Featured Program: Joyful Toddlers Play Garden

An outdoor parent-child playgroup for children ages 1-5 in Arvada, Colorado.

Run by: Faith Collins

Faith shares:

Three years ago my family moved onto a one-acre property, and last year I started transforming the back yard to be a wonderful and welcoming place for children and adults alike.  I hired a wonderful landscaper who was interested in natural playscapes, and I have planted literally thousands of flowers.  This past spring I finally opened my gates and started formal parent-child classes, first two mornings per week, then three mornings in the summer.  Each class has between 9 and 14 families, and they take place entirely outside.

Our daily rhythm:      

Families arrive at 9:00 am and each week we have a gentle activity: baking, gardening, water play, or a simple craft activity.  Children are welcome to take part in the activity or to go play.  At 9:45 am we tidy our toys and tools, have our short circle time, and go to the picnic tables for a delicious snack of oat bars and watermelon or other seasonal fruit.  After snack the children play some more, and we end our morning at 11 am with a simple puppet show.

Why I started this program:

I really love the parent-child group format, because I can easily work the Play Garden schedule around my other projects and my family’s schedule.  Families sign up for weekly classes in eight-week segments, and I can offer more or fewer classes based on my daughter’s school schedule, time off for travel plans, and so forth.

I also love providing a rich, beautiful space for parents and children to spend time outdoors.  Many parks and play areas devoted to children are not very comfortable for adults to hang out (I can only sit on a wooden bench for so long before I get antsy), while my Play Yard is both engaging and comfortable.  Parents can socialize with one another in the shade, work in the garden, help prepare our meal, or play with their children.  There is a lot to do and a good healthy snack, so it’s easy to spend more time outdoors than it otherwise might be for these urban families.

Because the Play Garden is in my back yard, I spend lots of non-class time working in the garden and making the space more beautiful and functional. I get to reap the benefits of this work every time I look out the window or step out my back door.

What I’ve learned:

Since this is my first season doing an outdoor-only class, I’ve learned a lot. One lesson I’ve learned is that we need a lot more shade than I had originally realized.  Cantilevered umbrellas, shade sails, and finally a pergola (built by one of my Play Garden families!) have all been added this summer.  These combined with cushioned seats, built-in seating around my sand-pit, and adult-sized picnic tables (with shade!) all make space for adults to be comfortable as the children explore and play.

Faith Collins worked with children and families in many settings after taking the LifeWays Training. She also offers online programs and consulting through her website, Joyful Toddlers; her book, Joyful Toddlers, will be out in fall, 2017. She also teaches in the LifeWays Training in Boulder, Colorado.