There’s been a sort of character in our family for a year now. One we grew and birthed early last summer. But unlike the human character who came along around the same time and makes a regular appearance here, I haven’t yet officially introduced you to this very important member of our family.
Seeing as we are coming up on it’s one year birthday this seems as good a time as any to introduce you to…
Our Tree House!
When we moved two summers ago, the kids had one request: a treehouse. So naturally when I showed Caroline our new home, imagine her disappointment when she could only spot one tree in the backyard and it wasn’t good for building into.
But a promise is a promise. And last summer we delivered.
And by "we" I mean I acted as very pregnant with big ideas project manager and Mike acted as super inexperienced yet quick learning head of construction.
The only knowledge either of us has in building anything is more than a decade worth of Ikea furniture. But we learned to use very good plans, borrow tools and assistance when needed, and take it one step at a time.
But most importantly, we learned how rewarding it can be to build something for your family.
ANd we also learned the power of transforming a yard, and home, to fit our family’s needs.
When we first stumbled upon this space it was OVERgrown with ferns, ferns, ferns. Or at least that's what it seemed like. And the ferns were not happy. Neither was the original garage that was close to collapse.
So out went the garage and out went the ferns. Now left with a blank space and a new garage, we began to rethink how we wanted to make the space work for us. We ripped out ferns in the sun to make room for the other native plants that were choked out before. We relocated the fire pit to the corner so the grass could be used for sprinkler jumping and batting practice. And slowly we are adding new life with plants that love the sun as opposed to the ferns that didn’t.
And of course we made room for a tree house. Now, I use this word "treehouse" because I feel it sounds so much more magical than playhouse. Our tall evergreen was not strong enough for a structure. So we built an elevated playhouse underneath the tree to give that magical secret fort feeling of a treehouse without the fear of damaging an old tree.
I could walk you through the process but that’s not my expertise in this space. We found the idea and plans from Handmade Home and followed them nearly exactly, with only a little change to the front porch to accommodate where we needed our slide. I highly suggest if you are interested to head over to that blog to read ALL of the details. Its hefty, specific, and so very helpful.
It took us just one month with mostly weekends and some week nights to complete. And I am thankful every day for the beauty and delight it adds to our yard. It’s a funny thing to say about a playhouse. But it just makes me so happy to see it outside, in all seasons of the years.
When he tacked up the last nail on the roof and called the project complete, you can imagine how the children greeted it, right? Now every minute the sun is up they are playing in and around that treehouse imagining great stories and adventures. They are having so much fun they practically forget their parents are even around. We have to drag them out of there to finally go to bed at the end of the day. It has fixed all whining from now until forever.
And if you believe that you probably don’t have children.
For no magical treehouse can make children play nicely together. There is no perfect outside play structure to make the witching hour less witchy. They are still children no matter how hard you worked on it who will ask to go to a playground instead of just playing on the one you just spent LOTS of MONEY and BACKBREAKING EFFORT to create for their ungrateful little souls.
The Treehouse is wonderful in our family. But the truth is they are still kids who need some help and guidance to play outside.
I know, I know. You’ll tell me kids don’t need help to play outside. Just send them out and lock the door. They will figure it out.
Yes we do that. And it does work, sometimes.
But occasionally when you are sitting around the table with an evening cocktail or drinking your second cup of coffee around the firepit, you want to not have to hear their cries of whining and boredom as they struggle with channeling their inner imagination. Sometimes they need a little help seeking that inner creative child.
So I have gathered a few ideas in my back pocket to help them find direction when playing outside.
Pretend Restaurant. With a few spare tupperware containers and old spoons, your children can open up the restaurant of their dreams. Dead leaves, mulch pieces and a few rocks are what Michelin rated Chefs covet. You may have to agree to eat their delicacies but they will be kept busy for at least long enough to finish that first cocktail. Need help with how to pretend with this? Read this oldie but goodie post.
Obstacle Course. We invented this game at the playground before we had a play space of our own. It works everywhere. Give them a path to take, obstacles to complete, the sillier the better. If you have two you might even convince each of them to make a path for the other and then you are completely hands off.
Give them a job. This year I added a few flower pots and a raised garden box with peas and lettuce and radishes. Everything is edible, especially handy for their Restaurant dishes. If they seem bored I can encourage them to water the plants, weed, or check how tall they are growing. Plus giving them their own things to grow and then stepping away from it allows me to not feel bad about telling them to keep their hands off of my own garden. We had many an unripe tomato picked last Sumer and I am trying to avoid that.
Read. Reading outside is one of my favorite activities. We have pillows inside the playhouse. We always have a big blanket handy to throw on the ground. It’s also a great space to read to a group of varying age children because for those who are antsy, they can busy themselves around the yard without bring too much of a disruption to the others.
Eat meals. So simple yet so fun. Eating alfresco is delightful but even more so when you can eat from your own little corner. I like to tell the kids to go out to the treehouse and I’ll surprise them with a snack. This seems to be a good way to lure them out. Once their tummies are full they are more likely to linger out doors and find something to explore.
Bring inside toys out. Car races are so much more fun down the slide. Little animals can find their natural habitats nestled into the grass. Even a board game in the treehouse is a magical way to pass the afternoon.
Build Fairy Houses. I picked this idea up while on a camping trip with a very little Caroline watching a family of older children creating fairy house while the parents set up camp. Other parents are so smart. I tucked this one away and it has served me well. The idea is to use various parts of nature to create an inviting home for fairies. The fairies then come around at night and have a little party. And sometimes in the morning they leave a little clue of their presence the night before. Don’t be alarmed by this part of the story. It is fine to imbue magic in the form of a little glitter or a tiny sparkly gem that you might have stashed away for such an occasion. But I have also been known to forget to encourage the presence of fairies, only to encourage imagination when Caroline came bounding in one morning following my mistake to announce “They came and they made the flowers grow!” This was the best example of the success in imagination. They can fill in the gaps when you screw up.
Add water. This always works. When in doubt, turn on the sprinkler, hand them a house, fill up a bucket, add in some paintbrushes and sponges. It doesn’t matter the form but remember to always add water. It cures a lot of whining.
These ideas are not specific to a playhouse. They are useful in any outside play time. If your kids are acting a little bored with what they are playing on, whether at your house or at the local park or maybe even on a camping trip, pull out a few of these ideas. It’s enough to spark the right imagination when lost. We all need a little inspiration for creative play every now and again.
I’m so glad we took the leap to do this for our family. I see it as a part of our family for years and years to come. It surely comes out on top as the Greatest Thing We Ever Built.