Faith writes: When I first started working with toddlers, I also happened to read Nokken by Helle Heckmann, who tells about how she spends hours outside each day with the children in her play program, regardless of the weather. I was completely inspired! I wanted to spend hours outside each day with the children, too! I had fond, fond memories from my own childhood of sitting in a field, face-to-face with Queen Anne’s Lace flowers. I don’t remember if there were any adults around or not. There must have been, but I don’t remember them. I also remember sitting in the garden behind our shed and examining the intricate Columbine flowers that grew there. I remember the feeling of having all the time in the world, with nothing else to be done but to sit with the flowers—this was the feeling I wanted the children in my care to have.
The beginning was a bit rocky. Between diapering, pottying, cooking and eating, there hardly seemed to be any time to get outdoors at all! And then when we were outside, it always seemed like it was too hot, or too rainy, or too something-else. A year on, however, we were spending our entire mornings outside, and we had achieved that feeling of nowhere-to-go, nothing-to-do, that I had loved so much as a child. Let me share some of my tips that made life more enjoyable for us:
~If you want to eat outside regularly, get a set of outdoor bowls, cups, silverware, water pitcher, candle and matches, so that you’re not carting things in and out all the time. I can’t believe how much time we spent schlepping stuff around before I figured this one out! Once I did, life relaxed substantially. Here’s a photo of our little outdoor “kitchen area” that also stored swimsuits, diapers, towels, and anything else we might need.
~ Make sure you have kid-sized hidey places in your yard. I made several: a bean teepee, a trellis with a grape vine growing overtop; places like this make life outside endlessly interesting and fun. If you have an area with bushes, consider trimming the branches from the ground up, to around three feet up the stalks; this makes for fabulous kid-sized leafy canopies! Here’s a photo of a little hidey-space I made in one afternoon, with a plastic trellis from The Home Depot, and some zip-ties. Later I got a second trellis and sawed it in half, to make the flat front. Again, I secured it with zip-ties.
~ Have a comfortable hang-out place for yourself! I loved sitting in my Adirondack chair, sipping my iced coffee. It was big enough that a child (or even two) could comfortably climb in with me. Sometimes it was even roomy enough for a child and a baby goat!
~If it’s hot, make sure you have shade and/or water-play to cooldown. Sprinklers need to be slow and low for little ones. I loved putting the sprinkler in the sandbox, and pretending that we were having a day at the beach.
~ Anything else that usually happens inside, think about how you can bring it outside. Set up a diaper-changing mat, and bring the little potty outside. You can rinse it out with the hose. Does washing dishes take up your time? Get 4 wash-tubs and set up a dish-washing system outdoors: one for the dirty dishes, one with soapy water, one with clean water, one for clean dishes. I discovered that I could fold laundry outdoors, chop veggies and do other meal-prep outdoors (just make sure there’s a safe place to put your sharp knife if you’re called away from your cutting board; I used an above-sink-sponge-holder suctioned to the kitchen window for my knife), as well as many other things that I had just never really thought about doing outside before. All I needed was a few extra bowls, baskets and tubs to store things outside and cart them back and forth when needed.
When I think back on my time in that sweet toddler class, the main things I remember are long, hot summer days, watering the plants, drinking cold drinks, and relaxing in my chair. The children had lots of time to sit with the flowers. What a lovely way to grow up!
Faith Collins is a LifeWays graduate and founder of Joyful Toddlers, providing support for parents and professionals who live or work with children from 1-5 years of age. See www.joyfultoddlers.com.