It’s no secret that summer is meant to be spent outdoors. The kids are out of school and the aisles are filled with outdoor toys that promise fun and adventure for everyone.
You’d think that this was a recipe for success, yet here it is just a few days into July and the phrase, “I’m bored” is closely followed with never-ending requests for electronics.
If you are anything like me, you are feeling a little fed up. You’d really like for your kids to spend more time playing outside than anything else. No one needs to convince you of the incredible benefits of outdoor play for my children, or the incredible harm that some of the alternatives might wreak. It just isn’t happening the way you thought it would when those first days of summer debuted.
The trouble is, sometimes kids need a little guidance. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of helping them put a good idea together with the right tools to execute that idea. Enter the backyard challenge.
The Backyard Challenge: Add a little spice
I started the battle to conquer the backyard with a little creative instruction. First, I set up the slip n slide and then sprayed shaving cream all over the top. A few minutes in and the kids have discovered all kinds of awesome. The shaving cream makes it extra slippery and of course, extra messy. Over and over again they told me that “this was the best day ever.” I had to laugh at the thought that the “best day ever” was created with $2 worth of shaving cream and our usual backyard suspects.
As we were cleaning up, I reminded them that the backyard was full of all kinds of fun adventures, they just had to add a little spice to it. It didn’t take long before I realized that I had unleashed a giant. One of my kids ran inside and grabbed a bottle of bubble bath. In seconds, the kiddle pool was transformed into a fabulous spa. As an added bonus, there was no need for a shower before bed!
The Backyard Challenge: Use your imagination
Another component of an absolutely fun backyard is completely FREE. It’s imagination. In today’s culture, imagination is underused and under-appreciated. If you have an imagination, you can have fun anytime, anyplace, and with anything. I challenged my kids to find something in the backyard and use their imagination to invent a new game. They found squirt guns. We just finished reading the biography of Corrie Ten Boom, so naturally they wanted to be Allied soldiers taking down the Nazis. (We have a rule about all playing on the same GOOD team when it comes to weapons.) Guns came out and the Allies were poised. Game on!
The Backyard Challenge: Go old school with good old fashioned fun
You know how you spent all of that money on high quality wooden- baby toys and the baby just spent hours fascinated with a ball of paper or an empty box? Let us remember this principle when it comes to the backyard. A box full of good old fashioned toys goes a long way. I typically stock up at the beginning of each summer. For less than $20, I can get jump ropes, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and hula hoops. Although these toys are totally old school, they are also very open ended. There is one standard way to use a jump rope, but with a little thought, you can think of at least 20 unique ways use that same jump rope.
To make sure that my kids don’t run out of ideas, I created a backyard challenge for them using our box of traditional toys.
How the challenge works:
The challenge was written for older children (2nd-5th grade) to complete on their own or for younger children to complete with a parent. We put the pages into page protectors and reuse them week after week, but you could also print them each time and save them in a notebook.
I also encourage the children to use a clipboard to make the record keeping a breeze.
There are 5 different challenges. The challenges are designed to work with the most basic materials in a simple backyard and can be done without a partner, if desired. The final challenge uses the same materials, but is designed for use with a partner. This can be a sibling, friend, or parent.
You can mix up the challenges and have a different one for each day of the week. After the week is over, mix them up and start all over. It would be fun to look back at progress as the summer comes to an end.