Sunday, July 29, 2012

Waiting for the Sun to Shine

It's inevitable. Some days, our outdoor exploring comes to a screeching halt when the rain falls. Entertaining three energetic boys inside for an afternoon can seem like an impossible task, if the goals include not breaking anything or taking out every toy, game, and puzzle in the house.

On a recent rainy afternoon, we squeezed in an art lesson with a fun tracing craft. When the rain cleared, we were ready to catch those rays with our classic art inspired sun catchers. An added plus, from the boys' perspective, was license to use permanent markers that are usually kept under lock and key.

Classic Art Sun Catchers
Art book
Tracing paper or wax paper
Permanent markers

We started by flipping through several art books, then stopping to look at and discuss those paintings that caught the boys' interests. It took them a while to get interested but were eventually intrigued by some of the artists stories.

We then taped the tracing paper over their favorite pictures and they started to trace.
As an added plus: we talked about lying, stealing, plagiarism, and artistic license.

We traced a thick black line around our tracings, cut out the sun catchers, and taped them on their bedroom window.

When the sun came out, the sun catchers were ready to be admired...from the backyard.

Simple Water Play

The beauty of playing outdoors is that it doesn't have to be complicated. It doesn't require a lot of equipment or toys. It doesn't even need to be preplanned and organized. The simple act of playing outside provides enough additional stimulation to enhance any activity. With smells from the garden, sounds of nature, and the feel of grass between our toes, almost everything is more enjoyable outside.

That being said, we live where it is HOT in the summer and there are some days the kids struggled to play outside without over heating and wearing themselves out before the end of the afternoon. I make sure that we start each day with sunscreen, baseball hats, and bottles of water. Still, some afternoons I find them all huddled under a tree for some shade.

Water play provides countless opportunities to continue to play comfortably outside even despite the heat. This particular idea was intended to entertain my littlest one while his brothers were swinging. As you can see though, even the older kids were intrigued enough to join in the fun.

Materials needed:
a large bowl
cold water
dish soap
several ice cubes
a few cups, spoons, funnels, etc.

The activity itself is a self guided one. My child poured water from one cup to another, practicing basic motor skills. The sound of the ice cubes hitting the sides of the metal bowl also made a nice musical sound that he enjoyed creating. We talked about next time adding food coloring or some letter magnets to enhaance the activity.

What other simple water play ideas have you utilized to entertain kids on a hot day?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Finding Inspiration in the Olympics

My kids are so excited to watch the Olympics this summer starting with the Opening Ceremonies this evening. We checked out several books from the library in order to learn as much as we could about each sport. Naturally my three boys were enthralled with the shooting and combat sports. Then we searched online to find out if any athletes would be competing from our home town or from our favorite colleges. We were thrilled to find a list of talented athletes and learned more about their Olympic training.

As a Mama always interested in finding those teachable moments, we spent the last week leading up to the Opening Ceremonies learning about the history and values that contribute to our modern Olympics. Using online resources from the British Museum, we learned about the Ancient Olympics. Again, my boys loved learning about the ancient sport of Pankration, which sounds to me like ultimate fighting with fewer rules, and the race in armor.

We switched our focus to the modern games by learning about some of the different nations that would be participating. They loved looking up different country's flags online and finding countries they had never heard of on the world map. We did a fun paper plate craft where the boys painted a few of their favorite flags and the Olympic rings. We strung these up on our back porch to prepare for our backyard Olympics.

Before we could participate in our own games, we had to learn the rules, starting with the Olympic values. From the Get Set London 2012 Games educational website "these Values are:
  • respect – fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
  • excellence – how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives
  • friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences

The Paralympic Values are based on the history of the Paralympic Games and the tradition of fair play and honourable sports competition. They are:

  • courage
  • determination
  • inspiration
  • equality."

With the ground rules laid, we set out into our backyard for some healthy soccer, basketball, and track and field competitions. I think everyone's favorite was the soccer shoot-out. We drew a soccer goal on our fence in sidewalk chalk and took turns trying to score as many goals as possible in 60-second intervals.

What a great opportunity to learn about history, values and cultures while also stretching ourselves outside!

What are you doing to celebrate the games with your family?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Painted Rock Games

We recently moved from a forested dot-on-the-map in Central Pennsylvania to suburban North Carolina. My children had grown accustomed to outside play that involved hiking, digging, climbing, and splashing in the creek. They would head out early in the morning and spend hours outside. They would return to the house filthy and exhausted but utterly satisfied from their adventures.

In finding a new home, our main priority was outside space where the boys could ride bikes and play catch. Finding the right home for our energetic family was not easy but we were pleased to find a nice home with a large fenced-in backyard featuring a sand box and space for our swing set. However, the boys have been none to pleased with the flat, rectangular, box of a yard. We have to diligently try to involve them in our gardening activities to meet their urge to play in the dirt. We also have spent endless days exploring nearby parks and lakes to get out some of their energies. I still miss the days though, when I could open the back door and watch them play for hours outside relying only on the natural landscape and their imaginations to inspire good, dirty, adventurous boy play.

I've seen lots of painted rock crafts recently in the blogosphere like these cute dominoes from Martha Stewart crafts and this Tic Tac Toe game from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores. There are also lots of ABC painted rock crafts on Pinterest. I love the idea of using these rocks to play Scrabble right outside in the grass. Then I wondered what else we could use painted rocks for. The boys had lots of ideas...

Finally, we settled on one project that could be used by everyone and will hopefully give the boys some ideas of what to play in their new backyard when they seem otherwise uninspired. We are painting idea rocks that will line the garden and provide lots of ideas of outside games and activities they can play with little or no special equipment. Some of the brainstormed ideas include:
  • throw a football or baseball
  • swing
  • freeze tag
  • build a sandcastle
  • kick the can
  • hide and seek
  • hula hoop
  • flag football
  • blow bubbles
  • draw with chalk
  • jump rope
  • Red Light, Green Light
  • Simon Says
  • Spud
  • find bugs with a magnifying glass
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors
  • One Potato
  • Bocce Ball
  • cloud watching

I'm sure we will come up with at least a few additional ideas and the more stones we can paint, the happier everyone will be outside. So we're off the Lowe's for some smooth garden stones and shellac. If you'd like to make your own painted garden stones, we'll be painting them with acrylic paints.

What other activities do you enjoy outside and how do you inspire adventurous play?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Find us on Pinterest

Many of our great ideas begin with great conversations with others who are enjoying the great outdoors. For a preview of great ideas being developed or for some visual inspiration, come on over and join us on Pinterest.

The Great Big Backyard

Welcome to the Great Big Backyard.

This blog was inspired by a recent relocation and househunting trip where we visited potential homes in several middle class neighborhoods. These neighborhoods were generally inhabited by younger families with median incomes. The newer homes we visited featured amazing indoor spaces with lots of accomodations for our media and lots of closets for our stuff. Amazingly, there were no parks, in many cases no sidewalks or street lights, speed limits through the neighborhood were sometimes 35 mph. Yard space was limited by small lot sizes, neighbors houses were "right on top of each other", and grass and gardens were generally unkempt. Even driving through neighborhoods on evenings and weekends, we saw no families outside.

I remember a time when we played outside with a group of neighborhood kids until the sun went down. We walked outside as a family every night after dinner. We sat outside in lawn chairs on the driveway with our neighbors, who we knew and trusted.

I'm not a medical professional, but I truly believe that a lack of outside play contributes to a nationwide epidemic of fatigue, depression and obesity. We need to make a commitment now to improve our family's health and well-being. The good news is, it's simple. Just get outside, play a little, and reap the benefits of some exercise, fresh air, and sunshine.