Kids don’t need expensive play sets to have a good time – in fact, the simpler the better – more room for the imagination to flourish.

School will soon be out for the summer and kids will be looking for things to do.  Since prices on everything are rising and folks have less of a ‘slush fund’ to play with, I thought perhaps this would be a good time to suggest some ideas for ‘fun on the cheap’.

One possibility is a tree house, since kids like to be outside – but we also want to keep them safe when the temperatures rise.  My boys and their friends built a ‘tree house’ in an old elm in the back yard.  Their dad helped them build the base of the house on posts that they set and nailed on some planks for the floor.  They then set some 2 x 4’s up for the wallboards to be nailed on to. They nailed the old wallboards on helter-skelter. It will never win any awards for good looks, but it’s in the back yard, and we live in the country with the nearest neighbor several miles away, so nobody has to look at the thing anyway.  One year, the youngest boy took an old shower curtain and nailed it over the top of the walls to make a sunshade!   

Our older kids used an old windmill tower that was in the front yard, and they had to cut the boards to fit so it did look a little neater. The furniture for these ‘castles in the air’ were just old feed buckets turned upside down and they had a box for their ‘treasures’ – pretty rocks they found, dried up toads (remember, these are boys).  No matter what the exterior looks like, these ‘castles’ served a very useful purpose for these young folks. They were built with very little adult help (I made it myself!) and all kids need a ‘thinking place’.  Somewhere they can go to daydream, ponder things that are bothering them and sort through life in general.  
 
I know that this does not compute with the self-styled experts that tell us that kids need to be ‘scheduled’ for every waking hour, but I’m old-fashioned enough to think kids need some breathing space.
 
If you do not have space for a tree house, why not grow them a ‘secret spot’?  It is possible to grow an area in the yard that will give lots of shade and look quite pretty.  All that is needed are four posts and some chicken wire or lattice to mount on the top and 3-1/2 sides.  If you don’t have access to chicken wire or lattice, you can string a heavy wire around the top of the posts and then use twine to weave a grid for the vines to climb on.   
Morning glories or other fast growing vines are planted around the bottom of the posts/twine grid and allowed to climb up the sides and over the top – or the kids may opt for a ‘garden house’ with pole beans, gourds, mini-pumpkins or other climbers that would work just as well.

Although my kids have long since outgrown it, we still have a sandbox in the yard under an old tree for the neighbor kids. Ours is made from four old recycled corral planks set on edge in a square, with four short pieces of wood driven into the ground for the planks to be nailed to. We went to a sandy spot in the pasture, shoveled on a load of sand and filled in the square.  We put some plastic dishes, small shovels, toy cars and trucks, etc. in it.  It’s also close enough to the hydrant in the yard so they can make mud pies – great entertainment, and we always know where the little ones are!

Life in the country does not lend itself well to skateboards, scooters or roller skates – those all require cement sidewalks to operate on, and the only place with cement is the shop. Anything with wheels left sitting out stands a good chance of getting squashed when the big tractor pulls in for repairs. My kids did have bikes to ride, and aside from the ongoing problems of flat tires due to goat-heads and cactus, they got along fine. They had lots of room to roam.

My children also had ‘chores’ to do, including helping out in the garden and feeding the many animals that we cared for daily.  They got a lot of exercise and were not allowed to spend their days parked in front of the television or the computer.  They spent time fishing. (The fish bite the best when raindrops are falling, I was told. They always brought back fish to fry for supper, so it must be true!)

While our situation in the country is different than kids in town, there are things kids can do for fun without breaking the bank, or spending their days tied to electronic gadgets. Encourage your children to stretch their imaginations – without the electronics – and have some good old-fashioned home made fun!

Enjoy the Season!
-Paula


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