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)

Fort Magic, the Coolest Fort in Town

“Confidence is earned through doing and believing.”  -Erika Pope-Gusev

Shortly after sharing this post on how to build a simple fort, I was contacted by Fort Magic and asked if I’d like to review their fort building kit. My children make forts every single week (this week it’s a beaver dam/fort), so how I could I refuse?

There will be a generous giveaway at the end of this post.

fort magic review

When our Fort Magic kit arrived, I was impressed by the sheer quantity of materials (seven different stick sizes with over 350 pieces altogether). I spoke highly of our new toy to my lovely neighbors, and they all wanted to have a turn with Fort Magic. The kit made the rounds around our houses…a few times…and I can confidently say that it’s popular with girls and boys, and children between the ages of 1 and 7. Our 5-year old neighbor built a tent-fort over his bed and kept it there for a full month! The kit finally made it back to us and my 4-year old asked to make a submarine from the instruction manual (shown in my photos in this post).

Fort Magic was founded by entrepreneur and homeschooling mom Erica Pope-Gusev, who’s joining us today to talk about how she came about designing this imagination-building toy.


It’s great to have you here today, Erika! What is the inspiration behind Fort Magic?

Our family had purchased a dryer for our home.  My son, who was 8 at the time, begged me to keep the huge box.  I agreed.  He played with this box for months!  He and his friends turned that box into every imaginary item they could. Only it was large and in the way in our apartment.  This sparked my imagination and instantly I invented Fort Magic in my mind!  After 2 years of trial and error and invention we finally created the perfect Fort Building Kit for kids!  Where a child can build a fort as big as their imagination with just one kit!  Literally!  :)

fort magic review

The materials used to build with Fort Magic are both simple and incredibly smart. What contributed to your design process?

The design process of creating Fort Magic was basically being a kid myself!  We call our business the Fort Magic Fun Factory.  I originally just started building (playing!) and working with my prototypes and would think, “hmm, this could be cool,” then I would try and add something else or create something new.  After many months of building and trying lots of different sized pieces, we came up with our current kit components!

It really can build anything and it really is the ultimate building toy!  And it fits nicely in one little bag.  :)  Some companies create toys with just enough pieces that you have to buy a second to really do something cool with it.  That is NOT our philosophy.  We wanted out kit to be excellent enough to be purchased alone and STILL give a child enough to build fantastic life-sized forts!  Kids deserve it.  If a family wants 2 kits that is great also.  But it won’t be because one kit leaves feeling cheaped-out, it would be because you just want to build more cool stuff!

assembling fort

What do you hope children will gain from the experience of playing with this these materials?

Oh my goodness!  First and foremost we want kids to have fun!  But also, Fort Magic is obsessed with children becoming their best!  Our mission is the building of greatness in children one fort at a time.  :)  Our goal is to give power to children to literally create their own realities, life size!  Not only by building and creating life-sized forts of their own to play in, but by igniting a confident belief in their minds that maybe they CAN do anything else!  Confidence is earned through doing and believing.

With Fort Magic kids learn to plan their designs, build their designs, cover and decorate their designs, and see their work!  That is education: fun and confidence building in one experience!

fort magic example

Fort Magic also brings the whole family in to play.  If you look at our Facebook page you’ll see so much creativity coming from the minds of boys AND girls!  Building toys are often directed primarily at boys, but girls LOVE to build also!  The long term plan is to support our product with our online World of Fort Magic page on our website where kids can learn how to create all kinds of DIY projects, educational materials to support themes, resources for parents on how to use Fort Magic to help their kids.

There are sooo many benefits from creative building toys like Fort Magic!  I can hardly start to name all of them.  We are busy preparing a lot of material that will launch soon on our World of Fort Magic page for customers to use.  We are really excited about this!

fort magic tent

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like to thank all of our fans, reviewers and customers for their enthusiasm and support! We are so happy to recieve emails and notes from kids and parents on how much they love their Fort Magic kits!  It just makes our hearts soar.  :)  We get a lot of positive reviews and we love it.

We are really aiming to create the best quality product we can for children.  Safety first (highest standards of safety certification).  Everything is the absolute best quality because kids deserve it!  Our materials and are so well made they will last for generations and we love that!  We’re just a family business started by a mom who loves her kids and is a big kid herself.  Just pure, good fun toward the goal of helping our kids reach their best in life; that is Fort Magic.  :)

Check the Fort Magic Facebook page for photos of kids and their creations! Each month we hold a Fort Magic Photo of the Month contest  — winner receives an additional Fort Magic Kit, free!

To enter for your chance to win a complete Fort Magic Kit ($249 Value), click on the Rafflecopter giveaway. This is the first time I’ve used Rafflecopter to run a giveaway. I’d love to hear what you think about it. This is open to U.S. addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.


DIY Paper Tape Roads

kids car collection
Sometimes we have to push our kids outside their comfort zones to help them take on new perspectives, face and overcome challenges, and confront their biases.

I have a growing collection of diecast vehicles that I keep in a nice, inviting basket. And do you know who plays with these cars, trucks, and airplanes? Boys who visit us.

Despite my best efforts at diversifying my childrens’ clothes and play things, I have become zen with the fact that I have two tutu + tiara loving girls who do not play with mini cars. If you want to see what I mean, take a look at this post.

It’s nice to have something that appeals to our friends, but I wondered if I could make these cute mini roadsters more appealing to my fairy princesses.

paper tape road kids play

The Invitation

After my kids went to bed I removed the plastic tablecloth from their art table and laid out a series of roads, parking spaces, and dead-ends with orange paper tape. I love this 10-roll set of 1/2″ Colored Masking Tape from Discount School Supply.

I used paper tape because it’s low-tack and easy to remove from the table without harming the surface. You won’t want to leave it on for days on end, but it’ll do the trick for a couple days.

Then I placed a few vehicles, action figures, and road features around the table as an invitation to play.

Did they bite?

paper tape roads kids

Hellz yeah!

You can see them still in their jammies and stages of undress, eager to play a new game. The beauty of it is that this new game came with a $0.00 price tag.

paper tape roads kids

After a few minutes, 4-year old Nutmeg wanted to peel up some of the tape to make new roads and build better parking areas. She insisted that the airplane remain in this spot until her little sister started to have her own strong opinions.


They enjoyed speeding the cars along the roads, crashing into vehicles and stop signs, and being some of the worst drivers I’ve ever seen.

paper tape roads kids

But they seem to still be fairies at heart, and the play ended after about fifteen minutes. Nutmeg wanted me to remove the tape completely, but I convinced her to allow me to leave it up for her sister.

The next day I converted it into a backyard roadway for their dollhouse. You can see it features as a backdrop in yesterday’s post: Dollhouse Games.

Do your kids enjoy playing with cars? What kind of games do they play? Do you have any tips for making them more fun for children who aren’t natural fans of vehicles?

Hands on: As we Grow has a comprehensive list of 35 activities for Things that Go! It’s great, and will keep active vehicle-fans happy for hours.

12 Doll House Games and Ideas

12 easy dollhouse games with kidsDid you grow up with a dollhouse?

I grew up with a beautiful hand made dollhouse, built by my cousin’s father about twenty years before I was born. It was a family treasure that got passed around from cousin to cousin. I always imagined that my own children would play with this imagination-building house, but it was time to send it back to its original owner.

So when I found this handmade house in a second hand shop that looked so much like the doll house I grew up with, and knew it could become a family heirloom. I mean really, look at those cute shingles! It needed some work (painting, wallpaper, cleaning) , but it’s also sturdy and hand-made, and I couldn’t pass it up.

I found some fancy Plan Toys wooden dollhouse furniture on Ebay, picked up little wooden peg people, made a few dolls myself, and my mom shipped me a big box of my old dollhouse furniture that reeked of 1981.

When my kids visit their grandparents, they play with some fantastic wooden Melissa and Doug dollhouses that are every bit as wonderful as this house, and I especially love that they fold away when my kids are done playing: Melissa & Doug Fold and Go Princess CastleMelissa & Doug Fold and Go Wooden Castle (the Princess Castle, in grey), Melissa & Doug Fold & Go Woodland Treehouse.

doll house games

How to Play with your Doll House

doll house games

Okay, so you have a dollhouse (or you’re about to after you check out the links below). Now what? Kids are natural inventors with rich imaginations. If you do a good job setting the stage for them, they’ll most likely know what to do. In the event that you need a little extra help, here are a few pointers and dollhouse game ideas:

  • Get some furniture and dolls. Keep your eyes open for miniature things in unexpected places: Ebay, Craigslist, Amazon, Museum Shops, Tourist Stops. I found our canoe at a sailing shop by San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Play games based on real things that happen in your home: cleaning day, birthday party, getting ready for school, packing for a trip, eating breakfast. Children love to recreate their experiences, as it solidifies their learning and understanding of the world around them. To do this, each of you can take a character (or two) and role play with the dolls.
  • Make up something fantastic and highly imaginative. For example: Fairy’s first visit to Unicorn Palace, the house becomes a zoo for animals or parking garage for cars.
  • Move it around. Our dollhouse has a spot on the floor, and it’s rarely used. I moved it to a low table and my kids acted like it was a new toy. This advice could go for any unloved toy. Move it to a new room or spot and see if it gets new attention.
  • Add something new. I added tape lines to the table to suggest roads and parking spaces, which gave my kids something extra to consider and puzzle over. Other ideas: Roll butcher paper underneath/around it and draw streets, gardens, etc. Find a new character (our doll house gets more use with Strawberry Shortcake Dolls), add a new piece of furniture, make a tunnel or slide out of a paper towel tube, add holiday lights, cut old t-shirts to make sheets or rugs.
  • Decorate. Give your kids paper and markers and invite them to make miniature art for the walls. Decorate the house for the holidays. Paint wooden furniture or wooden dolls.
  • Give it time. My older child was never into small-world play and didn’t take to the doll house until her younger sister took an interest. It may not be for your child, or they may not be ready for it yet. I put ours in the garage until a few months ago, and now it’s getting tons of use.

doll house games

More Doll House Play Ideas

Do you want to make your own dolls like the little man in the boat up there? I’ll teach you how to do it with simple materials here: Felt Dollhouse Dolls.

Do you have a shelf? Let the Children Play offers this clever alternative to the traditional dollhouse 

Do you like to spend time outdoors? Make a fairy garden.

Maybe you just have cardboard? How to Make a Cardboard Doll’s House from Red Ted Art. She also has tutorials for making a baby doll and a dollhouse bed.

Cardboard Shoe Box Doll House with Egg Carton Furniture, from Pink and Green Mama.

Check out the life-sized dollhouse by installation artist Heather Benning. It blows me away.

Note: Some of the links in this post connect to affiliates that I think you’ll find valuable. If you purchase anything from these vendors, you’re helping me keep the Tinkerlab engine go. Thanks for your support!