Rethinking the Conventional Playset

The Back Story:


When we moved into our current home our oldest daughter had just turned three. We had our landscape designed to look much like that of our friends in their suburban neighborhoods. The landscape design was created by a local landscape company. Because my parents owned a garden center at the time and he has experience in the landscape industry, The Handyman installed most of it himself. The landscape was designed purely for esthetic value not taking into consideration our lives, habits or schedules. Even purchasing much of the plant material at wholesale cost, we spent a *ton* of money. At that time we both worked fulltime outside of the home. I was commuting 90 miles each way to work every day. The Handyman’s commute was nearly as long in the opposite direction. Because we did not hire a landscape company to come and take care of said landscaping and we didn’t have the time to do it ourselves, within the first two years most of it was dead. Ouch! Our back yard was largely empty with the exception on a deck out the backdoor and the large wooden playset we put up the first summer we were here. A few years after we put up the playset it was damaged in a windstorm. We were able to salvage part of it but last year The Handyman decided it was time for it to come down. Initially we planned on putting up a new playset by Lifetime, but after further thought and research I am looking to change the traditional yard set up and do something different. Not that a swingset is bad, on the contrary I think every kid needs a swing. I’m just not convinced that the swingset is the best or the only way to encourage both play and outdoor learning. (I know it unconventionally…who would have thought?)

The Theory:

Because we homeschool, our kids are home a lot so it is very important to me that they have the opportunity to engage in outdoor play that is not only fun and entertaining but that encourages them to be creative and to connect with nature in a real and tangible way. I want them to be able to explore and investigate the world around them on their own terms and in their own time. The thought is that the children will get more out of the outdoor enviroment that is designed more as a natural playscape.

There are a few fantastic books that have been written about creating natural play areas that I have found to be really helpful.

Natural Playscapes by Rusty Keeler

A Child’s Garden, Enchanting Outdoor Spaces for Children and Parents by Molly Dannenmaier

Backyards for Kids by Sunset

Plants for Play by Robin Moore

The way it is now:

We currently have just less than 8 acres on our little farm. The dairy farm down the road rents the front 4 acres to raise corn, beans and hay. Last year we put up a barn and a new chicken coop in our back yard. The barn houses dairy goats, meat goats and 2 pigs. There are 30ish laying hens that call the coop and chicken pasture their home. (I love that the kids are able to interact with the animals on a daily basis. They have so much fun helping feed and care for the animals.) Behind the barn and pasture there is a wooded area with a ravine that will be a great place for the kids to play and explore as they get older. Our garden is on the west side of the house and pretty much takes up the whole side yard. Last year we planted a few dozen raspberry, blueberry and grape plants on the east side of the house.

That leaves the front yard. We have a wonderful covered front porch that faces south and is blocked from wind and weather on both sides. The Handyman and I love sitting on the porch together late into the evening especially in the summer months. Its a great place for the the kids to play but its also a great place for me to be present and available without being right in the middle of their outdoor explorations.

The Goal:

Some of the elements I am looking to incorporate into our play scape are water, sand for digging and creating, a solid surface area for riding tricycles and scooters, secluded places for being quiet and alone, large open spaces for active group play, space for creating and enjoying music and art. I want to include space for them to grow their own plants. Sure they help out in the family garden, but they love picking out their own plants. I want the area to appeal to all of their senses. There should be elements that they can enjoy all year round, even with our crazy Ohio weather. I want it to be a place that they feel as comfortable playing alone as they do together. I want it to be a place where they can be a scientist and study the plants and bugs as well as a place that lends itself to imaginative play, where they can be princesses and pirates.

water featureplay stream


tic tac toe (192x192)


The challenge then is to accomplish this with some level of visual appeal in our front yard, and on a reasonable budget, even if that means no traditional “swing set.” I’m so excited to be planning this new addition. What about you? Do you have an area around your home or yard when your family enjoys all nature has to offer. What do you love about it and how it makes you feel?


Dry Erase Crayons…A Review


One of the supplies we use most often in our studies are Dry-Erase markers.   I adore our large dry erase boards and have found my favorite brand of Dry-Erase marker.  The problem is that the little learners also do dry-erase activities.  The little ones use laminated pages from Confessions of a Homeschoolers LOTW, draw on the big boards and various other activities on dry erase boards and books. It never fails, the minute I turn my back one of them is drawing on themselves, the tables or each other. I went to Joann Fabric in search of Washable Dry Erase markers, that’s when I came across these lovely Dry-Erase crayons. I bought a package of each brand, Crayola and Leap Frog,  to see how they worked and decided I would share my results with you.

If you shop much at Joann Fabrics you must know that if you download the Joann app, you almost always have coupons of 40-50% off available ( read…never pay full price at Joann’s! No smart phone? Sign up for their flyer.  Better both! ) If you are an educator, homeschool or otherwise, you can sign up for an Educator discount card. (Be prepared to show proof..just thought you might like to know.)  Moving along.

The Crayola Washable Dry-Erase Crayons come in regular or Bright colors. They range in price from $3.00-$6.00 for 8 crayons depending where you purchase them.


The LeapFrog Jumbo Washable Dry-Erase Crayons seem to be priced a touch higher in the $4.00-7.00 range for the same 8 crayon box.  They were also a little more difficult to locate locally. The Crayola Crayons are readily available at most craft, office supply and big box stores.


I allowed the kids and their friends to use the crayons for a week to see how they worked.  Here is what I liked about the crayons.

Both  the Leap Frog and Crayola Crayons are approximately the same size.  They are a bit larger than regular crayons making them easier for the toddler and preschoolers smaller hands. 


Both brands wrote smoothly with ease and with good coverage.  If I had to choose I would say the Leap Frog Crayons were a bit smoother, but not substantially. 


Both brands of crayons erased well.  In the sample above I used the reds and pinks as these tend to leave the most residue when erased. The Crayola Bright left the most residue but again, not a ton and it was easily removed with a bit of extra wiping on my part.   As a bonus, the packages of Crayola  crayons came with a cloth for erasing.

Both Crayola and Leap Frog brands had built-in sharpeners on the boxes which is nice.  We typically keep crayons in plastic boxes or buckets and toss boxes, so not a huge deal for us.  I would say both crayons kept their points equally well, which is not long when in the hands of little learners. 

All of the crayons were in fact washable as they claimed.  The crayons washed easily off of  hands and arms, clothing and solid surfaces.

Here is what I didn’t like about these crayons. 

These crayons are very soft. As soon as the crayons begin to warm up, they break quite easily.  When I say “warm up”  I am talking about warming up in the fist of the three-year-old after a few minutes of use.  This was not as big of a problem with the 5-year-old, but she holds her crayons differently and has  learned to control the pressure she applies better than her younger sibling.  Both the Crayola crayons and the Leap Frog crayons had this problem.  I would say the Leap Frog crayons were quite a bit better though.  I am pretty sure if you left these crayons in a moderately warm car or even laying out in the sun on the porch on a warm day…they would be toast!

Having said that, I really do like these crayons and will continue purchasing them for the under 6 crowd in our home.  I prefer the Leap Frog crayons and as long as I can get them locally (especially at Joanns for 50% off) I will buy them.

Homemade Strawberry Yogurt Fruit Leather

One of the biggest challenges I have with keeping my family on a “real” food diet is snack time. We eat a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as cheese for snack time but sometimes we all really want something sweet. I came across a recipe for strawberry yogurt fruit leather at Honey Sweetened and was inspired to drag out the dehydrator and make some healthy snacks. I altered the recipe a little bit but used the same general idea.

Healthy Homemade Strawbery Yogurt Fruit Leather

2 – 12 oz bags of frozen strawberries

2 cups plain yogurt

1/4 cup honey

Thaw strawberries and drain excess liquid.

Add strawberries, yogurt and honey to food processor or blender.


Pulse until smooth.


Pour mixture on to dehydrator sheets or plastic wrap covered trays.

I poured mine in strips about 3 inches wide making them a little thicker along the edges since the outside edge will dry quicker.


Dry at 95 degrees. Mine took about 18 hours to dry.


Once they were done I rolled the fruit leather in plastic wrap.

The kids LOVED these and I love that they are good for them.

Preparing for Homeschool Convention

I just finished booking our room and registration for the 2013 Midwest Homeschool Convention. Yeah! I am so very excited to have the opportunity to attend again this year. Our experience at this convention last year made a huge impact on our confidence level about beginning this homeschool journey. We met so many great people and listened to so many amazing speakers.

The Handyman and I will be attending alone again while the kids have a little mini vacation of their own with grandma. We haven’t had a chance to get away by ourselves since last year so I am super excited about just hanging out together.

Ive been pouring over the curriculum catalogs trying to plan my attack for the Exhibit Hall.  Tomorrow I’ll give you a few of my favorite convention/ trade show tips. If there is a convention in your state and you have not attended, you might want to check one out. I know it was not at all what I expected. There are some great deals to be had on curriculum. If you are a book junkie like I am, you can almost hear the angels sing when you walk through the doors of the Exhibit hall!  The Midwest Homeschool Convention  is the first of 2 homeschool conventions in Ohio. As you may be able to tell… I’m getting ready!

Frugal momma strikes again!

imageI love having my littles ones help me in the kitchen. Especially now that my 5 year old has appointed herself head dishwasher! ( We will see how long that lasts.) What I don’t love is having my kitchen chairs pulled all over the kitchen and having multiple children trying to climb on one stool so they can see what moms doing and lend a helping hand. Some time ago in an effort to combat this problem I started looking for solutions and I came across The Learning Tower. While I was very impressed with the reviews I read, there was no way I was going to part with $199 to buy one. Fast forward 6 months…,imagine my surprise this evening when I popped into one of our local thrift store and saw this pushed into a corner with a sticker that read $3.99! Oh yeah! For $4.24 (including tax) this lovely stool is in my kitchen. Granted it has some wear and could benefit from a fresh coat of paint but for now, I’m just tickled with this thrift store surprise!

**Warning***The fabric buying itch may be hereditary!

Zinck's in Berlin

While the weather was still nice we took the opportunity to take a quick trip down to one of my favorite fabric outlets, Zinck’s in Berlin. They were having some great sale prices including fabric as low as $0.25 a yard when you buy by the bolt and trims for $2.50/ lb. While I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, I did find some inspiration. Love that!

Sunshine is planning to take a sewing project for 4-H this year and even though she has not even touched the sewing machine yet, I think she might have the bug.  She picked out some fabric she just  *had* to have even though  she didnt know what she wanted to make with it.  Grandma ended up getting it fo her, so we will see what comes of it. Both her grandma and great grandma have more fabric then they will ever use.

As much fabric as Zinck’s has, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Vogue Fabric warehouse in Chicago. I cant wait to take the girls there this summer.  I am already getting my list ready for our next trip.

Zinck’s in Berlin

Zinck's in Berlin

While the weather was still nice we took the opportunity to take a quick trip down to one of my favorite fabric outlets, Zinck’s in Berlin. They were having some great sale prices including fabric as low as $0.25 a yard when you buy by the bolt and trims for $2.50/ lb. While I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, I did find some inspiration. Love that! As much fabric as Zinck’s has, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Vogue Fabric warehouse in Chicago. I am already getting my list ready for our next trip.