How to turn your backyard into a Montessori-inspired play space

Learning doesn't require tons of money.

Montessori-inspired backyard

Summer is here and it's the perfect time to get outside with your little one. Outdoor play time can help your child focus on new and exciting experiences in nature. Whether it's filling a bucket with rocks to carry around the yard and exert maximum energy or planting some seeds to watch them grow, setting up a Montessori-inspired outdoor play space provides a rich environment for fun and learning.

But don't overthink it, mama. A Montessori space can be organized and set up similar to an indoor play space with a few adjustments for size and safety. Some families like to have exposed shelves on a patio to store just a few items at a time while other designate bins or lower areas of a shed for their little ones toys and materials.

Here are a few ideas to create a Montessori-inspired outdoor space from Zahra Kassam, CEO and founder of Monti Kids:

1. Create a garden

From planting herbs and flowers to complex vegetables and trees, gardening is a great way to help kids appreciate the greenery around them. A study found that a healing garden at a children's hospital in California had positive effects on users—about 85% reported feeling more relaxed, refreshed or better able to cope after spending only five minutes in the garden.

"Gardening is a wonderful lesson on the power of nature but also in patience and care, says Kassam. "Invest in child-sized watering cans and tools."

2. Create access to water

Children learn through exploration and experience, and water is the perfect tool to explore. Having a watering can and water table for scooping, pouring, dumping, spraying and staying cool is the goal for fun in the sun. "You can also encourage water exploration with a hose on a safe setting, or even a jug of water that is refilled by you," says Kassam.

But whatever type of water play you decide, remember to be safe. According to the AAP, parents need to ensure "close, constant, attentive supervision around water [and assign] an adult 'water watcher,' who should not be distracted by work, socializing, or chores."

3. Play in sand

A sand area with buckets, shovels and trucks are also great for entertainment and child-lead learning. "Put that interest in building and creativity to work," says Kassam. "Sand is a great outlet for sensory fun with a different medium."

4. Create a mud kitchen

Mud may sound like a mess you'll want to avoid, but it's great to create an "anything goes" space, says Kassam. "Put the water and sand together and it's a great foundation to build, mix, scoop, dump and pour," she says.

5. Encourage play with gross motor toys

Push toys, ride on cars, big trucks, rakes, wheelbarrows, balls and slides are perfect for developing gross motor skills. If you have the space, create "parking spots" with tape or chalk lines for each one, says Kassam.

Editor pick: iimo 3-in-1 folding tricycle with canopy

6. Have many yard tools

A child-sized broom for sweeping sand and debris, a rake for sticks, leaves and a shovel for digging, planting and worm hunting (and shoveling snow in the winter!) will be staples in your outdoor space for years to come, says Kassam.

7. Play with art

According to Kassam, you'll want to regularly keep large paint brushes and a container for water to paint the patio, fence or sidewalk on hand. It's also great to have a bucket of sidewalk chalk to help your little one to find an outlet for their creative side while enjoying the outdoors.

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My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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