IN THE GARDEN
Create a magical wonderland of your very own, where your toddler can explore, imagine and experiment
PLANT A SENSORY GARDEN
To create a toddler-friendly garden, you need to choose robust plants that are safe for hands-on fun. Think about what else a plant can offer, too. Herbs such as mint and thyme smell amazing and will withstand endless plucking by little hands, as will shrubs such as lavender and buddleia. Cosmos is colourful and fast-growing, and picking the spent flowers actually encourages growth. Lamb’s ear has thick grey leaves that feel silky to touch, and greater quaking grass rustles in the slightest breeze.
Before you start, visit www.raisingchildren.net.au/articles/dangerous_plants_checklist.html to make sure you’re not about to plant harmful varieties.
GET THE CHALK OUT
A deck can act as the perfect outdoor table when drawing, as long as you don’t mind mess. Or you could make the executive decision to turn your fence into an art station. Screw a piece of external plywood board firmly to the fence and cover it with two coats of exterior blackboard paint (try White Knight Chalkboard Paint, 500ml, $22.95), using a roller to get a smooth finish. Add a bucket of oversized chalks (we love Crayola Washable Sidewalk Chalk, pack of 12, $6), and let your toddler loose to exercise his imagination. He’ll also develop fine motor skills, and having an oversized canvas on which to create masterpieces will increase his confidence in drawing.
BUILD A CUBBY
What your little one really wants is a cubby house that takes a moment to put up and can be moved when he wants, so it’s new, fun and exciting every time – and you can’t get better than a lightweight tarpaulin with eyelets, a few tent pegs and rope. Get creative by attaching the top of the tarpaulin to a fence, then pegging the bottom out to make a cosy cubby, suspending it above toddler head-height to make an airy but out-of-the-sun picnic umbrella, or pegging it over the washing line to end up with an instant tent.
GROW A FAIRY RING
Got daisies in your lawn? Transplant them in the shape of a big circle to make a fairy ring for your youngster to play in. Use a knife to loosen the soil around the daisy, carefully lift its leaves and roots, cut a slit in the grass to plant it in its new fairy-ring spot and water well. Daisies are perennial, meaning they grow year after year, so your fairy ring will last more than one season.
CREATE AN OUTDOOR KITCHEN
You know how having a barbecue is more fun than cooking in the kitchen? Chances are your toddler feels the same way. He may already have a play kitchen inside, but he’ll prefer concocting meals for you to ‘try’ from an outdoor cook station – and all you’ll need to do is attach a couple of wide pieces of wood to a wall to make shelves and paint on a couple of circles to act as hotplates. Stack with a few old pots, pans and wooden spoons for a kitchen that will keep him entertained for hours.
Stocking up on ‘ingredients’ is just as much fun as doing the ‘cooking’. He might
even come back from a walk with pine cones, bring a bucket of shells from the beach or fill a tub with grass clippings after it’s been cut. Pebbles, leaves, seed heads and soil all make for great ‘cooking’ items and, if you’re feeling really brave, add a bucket of water to the mix. Handling these different textures is a sensory experience that will allow him to learn about cause and effect as he mixes the contents together.
SWAP SAND FOR GRAVEL
If you’ve got a sandpit table and your child has passed the stage of putting everything into his mouth, try bagging up the sand and tipping in fine gravel (check it’s child-safe first). Add toy tip-up trucks and a digger and his building site is complete. Alternate between the sand and gravel every month, and your tot will use the pit far more frequently, as it will make for a whole new sensory experience. Another option is to fill the sandpit with water (for safety, always stay with your child during water play) or combinations of sand, gravel and water.
MAKE A HILL-AND-HOLE
A hill-and-hole takes just an hour and a roll of turf to create, but you’ll be amazed at how many ways it will inspire your toddler to play – from mastering the wobbly art of walking up and down a hill to rolling balls and cars. To make a hill-and-hole in your lawn, attach a short stick and a sharp knife to the opposite ends of a half-metre length of string. Poke the stick into the ground and, keeping the string taut, cut a metre-wide circle into the grass. Then make another adjacent circle. Using a spade, lift out the two circles of turf, keeping them aside for now. Remove the soil from one circle to create a shallow pit, heaping it up on the other circle to create a mound. Tread in the soil on both the hill and in the hole to compress it, then re-lay the turf, using cuttings from a roll of turf to cover any bare areas. Water thoroughly. Don’t walk on it or allow it to dry out until the grass shows healthy growth.
HANDLING THESE DIFFERENT TEXTURES IS A SENSORY EXPERIENCE.