How Climbing Trees Builds Creative Thinking

Have you ever climbed a tree? Do your kids like climbing trees?

This has never been high on my list, even back in the nursery school days, but my 3 year old N has climbing in her soul and will climb just about anything: rock climbing walls, trees, jungle gyms, furniture, fences, etc. She seems to gravitate especially to trees that offer a challenging climb, and I like it because it gets us out into the fresh air and builds strong minds and bodies.

I love good ol’ fashioned play like this, and thought we could all use a visual reminder of how important free-range outdoor play is for kids.

outdoor play kids

The spirit of play is at the heart of imagination, creativity, and innovation. In playful environments, we’re prone to divergent thinking (generating numerous ideas about a topic) and are more inclined to push the limits of what’s possible into the impossible.

Climbing trees may not seem like highly cognitive work, but let’s take a look at what might be involved…

tree climbing kids

First of all, you have to map your idea (a will to climb a tree) with your reality (how will you climb that tree?). And then you have to send signals from your mind to your body to problem solve the execution. Our neighbor’s poor flowers were pelted by too many little climbers who have deemed this the most climbable neighborhood tree, so you might also have to navigate around the mini-flower-shielding fence that’s now in your way.

You might have to make room for a friend, which can build emotional intelligence and help develop spatial reasoning.

You might not yet be ready to climb a tree, but you’re building your confidence by climbing things that are within the zone of proximal development. Go you!

tree climbing kid

And when you reach that branch that always eluded you, the feeling of pride is beyond belief. You’ve accomplished something that only you could accomplish. You’ve tested your strength and your limits, and proven to yourself that you can achieve what you set your mind to.

I always watch my children closely and offer a lot of support when they first take on new physical challenges, but since my goal is to empower them I will step back once I get the cue that they’re comfortable without my assistance. I was talking with a friend today about free-range parenting (maybe you’ve heard of this movement?) and I follow this parenting philosophy to a great extent. I’m very involved in my childrens’ lives and everyday experiences, offer them a great deal of compassion and emotional support, but I’m raising them to be confident, independent thinkers who can make decisions for themselves without a lot of supervision.

I’ve partnered withGoGo 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.

DIY Water Wall

Does it feel like summer in your part of the world? It’s heating up here, and my kids have been enjoying this easy and inexpensive new backyard water feature. All you need is a nearby water source, recycled plastic bottles, and a wall to attach it to.

My older daughter helped me build this one afternoon last week while my toddler was napping. She loved the responsibility of holding the bottles steady while I drilled and took a lot of pride in our finished water wall. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s a lot of fun and an upcycler’s DIY dream.

water wall build

To replicate this upcycled playscape in your own garden or patio, I’ll break this down into some simple steps.

collection of water wall materials

DIY Water Wall Supplies

Plastic bottles

Screws (our nifty kit is from IKEA)

Drill. The one in the photo is no longer with us. Sniff. However, our brand new, favorite drill is a cordless wonder is the Makita DT01W (affiliate). It comes with two sets of rechargeable batteries, so you’re never without power!

Exacto knife. This one (affiliate) is a good deal

DIY Water Wall Steps

With the exacto knife, cut a hole in the side of the bottle. The hole will be large enough for you to fit your hand into it so that you can easily position and drill in the screws.

score bottle and add screws

Using the exacto knife, score an “X” on the side of a bottle and push a screw through the “X” from the inside. Repeat one more time so that you have two screws poking through the bottle.

Screw the bottles to a fence or wall. Tilt them slightly downward to help the water pour through. You might have to shift the bottles around or cut the holes a bit more to make the water wall work properly. Test as you go.

water wall testing

Test it out to make sure it works. Add a bucket at the bottom to catch the water, which can then be added to plants or returned to the top of the water wall.

Invite some friends over to play.

water wall play

Set up a water-filling station and add some pitchers, watering cans, and cups.

And be prepared for eye-opening, open-ended fun.

Inspiration for this project

I’ve been inspired by Let the Children Play once again! Last summer Jenny gave us the idea for our mud pie kitchen (and here’s her mud kitchen), and other outdoor hands-on activities that get my kids thinking and building in the fresh air. Her water wall post (full of water wall inspiration from around the web) has been sitting in my mind since she posted it in October (she’s in Australia where it’s bloody hot in October), and it’s altogether responsible for the hours of fun my kids and neighborhood friends had with our newest backyard water feature. Thank you, Jenny!


New Outdoor Art Studio

Did I ever tell you that our backyard used to be a dirt patch? It would have been perfectly lovely for a team of dogs, but it’s driven me nuts since we first moved in.

 I’ve tried all sorts of hacks to make it more appealing. I’m a DIY-hacky kind of girl, after all!. First, we made a cute brick path and filled the entire yard in with wood chips. Ugh. It was pretty, but not recommended with small, barefoot children…I hate learning things the hard way! Months passed. This was followed by a half-failed attempt at seeding my own lawn. Again, learning the hard way. Another month passed before I got the sense to ask our gardener about installing sod.

And it took him one day to make it beautiful. That’s it. One day.

As soon as the grass was laid and watered my 3 year old and I wanted to run around on it. Feeling the grass under our toes was divine.

We’ve been enjoying the garden in all sorts of ways — playing in the sand box, picnics, gardening, building bridges, and of course…making art. I taped some large paper directly to the side of the house for an instant easel. The grooves from the siding gave N the additional challenge of working with a bumpy constraint, but she figured out how to work with it. When we’re indoors she rarely draws with crayons (markers are her tool of choice), but in a new place with new challenges, the crayons became more appealing.

Related to this, I recently spotted this clever way to dry outdoor paintings. Suspend rope between poles and/or trees and add some clothespins to keep the work secure. It’s not original. I’ve seen this before and I expect you have too, but I’ve never thought about setting up a clothes line for art in my own yard. Time to get to it before the weather turns and keeps us indoors.

Is there a part of your home that feels like it’s kept you and your family from reaching your full potential?

What could you do to make it work?



Rainbow Photo Scavenger Hunt

We’ve had a lot of fun playing this game that’s all about learning and searching for the colors of the rainbow. We started playing this game when my daughter wanted to learn the order of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. All you need is a camera and some time. We like to play this on our way to the park, and it makes the meandering a lot more meaningful. My 3 year old has her own camera (it’s a kid camera) but she’s not interested in it so it’s a good thing I like snapping photos!

To play, we start with red. When she spots something red, I snap a photo of it. Then we look for something orange, and so on. Not only have we been learning the rainbow, but we’re tuning our eyes toward objects in our neighborhood. As a result of this game we’ve had some thought-provoking chats about abandoned cars, storm drains, litter, and nuances of colors like “yellow-orange.” It’s also been fascinating to look at the world through my child’s eyes. For example, when we started with “red” I spotted a big (obvious) red car, but N looked up and asked me to take a photo of the glowing red leaves on a tree. It was so subtle, but they were definitely red!

I added these photos to those from a previous post, Photo Documentary with Kids, and suddenly we’re building a colorful documentation of our neighborhood. Maybe it’s time to figure out what to do with all these photos? Please let me know if you have any ideas for us.

Water Scooping for Babies

Sensory Play: Water Scooping for Babies

While my older daughter tore up the grass with the Slip ‘n Slide, I set my 10 month old up with a bucket of water and some measuring cups. And she got right to work, filling and emptying the cups. It was interesting to watch her attempt to fill the cups when they were upside down, and then exciting when she figured the “problem” out and corrected for it.

And then, presumably, she was proud of one of her many accomplishments.

The provocation is simple — Set your project up outside (since most babies thrive when there are airplanes to track and birds to listen for) and provide your baby with a low bucket of water. Tools are optional. And then see what discoveries come about.

Any other ideas for playing in water with babies?