In March I identified three key priorities for our home educating this season and last post I looked a bit more at the first priority, reading. Now I’m reflecting on some aspects of the second priority, spending time outside.
I’m so grateful for spring and summer and being outside in my garden. I grew up in a home with a beautiful garden; it’s not huge but lovingly tended by my mum who takes care of the planting and my dad who takes care of the lawn. It has always been colourful and full f interesting spaces to move between: two, then three patios, the lawn with its flowerbed island, a winding path to follow, weeping willows whose umbrellas of foliage you could get inside of, a hidden space behind the apple tree where honesty plants grew with their mother-of-pearl like seeds. It was an ideal setting for imaginative play as a younger child and for just hanging out or basking in the sunshine as a teenager. Now, I love picking my kids up from my parents’ house on a Monday afternoon in spring, summer and early autumn, catching half an hour in this lovely garden with them before teatime.
So I long for my own children to have a garden to love. I’m supremely grateful for the Edwardian terrace home that we rent from friends. It comes with a steeply sloping back garden that was waist high with brambles and nettles when we moved in a couple of weeks before Freya was born. With help from friends, family and especially my mum and our next-door neighbours, we have battled to tame this space and make it usable and enjoyable. It’d bore you to hear the five-and-a-half year story of its transformation, and it still has a long way to go, but this I feel the garden is finally playable in. This is largely due to the lawn area that Jeff levelled and sowed with grass seed last autumn. We can put a paddling pool on it without all the water pouring out over one side whilst being empty on the other! We can play ball without it constantly rolling away down the hill! We’ve had our first picnic on it too.
It’s also very possible that the sudden feeling of “the kids can actually play here!” comes from Hannah being old and physically confident enough this spring to handle the uneven terrain and sensible enough not to go charging down the steep concrete steps that lead from house to garden. Freya has been able to manage for three years or so but there is no visibility from the house except from an upstairs window, so I couldn’t really let Freya play out while I stayed in with Hannah. Now Hannah is confident enough that I can even pop inside myself for short moments while they are both playing outside.
A new vision for this year is to develop a scrubby patch of the garden into a more ‘wild’ space for the children to use. A space for digging and scrambling and hiding and getting messy. That makes it sound massive. I wish. It’s an L shape patch within a roughly 3x2m area, not much but something. Two years ago Konni next door helped me transform it into a veg patch with a flat raised bed sort of area and paths marked out by old christmas tree trunks. Overall it was too shady and most of the crops there failed, except for the fantastic purple sprouting broccoli. This year I’m reducing my food-growing effort to potatoes, raspberries, beans and tomatoes in sunnier spots and I’m happy to repurpose the area for the kids.
So far we have built a little trellis lean-to to serve as a den. Runner beans are now slowly inching their way up the trellis. A friend kindly gave us some cut off logs which the children have immediately used as chairs and table in the den, and I’ve got more that I hope to install as stepping logs to enable climbing and balancing. I’d like to create a little rockery as wild fairy garden. A little bench would be nice for the children to sit on.
I’m slowly learning how to engage my children more in the outdoors. I feel I lack an instinct for it and am fairy risk averse, so I have a lot of learning to do myself.
A nice thing I’ve done with Freya recently is to count bees for the Great British Bee count. I read about it on the awesome and award-winning https://makewealthhistory.org/ and downloaded the app to record our bee counts. Freya is afraid of bees (though this is something I have not passed on as I love bees, and don’t even mind wasps) and I’d like to help her become more used to them, and all insects generally.
A friend also helped us make tiny versions of the kids by laminating photos of them which they loved putting in funny places around the garden.
If you have any other tips for easy ways to play outside with children in a small space, let me know!