Most afternoons you can find my children having free play time in our yard. The time is unstructured. Except for 1:1 playtime with Mama, I expect them to entertain themselves with toys and natural sensory materials like mulch, gravel, and dirt they find outside.
Recently, they had several days in a row of constant bickering and complaining creating an unpleasant atmosphere for play. I noticed our outdoor playtime wasn’t working for them, and something needed to change.
I reflected on Teacher Tom’s blog post about the evolution of their outdoor classroom sharing how his playground changes according to the interests and needs of the kids. I decided to bring a different element into our outdoor space.
I created a messy play station for the children.
On top of two upturned pots, I placed a plastic bin. Inside the bin, I arranged used coffee grounds, water, shaving cream, and various kitchen utensils and containers.
Since this activity is part of our unstructured play time, the children weren’t required to participate, but almost the entire time all four children chose to play at the messy station.
Unstructured play doesn’t mean an absence of rules, and I explained those to the children. If any children had difficulty playing safely or fairly, I told them to take a break from the messy play station for a bit.
Even though the prior days were filled with undesirable behavior, this outdoor hour was filled with a pleasant and happy mood. The change in our outdoor environment provided my children the opportunity to play well.