A few days ago on Instagram I teased a picture of the Wacky Lab area looking a little refreshed and promised an article would be coming to show these changes in more detail. Hence, this completely unplanned article for a completely unplanned update to the Wacky Lab.
Here she is. This is right after I made the changes, so everything is still very organized. You can see, though, that someone has been in the replenished sand table.
If you missed it, here's a link to the original article I wrote about the Wacky Lab. In it I discuss how it came to be, how I hope it benefits the kids, and there's a source list for the various items I've gotten for it.
I thought I'd include a shot of the sand table with it actually having sand in it. If you read the original article, you know we were desperately low.
Let's start with why I decided to change things up. The blame for that decision can be placed mainly on the wire shelving unit that previously held all of the science equipment and sand toys. It just wasn't holding up.
My kids knew it was kinda fragile and to not lean on it or otherwise be rough with it, but their friends didn't. And I didn't expect them to. They're kids, and this is an area that begs to be demolished. In the chaos that goes on in this space, the shelving unit inevitably kept loosing pieces. The situation had gotten dire. Plus, the top of that unit didn't work well for offering a flat space to work on. The only reason I initially used that shelving was because I already had it.
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A couple of weeks ago I was tidying the barn area and taking stock of the lab area. The thought suddenly came to me to change the shelving system for the lab altogether. Inside the barn I had been storing a long, horizontal bookshelf I was given for free (by the nice lady who sold me the dresser off Craigslist that we use for Lego storage). It wasn't really serving a purpose in there, so I pulled it around to the barn's back porch.
Here's a close up of the new old shelving in question. It's solid wood and sealed. With that and it's unbelievably low price of free, I'm not worried about the weather affecting it too much.
The whole area was instantly better. Furthermore, there was more storage space. I partially filled the extra space with our massive cookie cutter collection.
Some of the extra space is taken up by plastic buckets from Dollar Tree that hold the science equipment and figures for the kids' small worlds that are now located next to the new shelving system.
If you remember from the original article, everything in these buckets was scattered around or thrown into the sand table for the sake of taking a picture. I'm sure the contents will get dumped back out and re-scattered, but I like these buckets for storing all of the science equipment when/if I make the kids clean up this space. They were $1, and the holes allow dirt and sand to fall through and keep the items dry since they often get used with water.
I also added a bucket of neat looking sticks that I think would work well with either the Wacky Lab or the small worlds.
On the upper shelf are the "stepping stones" that I'll discuss in a bit and the aforementioned bucket of neat sticks (and a plastic shovel). What you're seeing on the lower shelf is two plastic buckets holding figures for small world play. In this pic the dinosaurs dominate, as they are large. However, these buckets also have fairies, unicorns, pirates, sea creatures, army men, and whatever else could be used with the small worlds. Most of the figures came from Dollar Tree or the dollar section of other stores. Some were given as gifts.
Speaking of small worlds...Here's a little preview. I've got some sprucing up to do, and then I'm going to write an article on them.
I made these about three years ago. You can see they've held up well. It's time, though, to restock the rocks. They often get used in other areas. Those blue rocks are especially popular for using in science experiments. There were many more than you see now. The fairy world is also a little low in rocks. These pictures don't show that, but once I get everything refilled, you'll see what I mean.
I referenced the kids' "stepping stones" a couple of pictures earlier. Here they are in use:
They're really training domes. Athletes use them to work on coordination and balance. My kids use them to cross alligator infested rivers or flowing lava or whatever else those growing brains think of (while unconsciously working on their coordination and balance).
I originally had my eye on the set shown below, but they are a bit (by bit I really mean a lot) out of my price range.
In looking for alternatives, I came across the much more affordable domes we now have. Though they don't look the same, they serve the same purpose. The higher priced set is sold as a children's toy, while the cheaper set we have was ordered through the workout equipment section.
Here's my lesson for the day: Check other departments and use various key words when shopping online (and person). Sometimes the same or similar items are sold much cheaper by simply changing the target audience. Toy sellers often bank on parents willingness to spend too much money on their kids.
To be fair, I think the higher priced set is also designed for public use (daycares and schools). Despite the many children running around here, we don't need something quite that durable. Our cheap domes have worked just fine. I believe the higher priced set is also non-slip for indoor use (not sure about that, though). I certainly wouldn't recommend our set on slick (tile, hardwood) floors, but they've worked well for us on carpet and grass.
Any who, let's get back to subject at hand...
Here's a view of the entire back porch of the barn.
In case you're curious, the white, table looking object on the left side of the porch is the potting table Mr. made for me for Mother's Day one year. He used some scrap wood and an old sink. I love it. There isn't really another place to keep it, so it shares the back porch of the barn with the small worlds, Wacky Lab, and whatever else might make it's way back there.
Due to our move, it was previously blocked by an air compressor that has since found a new home. Little Mama says the next time her friends are over they are going to pretend it's their kitchen.
Just behind the Wacky Lab area we've created a little hobbit-like space. In fact, Mr. calls it the hobbit house, so that's how I'm going to refer to it.
There is a copse of trees that kind of make a circle. I commented to Mr. that it would make a neat spot for a tent or house. The idea then simultaneously struck us to move this little structure into the space.
It's the top of our old swing set. We've taken the original set apart and reused the various pieces in other places. For example, the monkey bars and slide are now connected to the tree house. The swing set is in pieces waiting to be reassembled closer to the Wacky Lab space.
The clubhouse attachment was sitting inside the goat's pen being used by them when it rained, snowed, or they wanted some shade (although they have their own little barn that's much more spacious). As the herd has grown, this little shack was getting used by them less and less often. So, we tidied it up and moved it here for the kids (the small ones, any how) to use.
I have some patching to do, and I'm going to stain it. It's looking a bit shabby at the moment. After I do that, I'm going to move in a small rocking chair and bench. I think it will make the sweetest reading nook or space for "tea". Don't worry there will be write-up about it!
One of my first articles was about our tire swing. For reference, this picture shows the relationship of the swing to the rest of the spaces I've discussed.
The area behind the tire swing and to the right of the hobbit house is where the other swings I mentioned are going to go. I'm thinking about also moving the trampoline to this space.
As you can see and read, the Wacky Lab is now more than that. It's become an exploration area ripe for investigative, imaginative, and physical play. My kids liked and used it before, but they do so even more now.
We haven't had company over since I've made these changes, but I'm excited to see the updated area in use by a bunch children at once. Be sure to follow me on Instagram, because when that day happens, that's where I'll post the pics!
Hopefully, what I've shared today can inspire you to create your own exploration area for your kids. That's why I've shared all of this. It's not to show what I've done or insist others do the same. I do what I do to try to encourage and inspire. There are so many creative moms and dads out there who have demonstrated any number of amazing ways to promote less screen time and more interactive, imaginative play. This site and this article are just a small piece of what I'm doing to foster that movement.
For more inspiration in the form of mud kitchens, see my Pinterest board.