Small spaces can still inspire big imaginations
Small spaces can still inspire big imaginations, writes Marianne Falconer.
Current research shows that for children up to the age of seven, play-based learning is best. With this evidence at hand I had a solid argument for enlisting my builder husband, Sean, to create a playhouse for our two children, Frankie Grace (4) and Cohen Jean (2). And we have no regrets – the investment was well worth it as both kids now spend hours each afternoon (and into the evening if we allow it!) playing at making cups of ‘tea’, serving ice creams and scaling new heights in their brand new tiny home. Turns out that with the right ingredients, little spaces can really inspire big imaginations!
The New Zealand quarter-acre dream is nearly a thing of the past; that coveted outdoor space big enough to allow children to be free-range is no longer a given in every family home. My husband and I moved to Mount Maunganui to be closer to family and to the beach. We traded a large section in Titirangi, Auckland, for a compact half-site in Mount Maunganui. Admittedly we have the beach as our backyard so I’m not complaining, but when you have a toddler and a preschooler you need a secure space where you can all let your hair down and enjoy the sanctuary of home. When we first moved to the Mount, Frankie was a toddler and I was pregnant with Cohen. At first, our small yard was ample for one tiny girl and a baby, but little did we know our baby boy would turn out to be a runner and a climber who really needed to be exercised like a professional athlete! And I now understand why my mum and her peers would say “Now kids, go outside and play” on such a regular basis! There comes a time (most days!) when you need some space to finish preparing dinner and get some jobs done in peace.
As Cohen grew, our need for a safe outdoor space for the kids to play and run around in became paramount. Sean and his building skills came to the rescue, but it was no quick fix; a year later (goodbye weekends!) and we finally have a fully fenced garden complete with a gingerbread-style playhouse, custom built by Dad. We wanted to maximise our small outdoor space so we also undertook retaining works to level out the front yard, turning two unusable small terraces into one larger usable space.
The fence was a game changer – you can’t value peace of mind highly enough. We live on a busy road, so a fully fenced section was an absolute essential. We also installed a gate that automatically closes to keep our little ‘runner’ safe. The addition of another plastic slide, this one attached to the fence, provides extra scope for adventurous – but safely contained – climbing and play.
With the retaining works and fencing completed, the lion’s share of the work was done. Stage two was landscaping and we chose the easy option of rolling out ready lawn!
The macrocarpa playhouse is designed with the active child in mind, so incorporates a climbing rope, slide and sandpit. The little sandpit underneath is great for housing Cohen’s obsession with diggers and dump trucks. In summer we all play on the makeshift waterslide (a slide + hose = a dynamic water slide) which is great for cooling off on a hot day.
I painted and decorated the playhouse (and enjoyed my turn at playing house!) Once it was furnished with a Hape play kitchen, pots and pans, some cushions and other knick-knacks, the time the kids spent in it doubled. Now, after kindy, they’ll cook up a storm in their little kitchen while I supervise from the kitchen inside, or, if I’m feeling relaxed, from the hammock on the deck. The cushions and reading corner create a little sanctuary and I was delighted to see Frankie curl up like a cat in the cosy nook, glad that my efforts in making it homely have paid off!
The macrocarpa hot tub was also built by Sean and is something we brought with us from Titirangi. We created the lush tropical vibe by planting around it and using the shade of the existing palm trees to create some privacy. The kids love playing in the hot-tub and would use it every day if we let them. It’s a nice space that Mum, Dad and kids can all enjoy together, year-round.
I’m incredibly grateful that I no longer have to ask the kids to go outside – they’re drawn out there every day, morning and night. I love watching them play outside as it reminds me of my own childhood. And I’m especially thankful knowing that it’s good for their wellbeing, and my own, that we all spend an extra hour or two in the fresh air each day.
Photography: Alice Veysey, paperandpearl.co.nz
Emporium Darma Llama Plant Pot $35, shutthefrontdoor.co.nz; Curiate Wooden Lawnmower, $150, curiate.co.nz; Gentlemen’s Hardware ‘Hit the Road’ Enamel Mug, $19.95, smithandcaugheys.co.nz; Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Scoop & Serve Counter, $110, toyco.co.nz; Anko Lion Cushion, $7, kmart.co.nz; Rex Magical Unicorn Apron, $17.95, littlewhimsy.co.nz; Curiate Wooden Wheelbarrow, $150, curiate.co.nz; Hape Cook ’n Serve Kitchen, $299, hapetoys.co.nz; Cam Cam Kids Oven Glove and Pot Holder set, $29.95, littlewhimsy.co.nz.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 49 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW