With young children, there are few lazy days of summer. Most days are filled with intense constructive projects from blanket forts to tree houses, and from sandcastles to bean teepees. Kids love creating these special spaces. A sense of place increases the level of creativity and imagination. These expressive times are busy, but incredibly enjoyable.
You don’t need expensive objects—or even large ones—to have an impact on your child’s imagination. Have you ever built a fairy house? Fairy Houses originated on the islands off the coast of New England and have since been popularized by Tracy Kane, author and illustrator of The Fairy Houses Series, who promotes building them as a way for adults and children to use their imaginations and connect with the natural world.
Fairy Houses are small structures for fairies and other imaginary kin to visit and reside. They can be made from any variety of natural materials. Rocks, sticks, bark, leaves, pine cones, nuts, flowers are just a few examples of what can be used for the structural and furnishing elements. Encourage your child to find a special location for their Fairy House. Try to find a shady spot where your child could sit down on the ground. Many of these houses are built at the base of a tree or in wooded areas, but maybe in your yard it would be at the base of a sunflower or next to the sandbox.
Next, help your child collect an assortment of natural materials (fairies don’t like artificial items). If your child is new to discovery, you might need to help them get started with some basic ideas for walls, a roof, and a small bed. Try not to overdo it with advice, children will soon engage and make discoveries of their own.
Use the Garden to Engage in Pretend Play
Building fairy houses together is a fun family activity, but using a small leaf to create a bed for an imaginary friend is an important development skill for a child. Young children learn by creating, imagining, and acting out their thoughts and feelings. These pretend structures are an inexpensive way to trigger limitless possibilities for their fantasy worlds. By using the garden as a medium for investigation, you are instilling an appreciation of natural elements and an awareness of the fine details of their environment. In addition, your child builds self-esteem by discovering that they can care for others and become whatever they choose by pretending.
Use your fairy houses or other pretend creatures and places to introduce new words, thoughts or feelings with your child. You’ll often find that during pretend play children will repeat phrases and expressions used by parents or guardians. Pretend play is a powerful tool for understanding what your child comprehends as they use these expressions in and out of context. You may also discover that these quiet spaces are able to help your children express fears or other anxieties through role-playing. Allow your child opportunities to take the lead role in storytelling. Small figures such as a hollyhock doll or “root person” are good props to help kids put themselves into the story. When you engage in pretend play with your child, you help them discover necessary social roles and how their actions can affect another person and their feelings.
When your children are fully engaged in pretend play in the garden they are stimulated in many ways—creating, observing, collecting, exercising, and communicating—all while enjoying and gaining an appreciation for the natural world and quiet spaces. The garden, with its wide variety of objects in different shapes, sizes, colors and textures is the perfect place to enhance and energize vital imagination—all you’ll really need to make this family project magical is a little fairy dust.