Drop Everything and Build a Nature Playground. It’s Easier Than You Think.

Close-up picture of children's feet in pink sneakers standing on a log
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This morning, I watched through the kitchen window as my four and five-year-old deftly built a bridge over a sea of lava. They laid long planks across the bubbling fire, nudging them together until they were lined up perfectly, side by side. Then, they worked together to haul some large stumps into place at each end, pinning the planks into place.

The bridge was only about two feet off the ground, but still I found myself holding my breath as my older son urged his little brother to “Try it out, see if it works!”

Little brother, always game, leapt onto the bridge dramatically and traversed it with comical gesticulation and wide eyes as he narrated his dangerous crossing of the lava below. Then, midway through his successful passage, he jumped from the bridge, plummeting to the lava below.

“Nooooooooooo,” he cried, flailing on the ground as his brother, ever the hero, laughed and kicked mulch on him.

The lava game has been going on for almost a month now. For kids whose normal attention span is not one second longer than an episode of Octonauts, that’s some pretty serious staying power.

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Of course, it may have something to do with the LAVA CROSSING PLAY SET – BONUS EDITION that I spent a fortune on at Christmas, but, just kidding, no – they don’t play with anything they got for Christmas anymore. That stuff is so six months ago.

Nope, the lava game is the product of stuff most people would consider junk, and it has taken over our backyard with the materials being used again and again in a hundred different ways. The lava game is a product of our Backyard Revolution, and I highly encourage you to get onboard.

Last summer, I reached my breaking point. Our yard, which is already on the small size and completely fenced, was overrun with plastic. It had started with a little plastic climber that I’d bought secondhand for my oldest when he was around a year.

The next summer, as he got a little older, we added a big plastic playhouse with two stories, supposedly built to look like a treehouse. Soon, a red ladybug sandbox followed, along with a giant plastic tugboat that arrived when my oldest turned four and asked for “a tugboat just like daddy drives.”

Add to that chaos an assortment of toy trucks, tiny lawnmowers, and plastic gardening tools more commonly used as weapons, and before we knew it, we were living in a sea of plastic. We had accumulated nearly every yard toy known to modern children.

Yet still, the boys were bored.

We’re all for outings and adventure, but I am a full-time, work-from-home-mom, so keeping the kids engaged and content in the yard where I can see them is a workplace essential for me. In my naivety, I had greeted their boredom with shiny new things to keep them occupied. What do kids like to play with, after all, if not a…

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