Natural Playground with Tree Stumps

Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.
– Henry David Thoreau

Build a Natural Playground with Tree Stumps,

Do you have a natural playground in your yard or near your home? A natural playground is an outdoor play area that’s landscaped with materials such as logs, dirt, grassy hills, sand, natural bridges, and streams instead of plastic playground equipment.

Aside from our beloved plastic playhouse, our small suburban garden is full of natural loose parts and I’m constantly looking for ways to develop it into an inspiring, open-ended, natural play area.

Why a natural play scape? 

In Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Natureplayground designers and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining an ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slide; a surprising conclusion considering what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.) and promote competition rather than co­operation (Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.).

Start with Tree Stumps

Tree stumps are useful for walking on, turning into seating for impromptu fairy tea parties, using as a base for bridges or tables.

We live near a children’s museum with a large-scale spiral tree stump path that will entertain my kids for hours. The stumps are of various heights that challenge children to climb, crawl, skip, walk, and jump. When they bump up against each other, as they move in opposite directions, they have to negotiate the space and make concessions. In short, it’s brilliant.

Ever since I first discovered this neighborhood treasure, I’ve been on the hunt for some tree stumps of our own. No small feat, though! We don’t own a chain saw, our trees never get trimmed, and I had no idea where I could find these beauties.

My radar was tuned and then low-and-behold, I spotted these guys, hard at work.

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I asked them if they would be so kind as to share a few pieces with my stump-loving kids, and they said yes. I’m indebted. My car was soon overloaded with heavy lumber and I was beaming!

So how do you find tree stumps? This one stumped me for some time (how could that pun not be intended?). I was on the lookout for tree trimmers, and lucked out that my trunk was empty and these guys were generous with their time and muscles. I would caution you that trees can be infested with termites or other dreadful bugs and diseases, so it could pay to secure your stumps at a cost from a local lumber yard. These stumps appeared to come from a healthy tree that was getting trimmed away from a power line, but I’m no tree expert. If you know more about this than me, please let me know if our stumps are healthy!

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I got these beauties home and my kids wanted to play with them right away (notice the tap shoes — ha! — these two crack me up). I put the stumps in our front yard until we could find a good place for them, and of course our next door neighbor friends wanted to come over and play too.

How to score tree stumps for your play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I think I have a good spot for them now, in the dirt and under a tree, and I’ll share more of our natural play scape ideas as it comes together.

natural playground with tree stumps

More Nature Play Ideas

How Climbing Trees Builds Critical Thinking

Finding Nature

Plant a Garden with Kids

Thrifting for Natural Materials for the Garden

Theory of Loose Parts (Let the Children Play)

Messy Art: Splat Paint Olympics

Today I’m over on the Melissa and Doug blog, writing about our experience making Splat Paint Olympic Rings with household sponges. Painting with non-traditional materials does wonders for helping children look at the world with fresh eyes. And throwing paint-soaked sponges? Well, that’s just silly fun.


While we did this with the end-game of the Olympics in mind, I could imagine setting up this process-oriented, messy art exploration at a block party, artsy outdoor birthday party, or just for the joy of throwing paint at big sheets of paper.

Since we set this up in the driveway, clean-up was simple. Read the post to see how we did it.

Have you tried painting with sponges? Do your kids enjoy making messy art?

Easy DIY Bubble Solution for Kids

This easy bubble solution recipe is a staple for parents and pre-school teachers. It’s easy to make, comes together in about one minute, it’s safe, and kids love it.

how to make a one minute bubble solution

Bubbles make kids happy!

I’ve been so busy with all sorts of parenting/household/traveling/social things lately, and love to find easy projects that make my kids happy. This is one of those things.

My daughter’s preschool has a big bubble table set up all summer long, and it’s a magical place where the kids can chill out and regroup while they make and pop bubbles. The other day I set up a few water areas around our yard, and the kids would migrate to this bubble table after a few rounds on the Slip ‘n Slide or bounces on our neighbor’s see-saw.

Easy Bubble Solution Supplies

  • Dish Soap. We like Trader Joe’s Next to Godliness dish soap and Dawn Ultra (affiliate). I use the dish soap from Trader Joe’s, and was surprised that it worked so well. I’ve used Dawn in the past, and the bigger, commercial soaps make fantastic bubbles.
  • Water
  • Bubble Wands
  • Large tub, small pool, or water table

how to make a one minute bubble solution

How to make the Easy Bubble Solution

  1. Squirt dish soap into the water table or bucket and then fill with a little bit of water. The ratio is approximately 1:5, but don’t rely on this too heavily since it varies depending on the brand of soap you use — just add more soap or water to get it just right.
  2. Add a bubble wand (or a few) and you’re good to go!

I’d encourage you to experiment with your soap and see if it works before setting this up for a big group of eager kids.


Plant a Garden with Kids

Do you have a little spot of dirt for your kids to garden in? If not, today I’d like to challenge you to think about your outdoor spaces and see if you can come up with a spot that’s just for the kids. It can be anything from a large plot to a couple of planters.

Children learn through hands-on experiences, and this project will enable them to spend time outdoors, design their own garden, and make a deep connection with plants and nature.

If you live in the Northern hemisphere, there’s a good chance that you’ve been knee-deep in dirt at some point in the past month. We have a small garden that’s keeping us busy with our share of vegetable planting, soil tilling, and outdoor beautifying.

In the process of involving my kids in all my garden projects, they’ve grown their own fascination for dirt, creepy crawlies, plants, roots, and flowers. When my neighbor suggested that we turn a sad and dusty little spot of land between our houses into a kids’ garden, I knew this would be a fun project for us.

We started out with a chat about the dirt patch, and I shared that she would have the opportunity to design her own garden. We talked a bit about our vision and she couldn’t wait to get to the garden store.

I gave her a limit of fifteen plans, and she had to make some choices.

When she spotted these technicolor cacti, she decided that she wanted a section of the garden to be a cactus garden. Not exactly kid-friendly, but it’s what she wanted. And I have to agree that these little plants are spectacular. We decided to put them into a planter on the side of the garden.

kids in the garden

I outlined the space with some bricks that remained from a neighbor’s garden excavation. Score. We then filled the space with three bags of garden soil (2 cubic feet each).

My Father-in-law bought my kids a little kid rake last summer, and it was perfect for this project. We also picked up some new gardening gloves, which I think go a long way for generating enthusiasm for a project like this.

Oh, and since it was a hot day and water would be involved (at some point), my kids insisted on the bathing suits. Love it.

kids in the garden

kids in the garden

Nutmeg chose the big pavers to line a path in her garden.

kids in the garden

She decided on the direction of the path and I helped her set them into the dirt.

kids in the garden

And then she decided where her flowers would go. I mostly dug the holes, just to make sure they were deep enough. Little Rainbow wasn’t such a big help, but she hung out, wore her new garden gloves, and talked about the dirt and flowers. Success all around.

So, what do you think? Do you have a little spot of land or a few planters you can set aside for your child to dig in, design, and call their own?


I’ve partnered with GoGo squeeZ, the first squeezable, re-sealable, no-mess, 100% fruit, no-sugar added apple­sauce based snack for kids in the U.S, as a Playbassador, which means that I have more reasons to share fun outdoor activities that celebrate play and creativity. All opinions in this post are my own.

GoGo squeeZ believes in the simple mantra of “always play” and is putting this belief to work through the “Pass the Play” campaign with the goal of bringing the simple joy of play to those who need it most across the country. GoGo squeeZ recently announced their brand new flavor, Apple Cherry. This flavor will be hitting stores in July!


Thrifting for the Garden

Is it warm in your part of the world? Are your kids spending lots of time outdoors?

Summer is here and our garden is getting so much attention. My kids are happy when they’re outside, so I’ve been thinking up ways to turn our outdoor spaces into play pockets and learning laboratories.

thrifting garden

In addition to our water wall, fairy garden, and outdoor drawing studio, my children and I headed over to one of our bigger thrift stores in search of low-cost inspiration for building out some new creativity corners in our garden.

thrifting for the garden

Going to a thrift store with kids can be overwhelming, and I wouldn’t recommend it if yours like to run in every direction, but the experience can be educational as well as fun. We donate a lot of our gently used toys and clothes to the thrift store, so the full-circle story of use and re-use is not lost on my children You can give older children a budget and allow them to make some purchases of their own, and watching children play with toys can help you decide what’s worth buying.

The home goods section of our thrift store is nicely organized, and I decided to head straight for the wood and basket areas to keep our focus on objects that would fit in nicely with our outdoor space.

thrifting for the garden

I found all of these nifty pieces for about $25. So what did we get?

  • My one-year old chose a cute little hand-made wooden bench for $5 that fits her perfectly
  • A few baskets that are perfect for treasure hunts
  • A table-top easel
  • Wicker picnic basket
  • Small wooden manger turned into doll house

manger doll house

Everything we picked up has been put to good use. Most popular, fo far, has been the basket-treasure hunt game with my 21-month old. We’ll scatter treasures and rocks all over the garden, which she collects. And then we start all over again.

thrifting for the garden

My favorite thing about this experience is that I spent a minimal amount of money for maximum impact. And my second-favorite piece is that you just never know what you’re going to find, and that element of surprise is perfect for kids’ toys and activities.

My children don’t care if something is brand-new or not, but high quality is important to me. I’d rather spend $3 on a nice used wooden stool than $10 on a brand-new plastic stool. I don’t always have such good luck on thrifting adventures, but with a little bit of luck and effort I usually come home with something wonderful.

How about you? Are you a thrifter? What treasures have you found in your second-hand shops?