Summer Fun: Tin Foil River

by Wendy Copley on June 25, 2012

Tin Foil River

Our yard is an anomaly for the area where we live: it’s fairly large, flat, grassy and completely fenced in. There’s room to run, a patio for bouncing balls and riding wheel toys, shady areas, dirt to dig in and places to duck into for a game of hide and seek. I can prop open the back door or open a window and it’s a totally safe place for my boys to play while I make dinner or get some work done.

And my children hate playing out there.

Mostly, I think they’re at a loss for ideas when they go out in the backyard. Where I see a huge play space full of possibility, they see a big flat boring lawn. I’ve found that if I take a few minutes to give them some materials and a few ideas, they can usually take it from there. Because of this, I’m constantly on the look-out for project that allow me to get the boys started so I can duck out to do other tasks. When I saw this idea to make a river out of aluminum foil, I knew it was a winner. I rolled out a few yards of foil, anchored it with rocks and then Wyatt helped me crimp the sides up to make a trough. We put the garden hose at one end and then turned it on to form a river.

Tin Foil River

I had originally planned to make boats with the kids as part of this activity, but because we did it on the spur of the moment I didn’t have time to gather any materials or instructions for them. I asked them what we could use for boats and – obviously – they went for a couple toy boats. I’d been hoping they’d dig some stuff out of the recycling and invent something ingenious, but whatever – toy boats are fun too. Because the foil was on grass the bottom surface was uneven and the boats kept getting stuck on the shallows.

Tin Foil River

This gave them an opportunity to use a few of their problem solving skills and they decided to try making dams with rocks. They set the rock across the foil, then bunched the foil around it until a lake formed. Then they pulled the rock out and the boats shot down the river on the wave. Cool!

The kids liked this project (though it didn’t keep them occupied as long as I hoped it would).  I loved it because I had the materials on hand (foil and water), it was easy to set up, and it cleaned up in seconds.

What do you do for easy back yard activities with your kids? I’d love it if you could share in the comments so we can all get some more ideas!

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  • Val

    We do what we call “science lab” all the time and my kids love it: I gather old spices, food coloring, flour, various jars of water, oil, baby oil, vinegar, baking soda etc…basically whatever is cheap and lying around my kitchen that I don’t care if they use up or get rid of…(they even love my used tea bags, veggie peels, etc.) Then I give them mixing bowls, spoons, measuring cups, whisks, funnels, etc. and they just go at it, mixing up their fantastically yucky creations.
    My kids (3 and 6) will do this FOREVER and they ask for it all the time. Yes, it is messy…but it’s so FUN and it keeps them totally occupied for long stretches of time! If you can do it in the backyard and spray everything down when done it’s not bad, but I have also done it in my kitchen floor with newspapers down on a rainy day.

  • Kristal

    I came across a bag of plastic farm animals at a consignment sale a few months ago and I put them outside with some things to make houses for them in a strip of dirt left open for my 3 yr old to play in. She makes the pigs mud puddles and buries a snake in grass. She is still catchin on to the idea of playing on her own however she wants in a space.

  • Jen

    I, too, have a weirdly large & flat back yard for this area, and I feel like we finally just turned a corner recently with our kids using it more. The big additions in the past month have been a used swing set/monkey bar/ slide combo off of Craigslist and finally hanging up our hammock since the weather’s been so nice. Up until then we mostly relied on the stomp rocket (get one at Big 5 or Five Little Monkeys), the wading pool on hot days, the sand box and some various sports equipment. I also finally brought their scooters & bikes to the patio, and they’re happy doing laps & practicing turns and I don’t enforce helmets in the back yard since they can’t get up too much speed. It’s nice to see my kids out in the yard more, but I keep hoping they’ll get into doing little naturalist-type stuff, like catching bugs & digging in the dirt, & creating terrariums, but that may come as they get older.

  • Emily

    We did that a couple weeks ago! It was in Family Fun Magazine recently – we made sail boats with those mini juice boxes, straws and a cut up plastic folder thing for a sail.

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