Creating a Living Playhouse: Our Bean Teepee!

Welcome to the May Carnival of Natural Parenting: Growing in the Outdoors

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they encourage their children to connect with nature and dig in the dirt. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


This month’s Carnival of Natural Parenting is about gardening with kids.  Perfect! Here is a project we embarked on just a few weekends ago!

Inspired by a gardening post on Code Name: Mama, we decided to turn a patch of brambles in a far back corner of our yard into a “living playhouse”.  Basically, the idea is to build a structure that is made out of, or covered by, plants, which the kids can play in.  I love the magic of being under a canopy of leaves, and remember well the joy of forts and small special places in the outdoors to hide out and dream in.  We really wanted to get rid of this large patch of prickly and somewhat invasive (though native!) Oregon grape along our back fence — it was a totally unused, kid-unfriendly area of the yard.  And it’s in prime real estate — a rare spot that gets full sun!

First Lonnie spend a good couple of days weekend warrior-ing the heck out of those prickly shrubs.  Kudos to the man with the machete!

Next, (in their Easter dresses, after egg hunting, ha) he and the girls assembled the teepee in the yard out of some long sticks we had sitting around from trimming various trees.

Once the back bed (well, a teepee sized section of it) was clear of shrubs and their ornery roots, we moved the teepee over and added a couple more branches to fill it out.  We then made a trip to our favorite local nursery (that has swings, playhouses, a sandbox and chickens! Who could ask for more?) and picked up some pole bean starts, as well as fragrant sweet peas.  I think these will make a nice, thick cover, hopefully fairly quickly once things heat up around here (!!!) with rewards of both pickable flowers early in the summer — which actually grow better if they are cut — and edible veggies later on.  Before they start growing, I intend to either tie string or weave thin flexible branches around the teepee horizontally, to give more structure for the plants to cling to. Since the soil back there was questionable, we dug big holes and mixed in lots of fresh homegrown compost (and lots of worms!)….

…then started planting.  Hooray!  This is mostly where we enlisted the girls’ help.  They were busy playing nearby and had to be coaxed to join, but with encouragement all of them were willing and they all enjoyed it once they got started!   The girls helped with digging holes, putting plants in holes, pushing dirt back into the holes.

Planting, done! We did a quick load of wood chips inside the teepee to help with mud and weed control, then it was watering time! Note the birdfeeder, and the long pole going off to the right — perfect for a homemade flag, perhaps?

Oh, the joys of watering!  Elsie and Delia in particular love to fill and empty those watering cans!   We also planted two fennel plants on either side of the entrance, which will hopefully grow to be pretty large as well.  These plants are great around kids — they can get really big, and the feathery growth is pleasing to touch and very fragrant!

Inside the teepee, we set a couple logs and rocks for seats and a table but I am hoping to find a few more larger ones as well.  I think it would be an awesome place for the girls to play with people or fairies, draw or do some pretend play.  Maybe we can get or make some kind of tea set or get a mud pie kitchen going?  I’m hoping that having the girls playing there will also lead to them noticing and helping with the plant-tending as well — I know at least they will be enthusiastic about the watering!

I’ll leave you with a few tips for involving kids in gardening — last year we had some great gardening moments with our kids, and we hope for even more this year as they get a bit older!

  • Involve the kids in the process — buying plants, building structures, digging holes, watering are all things my kids show an interest in.
  • Grow plants that are fun for kids.  Berries & fruit trees get really high marks with my girls as do carrots and peas — choose things they like to eat!  Also good are sturdy plants that grow large quickly (I’m thinking beans, peas, sunflowers, pumpkins, tomatoes) or flowering plants that flower long and often (daisies, zinnias, nasturtiums, pansies, petunias, marigolds and I am sure many others!)
  • Invest in a set of kid-sized tools.  A kid wheelbarrow, a shovel, hoe and rake set, some hand shovels and perhaps (depending on the kid) child-sized gardening gloves can be really fun.
  • Don’t force it!  If my kids have other plans for what they want to do at a certain time, they are (not surprisingly) quite uninterested in my agenda. Let it go, and try again when they are done with their game or at a moment when they are bored and ready for something new.
  • Find things for you to do in the garden while your children play nearby, then lure them in by offering/asking for help with fun kid-sized jobs from time to time.  If they don’t want to help with the actual gardening, maybe they will dig a hole or play with trucks next to you while you work — side-by-side or parallel play is very age appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers, and they will very likely be paying attention to what you are doing and soon want to help with something or another…
  • Create a worm farm, a moss garden, a bug apartment, etc. Once you get them started (teaching where to find and how to handle any creatures carefully, of course!) they may take off and run with it — my girls love this kind of thing, but I have to set it up and give them the ideas sometimes before they “buy in” and put their own spin on it.

Do you have any other tips for involving kids in gardening?  Have you ever made a living playhouse? What are your gardening projects this year?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Get Out!Momma Jorje gives reasons she doesn’t think she gets outside enough and asks for your suggestions on making time for the outdoors.
  • How Does Your Garden Grow?The ArtsyMama shares her love of nature photography.
  • We Go Outside — Amy at Peace 4 Parents describes her family’s simple, experiential approach to encouraging appreciation of nature.
  • My Not-So-Green Thumb — Wolfmother confesses to her lack of gardening skills but expresses hope in learning alongside her son at Fabulous Mama Chronicles.
  • Enjoying Outdoors — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine describes how her children enjoy the nature.
  • Five Ideas to Encourage the Reluctant Junior Gardener — For the rare little ones who don’t like to get their hands dirty, Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers tips for encouraging an early love of dirt (despite the mess).
  • Connecting to NatureMamapoekie shares how growing your own vegetable patch connects your child to nature and urges them to not take anything for granted.
  • The Farmer’s Market Classroom — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction shares how the Farmer’s Market has become her son’s classroom.
  • Seeds — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment‘s hubby Ken shares his perspective on why gardening with their kiddos is so important . . . and enjoyable!
  • Toddlers in the Garden — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares her excitement as she continues to introduce her toddler and new baby to the joys of fresh veggies, straight from the garden.
  • Nature’s Weave — MJ at Wander Wonder Discover explains how nature weaves its way into our lives naturally, magnetically, experientially, and spiritually.
  • Becoming Green — Kristina at Hey Red celebrates and nurtures her daughter’s blossoming love of the outdoors.
  • Little Gardener — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis looks forward to introducing her baby girl to gardening and exploring home grown foods for the first time.
  • Cultivating Abundance — You can never be poor if you have a garden! Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on what she cultivates in her garden . . . and finds it’s a lot more than seeds!
  • Growing in the Outdoors: Plants and People — Luschka at Diary of a First Child reflects on how she is growing while teaching her daughter to appreciate nature, the origins of food, and the many benefits of eating home-grown.
  • How Not to Grow — Anna at Wild Parenting discusses why growing vegetables fills her with fear.
  • Growing in the Outdoors — Lily at Witch Mom Blog talks about how connecting to the natural world is a matter of theology for her family and the ways that they do it.
  • A Garden Made of Straw — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares tips on making a straw bale garden.
  • The Tradition of Gardening — Carrie at Love Notes Mama reflects on the gifts that come with the tradition of gardening.
  • Gardening Smells Like Home — Bethy at Bounce Me to the Moon hopes that her son will associate home grown food and lovely flowers with home.
  • The New Normal — Patti at Jazzy Mama writes about how she hopes that growing vegetables in a big city will become totally normal for her children’s generation.
  • Outside, With You — Amy at Anktangle writes a letter to her son, a snapshot of a moment in the garden together.
  • Farmer Boy — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares how her son Joshua helps to grow and raise their family’s food.
  • Growing Kids in the Garden — Lisa at Granola Catholic shares easy ways to get your kids involved in the garden.
  • Growing Food Without a Garden — Don’t have a garden? “You can still grow food!” says Mrs Green of Little Green Blog. Whatever the size of your plot, she shows you how.
  • Growing Things — Liz at Garden Variety Mama shares her reasons for gardening with her kids, even though she has no idea what she’s doing.
  • MomentsUK Mummy Blogger explains how the great outdoors provides a backdrop for her family to reconnect.
  • Condo Kid Turns Composter and Plastic Police — Jessica from Cloth Diapering Mama has discovered that her young son is a true earth lover despite living in a condo with no land to call their own.
  • Gardening with Baby — Sheila at A Gift Universe shows us how her garden and her son are growing.
  • Why to Choose Your Local Farmer’s MarketNaturally Nena shares why she believes it’s important to teach our children the value of local farmers.
  • Unfolding into Nature — At Crunchy-Chewy Mama, Jessica Claire shares her desire to cultivate a reverence for nature through gardening, buying local food, and just looking out the window.
  • Urban Gardening With Kids — Lauren at Hobo Mama shares her strategies for city gardening with little helpers — without a yard but with a whole lot of enthusiasm.
  • Mama Doesn’t Garden — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life is glad her husband is there to instill the joys of gardening in their children, while all she has to do is sit back and eat homegrown tomato sandwiches.
  • Why We Make this Organic Garden Grow — Brenna at Almost All The Truth shares her reasons for gardening with her three small children.
  • 5 Ways to Help Your Baby Develop a Love of the Natural World — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama believes it’s never too early to foster a love of the natural world in your little one.
  • April Showers Bring May PRODUCE — Erika at NaMammaSte discusses her plans for raising a little gardener.
  • Growing Outside — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers how to get her kids outside after weeks of spring rain.
  • Eating Healthier — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey talks about how she learns to eat healthier and encourages her children to do the same.
  • The Beauty of Earth and Heavens — Inspired by Charlotte Mason, Erica at ChildOrganics discovers nature in her own front yard.
  • Seeing the Garden Through the Weeds — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro talks about the challenges of gardening with two small children.
  • Creating a Living Playhouse: Our Bean Teepee! — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings shares how her family creates a living playhouse “bean teepee” and includes tips of how to involve kids in gardening projects.
  • Grooming a Tree-Hugger: Introducing the Outdoors — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her planned strategies for making this spring and summer memorable and productive for her pre-toddler in the Outdoors.
  • Sowing Seeds of Life and Love — Suzannah at ShoutLaughLove celebrates the simple joys of baby chicks, community gardening, and a semi-charmed country life.
  • Experiencing Nature and Growing Plants Outdoors Without a Garden — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares some of her favorite ways her family discovered to fully experience nature wherever they lived.
  • Garden Day — Melissa at The New Mommy Files is thankful to be part of community of families, some of whom can even garden!
  • Teaching Garden Ettiquette to the Locusts — Tashmica from Mother Flippin’ (guest posting at Natural Parents Network) allows her children to ravage her garden every year in the hopes of teaching them a greater lesson about how to treat the world.
  • Why I Play with Worms. — Megan of Megadoula, Megamom and Megatired shares why growing a garden and raising her children go hand in hand.

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