One of the gardening blogs (Garden Rant) that I read regularly had a guest post this morning about getting rid of your lawn to facilitate children getting outside to play. Here’s a little excerpt:

The good news is that means the yard is yours! Even you young parents can feel justified in ripping out the lawn and remaking your yard to your gardener’s heart’s content.

The really good news is that doing so can actually make your yard more enticing to your kids than a lawn ever could.

Here’s why. Kids like big rocks to climb on. They like bushes to hide under. They like trees to climb. They like water to splash in. They love trying to catch lizards and holding out a sweaty hand to see if a passing butterfly will land for a moment. They love riding trikes and scooters on circuitous routes through a garden, the junglier the better. They like digging in dirt.

You should absolutely go read the whole thing. I think part of it is our mentality as adults. We think that if we put so much time and effort into a non-lawn garden, then it needs to be kept pristine and we can’t let the kids “ruin” it. We also do default to the “space to play ball” mentality, but there are lots of parks for that. Thinking about it, we had a huge “lawn” area south of the house (actually it was mowed weeds – farm, you know.) Yes, we occasionally went out and played kickball or baseball, but more often than not we were playing in the windbreak, in the vegetable garden where there was lots of mud, or in the tall weeds behind the barn.

What do you think? Would having something other than just lawn actually facilitate more outdoor play?

(P.S. – The guest post I linked to above is written by a woman who actually wrote a book on the subject and is promoting it in the post. I haven’t read the book and so I am not recommending it or otherwise. It looks interesting, but who knows how applicable it is to Kansas?!?)

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I think Autumn is officially here – the air is drier, nights are cooler and there is a hint of color on the trees.  This is also the time of year of pumpkin patches, cider pressing, and corn mazes.  What great opportunties to get outside!!

As you decorate the inside of your home for Autumn, Halloween or Thanksgiving, why not bring in items straight from the neighborhood?  Have the kids look around for fallen pine cones, sycamore seed balls, pretty leaves and even colorful stones.

Feeling adventurous in your decorations?  Try capturing a spider’s web for your holiday decorations.

April and May are the perfect months to make and fly a kite.    May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan.  It is traditional for children to fly a fish kite on this day.   Fish kites can be made from everyday material you have at home.  

What you need:

  1. Bright colored tissue paper or wrapping paper.  Large sheets work the best.
  2. Scissors
  3. Glue stick
  4. Long pipe cleaners or florist wire
  5. Sequins, glitter, small pieces of tissue paper or stickers
  6. String or strong yarn 2-3 feet long
  7. Bamboo pole or branch

What to do:

  1. Gently fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise, but Do Not Crease!
  2. Cut through both layers at once in the shape of a fish.
  3. Unfold the paper
  4. Put a line of glue along the straight edge of the paper.
  5. Lay the pipe cleaner next to the glue line and fold paper over pipe cleaner.  Press down well.
  6. Turn paper over and decorate as desired.  Remember that the fish will be folded in half, so decorate both sides of the fish.
  7. Carefully bend the pipe cleaner  into a circle, twist together.  This will form the mouth of the fish.
  8. Run a line of glue along the long edge of the fish.  Press the opposite edge together.  Leave the tail open.
  9. Tie a string or yarn to the pipe cleaner to form a bridle. 
  10. Tie other end of string to the end of a pole or long branch.  To make it fly, simply walk to make your fish fly.

 Now, Take it Outside…

  1.  Take a picniclunch or supper to the park and fly your kite for fun. 
  2. Eat fish crackers under a shady tree.
  3. Search online for other types of kites that you can make at home. 
  4. Have a kite building contest with your friends.  See which one can fly the highest, longest, etc.

I’ve been working on a presentation for a Child Care conference in May, and as part of the preparation, I’m looking for plants that are unsafe for kids or that are great for kids’ play areas. It is kind of surprising what some people consider a danger to children. One list from Colorado said that no fruit trees should be planted because the bark might be harmful if eaten. Good grief! How much bark can a toddler eat off a tree? And why weren’t you supervising them a little more?

If you are a gardener, you already know that most gardens are great for kids with a little supervision and a little time spent teaching the children what they can and can’t do in the garden. However, it got me thinking, what might a backyard garden look like that was designed with kids in mind? In other words, what might I plant in a garden that would give kids more to do or play with, rather than limit the ability of kids to just be kids?

Here are a few thoughts I had:

  1. An area that is bare soil, where they can just dig and make mud pies and get dirty. Maybe a “sandbox” but maybe not. I remember spending many happy hours playing with water, dirt, and sand in our garden or the barnyard growing up.
  2. Paths through “big” shrubs or trees. There is nothing that gets the creative juices flowing more than ducking under branches on a winding path to get to a special place to play. We had a playhouse in the middle of our windbreak, and the preferred way to get to it was between the lilac and the birch tree.
  3. Of course, just having a rustic playhouse built by my dad in the middle of the windbreak was pretty awesome!
  4. Ornamental grasses could create the prairie equivalent of our windbreak hideaway. It would be very easy to create a “garden room” with plantings of some of our prairie grasses. You could also create a maze.
  5. Some open lawn space is a must, but I don’t think the amount of lawn space that most people have is really necessary!
  6. Flowers that can be picked. We might love our flowers out in the garden, but for many children, the compulsion is to pick them and bring them in the house.
  7. Other “kid-friendly” flowers like sunflowers, tulips, and daffodils are also great. They are easy for kids to plant and work with, the colors are bold, and they are just flat out fun!
  8. Plants that attract butterflies, caterpillars, etc! Most kids get really excited by insects, even those tomato hornworms that chew up your tomato plants.
  9. Obviously my list wouldn’t be complete without vegetables. Cherry tomatoes, colorful lettuces, even peas and beans to pick are great experiences for kids.
  10. Water. It wouldn’t be summer in Kansas without water. Even if you garden doesn’t “need” watering in the middle of the afternoon, kids can enjoy playing with the hose and getting everything, especially themselves, all wet.

Looking for a clever way to get the kids to do some writing?  Try a nature journal.  No need to purchase something expensive – you can make one with a rubber band, a stick, a lunch sack, and some paper!

Nature Journal Instructions

Passionate about reconnecting children and families with the outdoors?  Creative?  Organize? Computer savvy? Consider working with the g2g Outside team!

g2g Outside is looking for a coordinator for the 2010 summer program.  This is a grant-funded, seasonal position whose application period closes on February 12, 2010, or until filled.

For more information, please visit the Extension website  for a position description and application form.

Do you need the kids out of the house for a little while getting ready for Christmas? Would you like some fresh greenery for decorating the door or above the fireplace? Send the kids out with some scissors or pruners to cut 6″ to 10″ pieces of evergreen branches.

(Okay, a quick DISCLAIMER: You should make sure your kids are clear on what they can and can’t hack at with the pruners. If you don’t have a lot of evergreen trees in your yard, be sure to ask neighbors if it’s okay for your kids to visit their yard.)

After the kids have collected a bag of boughs, give them some wire or heavy string to use to tie them into “broom” shapes for decorative swags. If they found any pine cones or spruce cones while they were out, those can be tied or glued on as well. Finish it off with some festive ribbon, and you have new decorations to greet guests at your front door!