Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How Do I Love Thee? Playsets

Before this parenting journey started, I had no idea what playsets were. I didn't know what kids did in kindergartens, as I could only relate to the grim memories of my childhood kindergarten run by strict nuns.
Truth be told, I had no idea what kids did... I've never been a "clucky" person and I never really quite liked kids: quite simply my family was a little insular, we didn't have much extended family, and there weren't any younger children in my immediate circle of family and friends, so I could never get to know them and appreciate the beauty and marvel of childhood. I was, like many youth, very engrossed in myself and my own matters.

So when Sosi was born I changed. Suddenly everything was about doing the best I could for my child. Everything that pertained to children was suddenly interesting!
The best thing about not having prior children knowledge is, I am a blank slate. I am looking at all the possibilities with enthusiasm, all activities are exciting, anything new is amazing. No grown-up smugness.

So when I came across the concept of a playset, I was like "whoaa! way cool! gotta do that!".

Through following Sherry and Donna's Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning (here's their Facebook page and here's their blog), I stumbled across Homemade Rainbows. It is run by two stay at home mums, ex-kindegarten teachers, Janine and Michelle. They create playsets using natural and refurbished/recycled/repurposed/homemade etc materials. They are op-shop queens. They have a knack for eye-pleasing arrangements. They are amazingly talented. Here is their Facebook page. If I remember correctly, I was their 9th or 14th follower, something like that. Now there are over 2300!
If you have kids and like doing things with and for them, you MUST check out their playsets! They sell out REALLY fast (mostly to kindergarten teachers... and a couple of hyper-keen home educators...), and many are probably a bit too pricey for the budget-tight one-income family, but the array of themes and the number of ideas you can get from looking at the photos of their sets is humongous!

This is how my passion for making playsets really started. Sosi saw this (because we often look at nice things on the computer together):
from here 
And she said she wanted it. I thought, cool. Then looked at the price. 80 bucks? I'll see what I can do sweetie... the kid was so set on it. She even gave it a name. The Turtle Playset. I could see in her eyes that this thing that to me looked pretty, for her was heaven as far as making up stories with little figurines goes...
I decided to buy it. Too late, someone else had beaten me to it! So I thought, why not, sure I can go to a couple of op-shops and make the same playset, how hard can it be?
Oh boy, was it hard... I visited op-shops (hoping to find the right pieces), the $2 shop for bits (pebbles, stones, shiny beads etc, even found the treasure chest!), Toys r' Us for the turtles, Riot Art and Craft then Big W for seashells, Spotlight for shiny fabric, my kitchen cupboards for fancy bowls... It was a lot of work, but it was so worth it when I saw the look on the kid's face! Here's what I came up with:
my first playset... March 2011
Some elements are there, others I improvised a bit... Our love affair with playsets started then, I often prepare one at night for the kids to find as a Morning Activity, but they (mostly Sosi) like getting bits and creating their own.

Since following Homemade Rainbows' efforts I started regularly visiting op-shops. The kids and I have picked up so many interesting and useful items. Boxes, trinkets, gadgets, little wooden wheelbarrows, so many objects of dubious taste that your aunties and uncles might give you for Christmas end up in op-shops. And you know what? So many kitsch items are just so perfect to spur a child's imagination! And with a minuscule price tag! And so environmentally friendly :)

I am not even going to start on how many different sets can be made up. I think it is all about following your child's lead. We have lots of figurines (savannah animals, turtles, squishy reptiles and amphibians, dinosaurs, etc), so bit by bit everyone is getting their turn at having a playset purposely built for them. Even the My Littlest Pet Shop figurines! I used to really hate them (the concept of them) but Sosi always comes up with great imaginative play with them. 

Here are a few playsets I came up with. I think I'm getting better at them... ;) I will try to find more time to write more about each playset, and add lots more photos, let me know if you're interested! Also photos and lists of my "playset stash", all the bits and pieces that I've collected to make up cool playsets! I also bought one really big beautiful playset from Homemade Rainbows, with lots of great wooden bowls and scoops etc, which always find their way in my own playsets, lots of mix and match!
More parents should give it a go, they're really great fun for the kids, they tend to be quite cheap and quick to set up (once you've built your own stash) and are a great way to unleash your own parental creativity!

my 2nd playset, May 2011
marine playset, August 2011
snakes and frogs playset, October 2011
Little Pets (from My Littlest Pet Shop) playground
my father made the playground equipment a few months back,
with lots of popsticks and matchsticks and glue and creativity :)
dinosaur playset, February 2012
(with some references to the Ice Age movies, the kids' current obsession...)

I usually prepare them for the kids at night, so when they get in the morning they have an exciting Morning Activity they can keep playing throughout the day (we usually leave a playset on the yellow table a whole day before dismantling). Some nights I stay up way too late, just to make sure it all looks enticing, and that there are little elements of interest in each corner, like these: 
turtle cave (oil burner from $2 shop)

smooth sand for the turtles

nooks and crannies for the snakes to slither in and hide

Add caption

brontosaurus munching on a tree

and here's our version of Diego, Manfred and Sid from Ice Age
(this Schleich meerkat is pretending to be a sloth...)


I love this part of my job. It does take a bit of time to prepare them (but you get better with practice) and a few goes at figuring out what elements your kids will really love in their playset, but it really pays off: Casi is still little so the playset might only hold his attention for 10 minutes at a time, but Sosi will happily spend 2 hours or more over the course of the day playing with it! Now, to me that is totally worth the effort I put in it :)

Do you do playsets or similar activities for your kids? 
Any ideas you might like to share?


  1. I so enjoyed reading this Sara, you are a very dedicated Mum1 What an exciting way for you littles to wake up each day and be engaged in maginative play in such a beautiful environment.
    I too sell play sets on facebook under the page "Inspired Play" so perhaps you will get some more ideas there too.
    Enjoy these early years with your little ones and ,as Loris Malaguzzi an Italian early Childhood educator staed -"Nothing without Joy"

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment Inspired. Sorry for the slow reply, life has been hectic and my brain a bit too muddled to devote any time to my blog.
      I just looked at your Facebook page, love it! Will definitely be keeping an eye on it often :)

  2. I LOVE all your playsets, Sara! You are inspiring the way you strive to create imaginative play opportunities for your children. Your playsets are absolutely beautiful - I know my children would love them to bits (and tear them apart!). I can't wait for Mr J to be a bit older and I'll start introducing them to my kids (he's just eat all those stones and sand!). I love the turtles!

    So sorry it's taken me this long to comment. I read this ages ago and as usual, wanted to have a moment of uninterrupted time to dedicate to this. And then... life got busy!... sorry. Been thinking of you and hope you're well. x

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment Deb. I think Casi was 20 or 21 months when he started appreciating playsets, even if they still held his attention for a short span. Your "little" J is getting closer to that age too, I reckon he'll soon be ready to stop mouthing everything and start making little turtles jump around :)

  3. Can't believe I've never heard of play sets before! They sounds fantastic, I'm off to investigate some more. Thanks!

  4. You are such a great mom. Your kids are so lucky to have you.