Earth, water, air and fire – providing play opportunities for all senses with the four elements
Many of my most precious childhood memories are connected to the four elements, earth, water, air and fire. When life is difficult for me, I can draw strength from those memories. I believe that playful experiences with the four elements are essential for good and healthy child development. That is why I try to provide opportunities for my kids to experience those elements with all senses in our garden.
Here are some ideas, how you could try do include such play opportunities in your yard:
There are so many possibilities to let your child get in touch with the element of earth. But the most important thing is your attitude. You need to be OK with your kids getting dirty, sandy and muddy. We have a huge sand pit that is big enough to bury someone in it, just like at the beach. Small sandpits get boring quickly the older the kids are, so I really advocate to build a big and deep sandpit instead of a little one. In summer kids can use the hose to create some grouse mud. Even our older kid and his friends still love to play in our sand for ours. But also big stones like boulders, real dirt areas and garden patches for growing vegetables can be wonderful sensual and grounding experiences for your child.
Another great way to stay grounded and connect with our earth is to grow vegetables, fruits or flowers. Or maybe you would like to plant a tree with your kids that they someday can show their grandkids? All those beautiful appletrees my kids like to climb on, where planted by my father, when he was a young boy.
Kids love to play with water. Not everyone can build a pool, but even little water fountains are wonderful play opportunities. We installed a rock fountain next to our porch. It was not easy to find a nice natural looking rock in the stores. So, I went to the stone quarry and just picked out a beautiful boulder and had them drill a hole through it. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting in a deckchair, smelling the roses and listening to the bees and the murmur of the water.
Let your child experience some levity, ease and weightlessness. Bring the element of air into play with trees and bushes to climb on. Kids are always the shortest. It’s a great experience to be taller than the adults and look down to them. If there is enough space, put up a set of swings or hammocks. Your kids will love it.
You could try to find a way to be safely able and allowed to make campfires in your yard. In some areas you have to buy special fire bowls, or you have to build a fire pit. Of course, you have to check your local laws about fire, but it is definitely worth to have a designate place for an open fire in your garden where you can share memorable evenings with your kids. In Germany we have this nice tradition of baking bread on a stick over the fire. You make bread dough and then, you wrap the dough thin and tight around the point of a stick and rost it over the fire until the bread is baked. It tastes great and is healthier than marshmallows.
I think those elements are the bases a good child friendly garden should cover. If you have more space and want to provide more play opportunities, there are so many things you could do. Of course treehouses and trampolines are fun. Ask you kids, I am sure they will come up with great play ideas for your yard. However I believe a natural and beautifully structured garden is much more important than a play furniture we put in it. In a well structured natural environment, my kids can play all day. While play structures I put inside like a furniture can get boring after a while.
I hope I could inspire some of you. Let me know your thoughts.