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The value of the children's backyard project

by Traci Schumacher on Tue, 02/19/2013 - 12:46pm
The kids with their lean-to.
Lean-to mastermind relaxes inside.

“Go outside and play” has been a favorite suggestion of parents for ages. Kids get out in the fresh air, they burn off some energy, and parents get some peace. I love it that we have a fenced yard so I can know where my kids are, checking on them periodically through the windows. They can run around and act crazy, and I don't have to hear it all.

Yesterday I peeked out the window to see my three children dragging and carrying large sticks around. For a while we have had a couple piles of branches in the backyard for use as firewood, although they rarely manage to make it into the fireplace. It's either not cold enough or we don't think about it or it's just too much trouble. Anyway, from time to time the children choose to use the big sticks for some creative purpose of their own.

The project of the day was the construction of a lean-to at the base of our maple tree. My 9-year-old daughter came up with the idea, and eagerly recruited her younger brothers as helpers. I offered a couple safety suggestions along the way, but mostly it was their own ideas and effort and teamwork that pulled it all together. I love it when my kids get excited about something and then work together as a team.

There is a part of me that thinks, “Oh, the poor kids... They really want a tree house or clubhouse of their own. Maybe we should just give them one.” But, while there is nothing inherently wrong with giving them a clubhouse of some sort, for now they are more fortunate not to have one. Look what they got instead: a real opportunity to be creative, the chance to make an idea become a reality, a sense of accomplishment, the development of skills including problem-solving and how to work together (I cannot stress this one enough). Although on some level my children may feel deprived for not having a just-so tree house, on a deeper level they are far richer for their backyard do-it-yourself experience.

So now we have a small lean-to in our backyard. I suppose it goes with the pond our son created in the corner. I think our children realize our backyard lacks any real landscaping, and they have taken it upon themselves to “fix up” the place. At least they are being creative and working together. And they are quite pleased with themselves.

When I told my husband on the phone about the lean-to, he said, “Sounds like someone's been reading a little too much Little House on the Prairie!” And sure enough, at bedtime my daughter told me about the lean-to they made in one of the Little House books. Talk about the power of reading!

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