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An Outdoor Summer, by Faith Collins

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


3 thoughts on “An Outdoor Summer, by Faith Collins”

  1. Lovely article
    This sounds a lot like my program! I too was enamored by Nokken, and I would love to explore ways of holding an even greater portion of the day outdoors…we are also lucky enough to have a wooded creek area nearby within easy hiking distance. I have a tote bag permanently packed with towels and extra clothes, a first aid box, diapers, cups and a water jug. We can be ready to leave the nursery school yard in 15 minutes, and hike to the woods, where we spend hours at the creek, scrambling up and down the hill, building dams in the creek and fairy houses under trees and bushes…endless hours, endless possibilities, constant overwhelming joy of witnessing the little ones at work and discovery. I love the peace and tranquility of observing them, whether in the sand box with large tubs filled with water, or at the creek. No need for programming, they bring that themselves. “All the children here are so happy, so good !” A visitor from the local kindergarten once remarked…. Give any child the peace of this unhurried time in nature, these extended moments in communion with the touch, the feel, smell, sounds of the world around them, and they will be grounded, secure and happy.. Now how can we reach more of them?

  2. Thank You!
    Nokken is what inspired me most to want to open a program in my home. Just imagine how healed the world would be if every child had this kind of childhood outdoors! I loved the idea of babies sleeping outdoors in the cradles built – year-round, in winter as well as summer!!! Selling this idea in our part of the world would be nothing short of a miracle… but I can think of nothing more absolutely wondrous than sleeping under the trees, at any age.
    Much gratitude to you, Faith, once again, for your excellent, resourceful help with how to make outdoor experiences more manageable with little ones!

  3. Great Timing
    I just came inside from our last day of a summer program in the garden, with a mixed age group. But instead of feeling greatfull and looking forward to the Fall program I began feeling worried. I am taking a break now and my whole intention was to come on your site, I had actually been trying to do so for about a week. My own toddler 27 mos wants everything for himself and on top of that has been hitting the older kids. Anyhow, these were great tips to keep the little ones preoccupied or happy while the older ones do the garden work. I was happy to hear about he dish station as I figured that out on my own! I decided to keep a bottle of dishwashing soap outside too! Well I have about ten days to prepare for the new class and now feel more hopeful- thank you.

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