Rediscover the beauty of your own backyard

Nov 18, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. ET

School holidays are fast approaching yet again and many parents are faced with the difficult question of how to keep their children entertained without having to spend a lot of money on day trips and excursions.

Little girl making mud pies

What we often forget, though, is how much our own backyard can offer us in terms of activity ideas, discovery and exploration. As the purse strings are tightened, "staycations" are becoming a fantastic alternative for those families who want to enjoy what is on offer right in front of their very eyes. Here are some great activity ideas that will help you to rediscover the beauty of your own backyard.

Nature walks

Prepare your children with a hat, a bucket and a sense of adventure! As you walk around the garden, look for tiny and unusual flowers, different shaped leaves, small twigs, fallen petals, or strange-looking seed-pods, placing them in the bucket as you go. When you return to the house, place your collection in a glass vase to display their beauty, or create a nature collage on a piece of cardboard using PVA glue.

Mud pies

It’s okay to get dirty! Mud pies are so much fun with children of all ages. Find an area of your garden where you can dig a little hole in the soil or collect some dirt. Mix it up in a bucket with some water and you are ready to "bake". Pour some of the sloppy mixture into old containers — plants, pots, takeaway containers etc — and decorate with shells, flowers, leaves or sand. Leave the mud pies to set and harden in the sun and enjoy a pretend afternoon tea in the garden!

Pack a picnic

We usually think nothing of packing up our picnic basket and blanket and setting off in the car for a perfect place to enjoy our lunch. Why not do the same at home? Find a lovely little patch in your garden, set up your picnic blanket and a few cushions and enjoy your lunch under a favourite tree. Maybe your child would like to invite one special teddy outside to share their picnic with? Afterwards you can lie back and enjoy a magazine or book, or whip out a box of ice blocks from the convenience of your own freezer!

Lie underneath your clothesline

This is a fantastic activity for babies and young toddlers. After all the hard work of hanging out the washing is complete, lay a blanket underneath the washing and look up at the sky. Children will love to see all the colours dancing about in the breeze, and as the washing moves they will be able to see different parts of the clouds as they float by. The dappled sunlight will make ever-changing shadows on the blanket, which are irresistible to the little ones.

Set up an obstacle course

It’s time to put all those long forgotten toys and outdoor equipment to work! Set up activity stations around an obstacle course using things like skipping ropes, balls, balancing beams, cones and buckets. Have the kids come up with some of their own ideas as to what each activity could be and how they will arrange it all. Depending on the children, you could do time trials or relays, or simply take turns going around the circuit. It’s fun to find new ways to use old equipment and it’s also a great opportunity to clean out the shed of any unwanted, broken or unused toys.

Even though it may not be glaringly obvious, the backyard does offer many delights to keep the children entertained over the holidays. Some activities may take a little while to set up, but no doubt the giggles of the children and the convenience of being able to stay at home will ensure the holidays are filled with lots of budget-friendly fun and excitement.

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