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Magical Backyards
For Children

By Nancy Striniste

Childhood today is different than a generation ago. When I was a kid, during the summer I'd dash outdoors after breakfast to explore the neighborhood until the street lights came on, returning only for lunch. Many of today's parents wouldn't dream of sending their children outside to play unattended. As a consequence, today's children don't have a chance to experience the freedom, boredom and the resourcefulness that develops from vast expanses of unstructured time outdoors.

Children are loosing their connections to nature, as Richard Louv describes in his brilliant book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.


According to Louv and other researchers, time outside in nature relieves symptoms of ADHD, increases standardized test scores, enhances language development, and helps to prevent depression and obesity.

In our efforts to keep our children safe, we may be depriving them of essential elements of healthy development. I remember climbing trees in bare feet, the rich smell of lilacs, the thrill of rolling down grassy hills, and the fascination of watching ants at work. In the face of busy schedules and a world that seems more dangerous, how can we help our children to create their own treasured memories?

We can start by creating a backyard that entices our children away from their screens and into the green. Here are 10 tips for creating a magical backyard oasis:

      1) Plant vines on a teepee frame made of bamboo poles. A leafy green retreat is the perfect spot for pretending. If the vines are hyacinth beans, mini pumpkins or birdhouse gourds, the fun of the harvest will be an added bonus!

      2) Add a porch swing or a hammock to your backyard. It's the perfect place to relax with a book, and the rocking motion is comforting to all ages.

      3) A stepping stone path meandering around the garden is an invitation to explore. Interplanted with thyme or mint, each step will release fragrance into the air.

      4) Save those stumps! If you're having a tree cut down, ask to save a few stumps. They can be arranged to create an obstacle course or a fairy circle.

      5) Let them make mud. Provide a spot for digging, some sturdy metal garden tools or kitchen utensils and water for mixing. Hose off before coming back inside!6) Tuck a play house in an unexpected place. If it's high enough, the unused space under your deck can be transformed into a whimsical child-sized hideaway.

      7) Add the magic of water. A stream or backyard pond can be designed for beauty, soothing sounds and play opportunities.

      8) A sand area surrounded by boulders, grasses, ferns and stacked stones can be fun and beautiful.

      9) The experience of growing and harvesting food can make even the most reluctant eater eager to taste fruits and vegetables, and edible plants can be beautiful in the landscape. Try a blueberry hedge (great fall color), strawberries as a ground cover, or tomatoes in a hanging basket on the porch.

      10) Plant dill, parsley or fennel-the favorite foods of swallowtail caterpillars. When caterpillars appear on the plants (and they will), bring one inside, give it plenty of the leaves it likes, and watch it create its chrysalis. In a few weeks a beautiful butterfly will emerge and you can set it free. Just like our children, they grow up quickly. Treasure every moment!

Nancy Striniste is a landscape designer (and former teacher) who specializes in earth-friendly, child-friendly designs. She designs for As You Like It Landscaping, www.mylandscapers.com, and is the owner of www.earlyspace.com.



Article provided by:

Montgomery County Insight Magazine
A unique perspective of today's lifestyles and communities
published by Osborne Images, Inc., a division of Osborne Publications, Inc.
9169 Arbuckle Drive, Gaithersburg, MD 20877.

Soly Romero, Publisher
Phone 301-977-0330 x1017 :: Fax 301-977-1670
E-mail soly@mcinsight.net



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