
Every day for the next week, I reflected on the chart, and then after awhile, I didn’t need to anymore. Every once in awhile, they needed a reminder, but for the most part, things ran smoothly for the rest of the year.
We make a huge mistake when we simply bark orders at children to do better without really showing them what that looks like. If we can take the time to be very clear with our expectations and make sure that they understand what those expectations look like, then children will have a much easier time of doing what we expect them to do. This is why I think it’s very important to be clear about your summer routine and be consistent with your expectations.
How Our First Day Went
The biggest struggle we had was getting dressed. Whenever Ruby doesn’t have to go to school, she loves staying in her pajamas and will often want to stay in them all day. This is all well and good on the weekends, but during the week, I want to create a sense of formality and a sense of pride about our day that transcends pajamas. By getting dressed, brushing our teeth, and brushing our hair even if we won’t see anyone else, I feel that it instills a sense of pride and purpose. At any rate, it makes me feel better, and I like doing it, but try explaining this to a five year old! *Update: One year later, June 2016, Ruby and Elliot get dressed on their own without complaint every single morning. Yeah!
After that, the kids were really excited to all be together, and they loved the idea of “Homeschool Summer School”. They were very motivated to do their activities, and they worked very well independently. I think this was because this is so similar to what we do on a normal basis anyways. Because they are so used to independent play, they didn’t need much guidance from me. I would help them get started on new projects, scaffold them a bit, and when they were done, give them a reminder to clean up. It was a great day, and it’s going to be a great summer!
Elliot is Learning How to Write His Name
Ruby Coloring Her 1st Grade Writing Packet
Ophelia Loves Learning Her ABCs!
Julian Doing Tummy Time
Elliot Reading a Star Wars Book
Ruby Reading “A Book with No Pictures” by BJ Novak
Ophelia Loves Reading Dora Books
Julian and I are Having a Conversation
Elliot Playing with His Mini Figures
Ruby Playing the Keyboard…and Feeling It!
Elliot is Using Unifix Cubes During Imaginative Play
Ophelia is Mesmerized with Balls and Ramps
Elliot Playing with Legos
Ruby Collecting Leaves
Ruby, Elliot, and Ophelia Playing Together
Elliot is King of His Domain
If you have children, summer is a fun time for them to take a break from school and enjoy playing outside in some much needed sunshine and fresh air. (Especially if you live in a place like Michigan where you are trapped inside by the weather for at least 9 months of the year.) But I believe that children need more than just undirected play all day. I feel like they thrive most when they are challenged and can see themselves grow. If you are fortunate enough to be able to stay home with your children over the summer, then I think that devoting a bit of time in the morning towards learning will be beneficial for everyone involved. Happy learning, and here’s to a great summer!
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/ruby-making-charts.png400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2016-06-10 22:24:132020-11-20 15:04:21How to Set Up a Summer Routine That Keeps Kids Productive
Making stepping stumps is a fun and easy project that will provide a fun and natural play area for your children (and a fun little place to sit and rest as well). Children love things that are just challenging enough with an appropriate amount of risk and danger. They also need to be able to play unsupervised and interact with nature. These stepping stumps may become an ongoing yard project that you continuously add to (like it has for us). We are always on the lookout for more stumps. It makes for a fun scavenger hunt while we’re driving! 🙂
Stumps: When I was driving my husband’s pick up truck out on some country roads, I found several stumps of varying height that had been nicely cut from a fallen tree. Then, when we were coming home from Ruby’s spring concert, we spotted a few more, loaded them in the back of our van, and brought them home!
Shovel: You want one with a point that you can really step on.
Gardening Gloves: These are optional, but be warned, you will end up with dirt under your fingernails!
Make a Plan: Try to envision the full potential of your stump arrangement. If you’re like me, you’ll want to leave room to keep adding on as you find more. I am hoping to copy Blandford’s meandering circular pattern that starts with shorter stumps and works up to taller stumps, but there are many other things you could do like placing the stumps haphazardly in one big configuration or making a straight path that’s very symmetrical. You might even make them almost flush with the ground and use them as a pathway from one place to the next. I encourage you to type “stepping stumps” or even “stepping stones” into Pinterest for some more ideas.
Blandford Nature Center’s Stepping Stumps
Dig a Circle: You’ll want to dig a circle larger than each stump. If you leave the sod intact, you can use it for another project like making a hill or making little grass stepping circles. After taking out the sod, dig down enough to bury about one-fifth of the stump. Make sure the dirt underneath is nice and soft to level out the stump.
Level the Stump: After placing the stump onto the loose dirt in the hole, wiggle it around until the top is level. Then sit or step on it to help it settle in.
Fill in the Dirt: Pack the extra dirt around the sides of the stump and step on it to really pack it in.
Having stepping stumps is just one part of creating a backyard full of natural and fun ways to play. Once you see how your kids interact with the stumps, it might give you more ideas for extensions in the future. I hope to gather some shorter stumps so that it extends much further and begins and ends with descending stumps like a staircase.
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/stepping-stumps.png400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2016-05-26 09:12:182020-11-20 15:08:52How to Make Stepping Stumps
This backyard obstacle course is the simplest thing I have ever put together, but the kids LOVE it and play on it constantly. I’m always rearranging it, changing it, moving it, and adding new components to keep it fun and interesting…all using things that we have lying around or that I can find on trash day. 🙂
Children love things that are just challenging enough, and they need opportunities to play unsupervised with just the right amount of risk and danger. That is why I like setting up my obstacle course in an arrangement that isn’t too easy or too challenging. While I do enjoy cheering them on from time to time, I am happiest to see them play with the obstacle course independently. If I notice that it isn’t getting played with, I know it’s time to move it around.
How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course
Tires: When we get new tires, I save the old ones. I also keep my eyes open on trash day to pick up any old tires that might be thrown away. *We cut holes in the sides of the tires so that they won’t hold water (which can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes).
Long Skinny Pieces of Wood: These are for the balance beams. It’s nice to have them varying lengths and thicknesses. 2’x4’s work great, but you can make anything work.
Blocks of Wood: These are for the base of the balance beams. You’ll need 2-3 that are the same height for each balance beam.
Wide Boards: These are for placing on top of the tires. You can make any size work. I like using long and narrow pieces. We had particle board laying around, so that is what we used, but you can use any type of wood. You can treat the pieces of wood if you’d like them to last longer.
Drill: This is for drilling holes in the tires. We added a circular attachment to our drill to make a bigger hole.
Screws: You’ll use these for the balance beams.
Balance Beams: Attach blocks of wood to the ends (and middle if the board is long or weak) of your long skinny pieces of wood with long screws.
Preparing the Tires: If you leave tires out without drilling holes, they will collect water and it will become the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. By drilling 3 large holes on the side, it will prevent water from collecting. We drilled holes on both sides so we wouldn’t have to worry about which side was facing up.
Set Up: There is really no right or wrong way to set this up. You might want to have everything in a straight line, arrange it in a circle, or place individual pieces scattered throughout the yard. I like arranging the pieces in a circle because it encourages children to complete the course repeatedly. By putting tires underneath the edges of the long boards, it becomes a fun platform for kids to stand on and it also doubles as a bench for sitting and can even be used as a makeshift table during an outdoor picnic. I’ve also had fun putting a tire in the middle of a board to create a sort of teeter totter and on one end of a board to create a ramp.
Rearrange: Whenever the kids stop using the obstacle course (or every 2-3 weeks, whichever comes first) I like to rearrange everything. This helps to prevent the grass that is underneath from dying and keeps it fun and interesting for the kids.
Rearranging the Obstacle Course
The sky is the limit with this style of backyard obstacle course! I hope to keep collecting more tires to make some stepping tires and add some teeter totters (by placing one tire or two stacked up) in the middle of a long board. You will want to tailor your obstacle course to meet the specific dimensions of your yard and abilities of your kids, but the important thing is to make it just slightly challenging and have fun!
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ruby-and-elliot-on-an-obstacle-course.jpg400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2016-05-14 07:36:172020-11-20 15:19:37How to Make a Backyard Obstacle Course
Gardening is a fun way for the whole family to eat nutrient dense food and enjoy the outdoors at the same time. Neither my husband or I are professional gardeners by any means, but by growing our own garden for the past few years, our entire family has learned a lot, enjoyed some good food, and had a lot of fun in the process!
Last Year’s Garden
I am excited to write this article as I reflect on our past gardens and start planning our garden(s) for this year! (We’re thinking about having three gardens this year: The area above for tomatoes and peppers, an area next to the house for herbs and lettuce, and an area by our teepee for corn and beans.)
My Brother Jarrod and I Enjoying a Garden as Kids
Benefits of Gardening for Kids
There are many different benefits of gardening with kids. These are some of the benefits that we have noticed.
Learn About Life Cycles: Why read about the life cycle of a plant when you can grow one? By planting seeds, watching them grow, and caring for the plants, children become heavily invested in the life cycles of their plants.
Elliot Planting Seeds
Learn About Photosynthesis:Photosynthesis (how plants get energy and grow) and cellular respiration (how humans get energy and grow) are two of the most basic and primary functions of life, yet we gloss over them very simply or hardly even mention them at all. If children can learn about such concepts in depth at a young age, they will build a lifelong understanding that will prepare them for even greater scientific understandings in the future.
See Where Food Comes From: No, food does not come from the grocery store! By seeing the time it takes for the plants to grow and finally harvesting the fruits of their labors, children will have a deeper appreciation for where their food comes from.
Ruby and Elliot Picking Beans
Helps a Picky Eater: Even the pickiest eater can’t resist a tomato warmed from the sun or a freshly picked bean. I love watching my kids devour the fruits and vegetables they pick from the garden.
Elliot Loves Eating What He Picks from the Garden
Connect with the Earth: If simply going barefoot on the earth’s surface (earthing or grounding) can boost the immune system by providing the body with an abundance of antioxidants (free electrons), imagine what actually digging in the dirt can do?
Ruby Barefoot Picking Beans
Get Some Sun:Sunshine provides the body with much needed vitamin D, boosts the immune system, helps skin conditions, gives you more energy, and boosts serotonin levels, just to name a few of the benefits. So get out there in the sun! If I’m not worried about sunburn, I don’t worry about sunscreen, but if we’re going to be out for a long time and I think that by kids might get a burn, I like to use this sunscreen.
Ruby Getting Some Sun in the Garden
Help with Chores: Kids really do love to help with chores, and this is pretty much one of the funnest chores to do! By working in the garden, they will learn the joy of helping out around the home in a very fun and hands on way!
Elliot Putting Scraps in Our Compost Bin
Get a Green Thumb: In my experience, gardening is a skill best learned about by doing. By jumping into gardening without much knowledge, we have learned about the best planting times, different varieties of plants, what plants grow best together, how to prepare the soil, and so much more. By gardening with our children from a young age, they will enter their adult years with this knowledge tucked securely under their belts and a joy to accompany it.
Ruby Planting Seeds
How to Grow a Garden
Now, I’m sure you can find a better expert than me to learn about all of the intricacies of gardening, but for what it’s worth, here’s how we garden. 🙂
What to Plant? I like planting things that are easy to grow and that the children will have fun picking and eating. I like planting lots of tomatoes to make my tomato purée that I will freeze and use year round, many different kinds of beans that the children love picking, lettuce and herbs (cilantro, parsley, oregano, basil, and dill), peppers, cucumbers, carrots, sunflowers, corn (new this year), and maybe a few carrots and green onions.
Start with Seeds: Starting in April or May, we like to start growing some seeds indoors in pots. Seed packets are fairly cheap (I picked up some organic seed packets at Walmart for 97 cents a piece.) and are way more cost effective than spending a few dollars per established plant. Once it’s above freezing at night, they can stay outside. I hear beans like to be planted when it’s still a bit frosty out.
Choose a Location and Prepare the Soil: Our original garden location (as seen below) is nice because it’s close to the house, but it is very damp which caused many of the plants to get a fungus last year. It also doesn’t get the best sunshine. This year, we are going to get a long hose, bury it, and set up a garden in the far corner of our yard near our teepee. For our original location, we used a rototiller, but in our new location, we’re digging up all of the sod by hand, so we’ll see how we manage without a tiller over there! I’m sure there’s lots you can do with fertilizing the soil, but we don’t do more than dumping the contents of our compost bin into the mix.
Preparing the Soil for the Garden
Planting: I have made the mistake of planting things too close together (they’re so little at first), but then they grow too close together and compete for nutrients, so this year I will spread them out a bit more.
Planting the Garden
Tomatoes from Last Year
Watering: In the past, we have used an arc shaped sprinkler, but I’ve since learned that it’s not good for the plants to get so much water on their leaves (because of the fungus) so this year, we will be putting in a soaker hose system (hopefully).
Watering the Garden
Weeds: Weeding is really my favorite part of gardening. It’s very therapeutic and calming. I usually just pull out the weeds by hand, but every time my husband mows with the bagger, I collect the grass clippings and spread them out over the garden floor. This really helps to prevent weeds from growing.
Using Grass Clippings to Prevent Weeds
Composting: This is an excellent way for children to learn about recycling and to really see first hand what decomposition looks like. We dug out a square in our yard, added beams and boards around the sides (just like making a mini sandbox), and covered it with hinged doors with handles.
Getting Kids Involved
We don’t ever force our children to work in the garden. Whenever we’re going out there to work, we always invite them along, and if they refuse, that is perfectly fine. In the past, our kids have mainly enjoyed the planting and the harvesting process, but now, our oldest daughter Ruby (6) has been VERY helpful preparing the soil and getting things ready. She really enjoys talking about the planning of the garden now that she has seen it through to completion a couple of times. 🙂
Growing a garden is truly a family event that is bonding in so many ways. I love working in the garden with our kids during every single stage. And when it’s harvesting time, the children see first hand the benefits of all of their hard work.
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/gardening-with-kids.png400810Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2016-05-07 08:33:182020-11-20 15:23:31The Importance of Growing Up with a Garden
Research shows that when kids are allowed to play in nature without someone hovering over them yelling, “Be careful!” and “Get down from there!”, they flourish and grow in so many ways.
Ruby and Elliot Climbing on Rocks (There Due to Construction) at Blandford Nature Center
When you think back to the fondest memories of your childhood, do you remember the times you were closely supervised while playing on a plastic or metallic structure for an allotted amount of fresh air time, or do you remember the times when you were wading in a creek catching tadpoles and crayfish, digging in the dirt looking for treasures, building forts, playing imagination games with neighbors and siblings, and exploring the world with fresh eyes without being hovered over (as I was lucky enough to be able to do)?
My Brother Jarrod (1) and I (2) Exploring Together
We live in an era of fear which has led to a dangerous amount of helicopter parenting where kids are constantly hovered over and controlled. Kids need elements of risk and danger. It helps them to be better problem solvers. by overcoming small obstacles where the risks are real, they will be able to overcome larger obstacles later when the stakes are higher.
Yes, getting exercise, sunshine, and fresh air are important, but even more important is that kids need time to be free, to get dirty, to fall down and get back up again, to explore nature, to be in the woods, the dirt, the sand, to gather sticks, to build forts that don’t follow any directions, and to do so without us supervising their every move.
Below is a picture of my children playing on the stepping stumps at Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, MI. They have an amazing natural playground, a little log cabin, trails that meander through the woods into wigwams and other structures, boardwalks that take you through the woods and showcase rescued animals, and much, much more. This is a great example of a place dedicated to providing children with opportunities for children to learn, explore, and play in nature.
Ruby and Elliot Playing on Stepping Stumps at Blandford Nature Center
Benefits of Kids in Nature
The Children and Nature Network, an organization dedicated to reconnecting children with nature, has an impressive collection of research showing the benefits of allowing children to interact with nature which is nicely summarized here. A part of me is like, do I really need to reference research to show how kids being in nature is beneficial? But since the research is right in line with what I have observed with my own children, I used it as a framework for my ideas. The following is a summary of the meta-analysis of research about the benefits of allowing children to interact with nature coupled with my observations as a parent of four children who love interacting with nature.
Increases Observation and Creativity: Studies prove that being in nature increases both observation and creativity. I like giving my children magnifying glasses, a microscope, an insect viewer, and collection baskets to further their observation skills. I really enjoy sitting or lying with them in the grass and helping them to notice what is going on around them. I might ask, “Do you see that little ant walking in the grass? Where do you think he’s going? What sounds do you hear right now? Do you hear birds chirping? What color is the sky? Do you see any clouds? Do you see any shapes in the clouds? And so on…” I also like doing art projects that bring in the elements of nature that helps my children to see the beauty of nature.
Encourages Imagination and Sense of Wonder: Research shows that when children have early experiences with nature, there is a positive correlation with their development of imagination and it gives them a sense of wonder. I love encouraging creative and imaginative play with my children, and never do I see their imaginations stretch further than when they are outdoors in nature. I remember during my 7 years as an elementary school teacher, I was always amazed when children didn’t know what to do with themselves at recess. I would love to see us do away with standard sets of playground equipment and instead erect elements that encourage creative and imaginative play like some little log cabins, stepping stones or stumps, meandering paths of natural foliage, or even something more wild like this revolutionary new playground!
Builds Language Development and Collaboration Skills: Studies show that the increased imaginative and creative components that occur when children are in nature foster language development and collaborative skills, and that they also have more positive feelings about each other in doing so. What better way to learn than being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, running and playing with your friends and/or siblings in nature! I love watching my kids interact with each other in nature. The world is such a big place and by exploring many different elements of nature firsthand, they are learning about the world. When I was a classroom teacher, I loved using an “outdoor classroom”.
Increases Skills in Multiple Domains: Research shows that when children engage in authentic play in nature-based outdoor spaces, they develop skills in a variety of domains simultaneously. There is really no limit to what children can learn when they are out in nature. It gives any learning a sense of purpose, authenticity, and wonder. While I was teaching a unit on ecosystems during my classroom years, we took a weekly field trip to a local pond to observe, collect samples, and take notes about what we saw. This first hand learning experience was so powerful for the children. They loved the hike there, the open ended nature of the project, being in the elements, wading in the water, walking through the brambles, and really paying attention to their surroundings.
Improves Physical Health: Studies show that children who regularly have positive personal experiences with the natural world show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility. I mean, it goes without saying that kids will have improved physical health from playing outdoors, but we have to think one step beyond structured and monitored play on predefined playground structures to allow our children to explore the elements of nature, to get dirty, to have danger and risk, to stretch themselves, to be free, and to discover things we never could really plan for or create for them.
Improves Mental Health: Research shows that being in nature helps children to deal with adversity and minimize stress. What’s amazing is that the more time they spend in nature, the greater the benefits. Researchers at the University of Illinois (Andrea Faber Taylor, Frances Kuo, and William Sullivan) discovered that children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) performed better on schoolwork after having contact with nature.
Appropriate Risk Minimizes Accidents: Studies show that playgrounds where there are genuine risks actually have fewer accidents than traditional playgrounds. When children are given real risks and learn how to handle them, true life-long learning takes place. On the other hand, children who are given sanitized play places are less conscious of risks and actually have more accidents. It’s understandable that we don’t want our children to get hurt, but letting them get a few scrapes and bruises when they are little can actually prevent them from breaking bones…or worse as they get older.
Detriments of Kids Not Being in Nature
I feel like we all know that being outside is good. Getting fresh air and sunshine, being involved in physical activity, participating in the elements of nature…these are all things that promote good health. But beyond the positives, there are some negative things that happen when children are deprived of nature. By not being in nature, children are missing out on so much. Research shows that beyond just the negative health concerns from spending too much time indoors, children can also develop an unhealthy fear of nature.
Fears of Nature: When children are exposed to frightening environmental issues when they are young without fully understanding and appreciating the elements of nature or understanding how these issues can be solved, it causes them to be anxious about nature and want to avoid it. Children fear things they don’t understand (Don’t we all?), and if they first learn about pollution, endangered animals, and overpopulation before getting a chance to freely explore nature and create positive memories in it, is it any wonder that they would just prefer to stay inside with their ipads?
Fears of Injury: When parents are constantly hovering over their children and yelling, “Be careful! Watch out! Get down from there! Get away from that!” they may think that they sound like they’re being good protective parents, but they are not helping their children learn how to assess and deal with risk on their own at all. We were at Blandford Nature Center the other day, it had just rained, and my kids were enjoying splashing in the water, getting dirty, climbing on everything, and having a BLAST. Another family came along while we were there and the mom was constantly yelling, “Don’t get wet! Stay out of the water! Be careful! Get down from those stumps!” She quickly left with her brood in a huff…everyone was still perfectly clean. My kids on the other hand, were soaked, dirty, and sooooo happy. Personally, I would rather keep a spare bag of clothes in the car for each child and let them get dirty and have fun rather than thinking that staying clean is the ultimate reward of childhood.
Ophelia Having Fun in the Water
Negative Health Issues: When children do not get adequate exposure outdoors, it puts them at risk for vitamin D deficiency which is a risk factor for rickets, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or autoimmune conditions. A U.S. environmental health report showed that most people spend 90% of their time indoors. Dr. Dennis Ownby states that,
“Maybe part of the reason we have so many children with allergies and asthma is that we live too clean a life.”
There are a few key pillars to my parenting philosophy such as feeding my children nutrient dense food, being a stay at home mom and completely devoted to their needs, teaching them about language, reading, and math from a young age, sustaining creative and imaginative play…and this, being in nature. I want my children to be completely comfortable being in nature. I want them to enjoy it, to crave it, to know what to do in it, to not be afraid of it, and to let it shape their brains during these early stages of development.
Ruby and Elliot Playing on Our Stepping Stumps
Check out more ideas for making your backyard a haven for young children here. You can see some of these ideas in the video below as we get ready for summer. Ideally, we’d be living on 40 acres of wilderness, but we are doing the best we can with our one acre tucked within city limits. )
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Blandford-Nature-Center.png5241024Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2016-05-03 08:05:352020-11-20 15:26:34The Benefits of Allowing Kids to Interact with Nature (Without Being Hovered Over)
Making an outdoor teepee is a fun and easy project that will provide a natural play area for your children. Who needs expensive plastic playground equipment when there’s old free tree branches lying around anyways?
There are lots of different variations and ways to embellish your teepee once you get the frame up…anything from being completely covered with bark to having living walls with something like beans or flowering vines!
Ruby and Elliot Playing in the Teepee
Long Sticks: I drove around in my husband’s pick up truck and stopped along the side of the road whenever I found some really good long branches. Look for a few that have like a “v” at the top so that they can interlock and form the base when you get started.
Shovel: You want one with a point that you can really step on.
Gardening Gloves: These are optional, but be warned, you will end up with dirt under your fingernails!
Make a Circle: Stand in the center of where you want your teepee and using a small to medium stick, draw a circle around yourself. Mark the edges of the circle by scoring it with your shovel.
Plan Your Opening: Consider the position of the sun (if you want to have shade or not) and the location in relation to the rest of your yard. I wanted my opening to face the center of the yard so that I could always see who was inside, even though this meant that it would be really sunny inside all the time.
Dig Holes: You’ll want to start with three holes for the anchor sticks. Dig a circle (much bigger than your stick…about 8-10 inches in diameter) and take out the piece of sod intact. Continue to dig down about another shovel’s depth. Make sure you leave a lot of loose soil at the bottom.
Anchor Sticks: You might need some help to steady the three anchor sticks as you place them in at the same time. If you can find at least one stick that has a “v” at the top, it will really help to lock the sticks together at the top. Position the sticks in the ground, and lean them into each other until they are steady.
Bury the Sticks: Fill in around the stick with all of the loose dirt that was taken out, and then place the piece of sod back on top. Stamp it down with your feet.
Fill in with Sticks: I buried about eight more sticks, and then I just started leaning the rest of the sticks against other sticks. My little ones liked weaving in and out of the stick openings, so I left some spots more open than others.
Cover: You can choose to leave the sides somewhat open, continue layering with sticks until it is filled in more, or find some other material such as pine needle branches or bark to fill it in completely. You might even want to grow something like beans or morning glories along the sticks to create some living walls.
I probably had as much fun building this teepee as the kids have had playing in it. Once the weather starts to get nice, my husband and I like having outdoor projects to work on. It’s a fun way to be outside, get a bit of physical activity, and accomplish something! We are currently working on making some big dirt hills covered with sod, stepping stumps, obstacle course, and preparing our garden as we try our best to transform our 1 acre of regulated city land into as natural and fun of an environment as we can. (Here’s a little video of our backyard projects.) It’s going to be a fun summer!
https://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/teepee.png5241024Stacey Maaserhttps://embracing-motherhood.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/EM_Logo.pngStacey Maaser2016-04-26 08:19:322020-11-19 19:12:31How to Make an Outdoor Teepee