LEGOs, Playmobiles, doll houses – the best marketers know that kids love creating imaginary miniature worlds. Favorite dolls or toys are given names and personalities, and detailed houses, playgrounds, and communities are assembled. But do we really need to go to the toy store and buy the building blocks for this timeless play?
When presented with the opportunity to build fairy, gnome, or snail houses outside, kids take creativity to the next level. The great thing about outdoor spaces is that they are often filled with a diversity of available materials. Even if the space is groomed, blades of grass, fallen leaves, pebbles, and twigs can be found. Because these materials are not valuable (in adults’ eyes) they can be broken and experimented with to make exactly what the young engineer has in mind. Some other children may build first, creating explanations for each piece – a twig table or a moss bed – after the house has been assembled. Ask for a tour to hear the often fascinating explanation of each assembled object.
Outdoor educators take note! Fairy, gnome, and snail house building ties right into lessons on observation, habitat, ecosystems, community, and respect for nature. Building miniature things will lead students to observe the intricate details of pinecones, the barbs of burdocks, the veining of leaves, and much much more. When building snail houses: What do snails need in their habitat? Food? Shelter? Water? Friends? What might eat snails? What shelter could we build to protect them from becoming prey? When building fairy houses: Does our team want to build a fairy community? What buildings do we need to have a happy community? Is there a place to grow food? Always make sure that your students know how to collect natural materials or handle living things carefully without hurting them.
Check out some of the photos from a program I recently led at our public library below. Kids ranging from 3 to 9 years old were happily busy for a full 45 minutes before taking a break to go on a tour. The atmosphere was peaceful and productive – there were plenty of materials to work with, so there was no need to compete or race to the finish. After each participant had the opportunity to share their creation with the group (of almost 20 kids in our small town), many went back to work. What a fun way to engage kids outside!