Friday, June 29, 2018

Miniature Playgarden: BIG Fun for small Hands!

Growing your own garden is a BIG deal, involving some BIG tools and BIG movement and if you're lucky, a BIG harvest to reap. Small hands can definitely be a BIG help in a garden and sometimes, when you need to water or pull weeds or re-pot some starter plants in a BIG hurry before it gets too dark out, you need your little hands to be busy with something. And there's something so magical and whimsical about little things. Little hands just love to hold and play with little things. Even my "bigger" sense of wonder is awakened when little things come to life through play.

Fairy gardens and miniature gardening is so popular among the world of big people today that I am inherently reminded of the powerful nature of play with nature. It is undoubtedly vital to little people and big people alike! I admire the sight of whimsically set up fairy gardens and miniature scenes, but the little person who still exists within me does not just want to look and admire, I want to play! So we gathered some materials from indoors and outside and created our own living miniature playgarden. And with some materials and toys you already have on hand and in your own yard or garden, you can, too!

The Bare Bones Basics:
The world of our miniature playgarden extends into the grassy forest of our yard...

I love the idea of a living playgarden. I chose to use real succulent plants for this purpose for a few reasons. One, is that they are fairly low maintenance in terms of water needs and climate. They do well outdoors in the summer where we live and just as well indoors in the wintertime. Secondly, they are pretty sturdy when it comes to meeting little hands. S is pretty aware of how to be gentle to growing plants. Y is not so aware...and being that this playgarden also involves a lot of tiny miniatures, it is more an activity for S at this point. To adapt for younger ones, you might choose some larger wooden peg dolls (unpainted) and furniture and allow for play in an outdoor grassy area or garden space. Finally, succulents often come in miniature size. Now, they won't stay that way forever (you should see my "tiny" aloe plant!) but it's a great place for them to start until they require a larger home! Alternatively, you can use any small-scale plants, even herbs would be lovely. If you prefer the look of a garden without the maintenance, you can opt for artificial replicas. Some are quite realistic! This is also a great option for indoors (although our playgarden can be maintained inside or outside, year round).

When gardening with and for children, especially with a garden they be tending to, I prefer an organic, untreated soil. These are not necessarily more money than MiracleGro type soils and for some reason I worry a little less about my kid eating dirt with worm castings than I do about dirt with mysterious green pellets... (I never said there was any logic to this!)
A Container:
Our miniature playgarden world is not limited to a container or to the garden itself. However, planting your playgarden in a container of some sort does allow for mobility. I have heard and read about amazing miniature gardens planted outdoors in a full size garden--even one including a remote control train! Since we are container gardeners in our shared yard space, a container playgarden is the perfect accessory. As an added bonus, it can be played with indoors on a rainy day (like the day we actually planted it and set it up) or brought outdoors for play. I chose a metal tub but any type of container will do. It can be as simple or elaborate as you like! You could even set up a few containers with different plants for your miniature gardeners to explore.

Optional Add-ins:
This is where the fun starts! I like to mix in a collection of natural and man-made materials. Start with less and your little gardeners will know what more is needed. Here's a list of ideas of items you might add in for play, but do not feel limited or overwhelmed. You can use what you have on hand and a lot can be done with natural items like rocks, pebbles, seeds and pods alone!

  • toy people or wooden peg dolls
  • toy animals, birds or bugs
  • miniature doll furniture
  • miniature doll accessories
  • miniature dishes and food--or you can make your own from acorns, tiny leaves, seeds, pebbles and flowers...
  • mosaic tiles and shapes
  • acrylic gems
  • tree circles or blocks
  • driftwood
  • rocks, pebbles, stones
  • pine cones, seed pods, acorns
  • leaves, weeds, wildflowers
With fairy gardens being so popular, you might find some cute additions in your local craft supply stores (and even dollar stores) that are intended for crafting. These can be used at play as well, though some items may be more delicate. I find that most children can be made aware of this and handle "real" materials ever so gently. 

Play & Between-Play Storage

Watching the way S weaves stories and adventures through our miniature playgarden is so exciting to me! It is an activity we revisit almost daily, especially during the time that Y is napping (so no tiny, yet giant hands are plowing their way through his play scene). 
"I'm planting a popsicle garden," he explained, sticking long, colorful glass stones in the soil. "I don't know if it will grow..."

Sure enough, the next morning, the popsicles were ready to harvest and a hungry raccoon was all too eager for his freshly picked ice-cold treat!

Storage is an important consideration, especially if you are using your miniature playgarden outside where it will be exposed to the elements. I learned (the hard way) earlier this year that wooden toy furniture is not waterproof when it is glued together by non-waterproof glue! Oops... I store non-water resistant toys and materials in plastic shoe-box sized containers with a tightly sealing lid. This also makes it easy to transport wherever you wish to play--even miniature people like to take an exotic vacation or go camping on occasion... 

Hope this gives you a little inspiration for some BIG fun this summer. We will be back soon and until then...

Happy Playing!

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