Get children playing outside

In his new book, Matt Appleby has a wealth of ideas to encourage children to get outside in the garden. In this book extract he talks about making toy villages outdoors.

Teddy Bear's picnic
Invite soft toys outside to enjoy a picnic together
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Taking play outside generally helps children to behave better. If they are reluctant to leave indoor toys, simply get them to use them outside. Setting up their toys in a ‘village’ scene on the lawn brings the children closer to the natural world and encourages imaginative play.

Getting started

children in the garden
Lay down a blanket to create a green field for a model village of their toys.

You need a reasonably level surface, so remove any debris and mow the lawn. Lay down a green or brown towel or blanket for the landscape. Set up a toy train set if you have one and build the rest of the scene around it. Toy farmyard animals and other items can be added but be aware that small precious items are easily lost in a garden. Borrow some potted plants from the patio or make trees from bits of sponge painted green and stuck on sticks. Use the contours of the garden to add hills and tunnels. If the ground is too bumpy for a train track, lay them out on a patio or deck in a similar way.

The whole concept of toys in the garden is a fruitful one. From the abacus to building bricks, via trains, action figures, Teddy tea parties, puzzle games, dolls, mat games, toy trucks, hula hoops, space hoppers and more. Children will benefit socially, physically and mentally from playing in green space, as numerous scientific studies have proved.

The Children's Garden by Matt Appleby.
The Children’s Garden by Matt Appleby.

More model ideas

  • Make a garden tunnel, maze or labyrinth for your train or toy car track.
  • Create a rainforest in an old fish tank or terrarium. Line the bottom with gravel, add soil, plant small house plants, top with moss. Spray with a water mister daily.
  • Older children might like to build an ant farm. Start with an old fish tank, big jar or bottle. Put in sand and then start looking for ants. They like the cracks in pavements or anywhere dry and sandy. Capture them,
    without getting bitten, and put them in their new home, with some leaves on top. Make the whole ‘moonscape’ more realistic by adding plastic aliens and spaceships.

The Children’s Garden is available now from all good book store and online at an RRP of £14.99.

Matt Appleby

About Matt Appleby

Matt is a former teacher turned journalist. He took up writing while in New Zealand and trained as a journalist there. He has since written five books (three on cricket and two on gardening) with The Children's Garden due out in spring 2016 published by Frances Lincoln. He writes for Horticulture Week and other publications. Married with two boys, aged 3 and 6 he lives in London.
@mattapple1
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