The Spigot

One of our garden spigots is located on the edge of a raised area where an apple tree and maple tree grow. Four stacked railroad ties make up the edges, creating a wall that is three or four feet in height. While there’s another spigot closer to the house, Nyla and Silas gravitated to this spigot to fill their buckets. The spigot is not easy to turn, and every time they go about trying to turn it on, I get a little nervous. If they lose their balance, they could topple right over the edge of the wall. Falling from that height is one of the most dangerous risks in the backyard. The spigot isn’t easy to turn on, and turning off is just as challenging. Most times, Nyla and Silas would end up leaving the spigot on—if not full blast, then still a good trickle.

To avoid the risk and keep the water from running all day, I found myself constantly running over to help them or urging them (through much protest) to use the spigot closer to the house that was easy to access without any risk of falling over a wall. One day I decided to visit the local hardware shop, to see if I could find a better solution. I found an attachment to the spigot that allowed the children to squeeze a lever to turn on the water; when released, the water turned off automatically. Perfect! I installed the attachment on the spigot closest to the house. Now, Nyla and Silas can carry buckets or pitchers over to this spigot, turn the water on themselves, and simply walk away. The water turns itself off. This immediately made their experience much more independent and self-reliant. They were able to play without needing my help and could self-direct how the day went without adult intervention. It also made our yard safer and more relaxing for me.

Nyla fills a bucket with the newly added self-closing spigot attachment.

Nyla fills a bucket with the newly added self-closing spigot attachment.

Creating a Self-Serving Water Source

  • Find an attachment to an existing spigot that can be turned on with a lever, and that, when released, automatically turns off.
  • Get a sprayer hose attachment that can be left on that works in a similar way and is easy to operate.
  • Fill a large holding tank full of water that the children can dip their buckets into.
  • Get a five-gallon or seven-gallon blue water container with a spigot and put that in back.

While this equipment will likely need to be purchased from a hardware or garden supply store, it enhances the play experience in several ways.

Independent Play

It’s worth mentioning again that child-led play is fundamental to children’s growth. It gives them the freedom to control their experience by eliminating many of the adult-led rules and guidelines. They direct their minute-by-minute interactions, from playing with dirt and mud to retrieving the water necessary for their experiments.

Motor Skills

Without adult intervention, the children will natural tend toward trying different methods for retrieving water. If you maintain a collection of buckets and pitchers in different sizes, the children will naturally fill the containers up too full and discover the challenges in keeping the water they’ve collected instead of spilling it. With very large buckets, they’ll end up filling them with too much water, making for a good physical challenge that will engage them over and over as they fill the bucket with too much water, spill, and refill, until they learn their own strength.

Discovering Unintended Uses

While the water is needed for making mud, it has all sorts of other fun uses that as a parent you might not immediately present. Children will explore how water travels across the mud kitchen, nearby landscape, and themselves. They’ll use large buckets as small versions of swimming pools perfect for getting their feet into. Allowing water to be plentiful, the children will concoct mixtures of varying degrees of muddiness. One of my favorite moments in the mud kitchen was watching my children fill a bucket far too full with water. They ended up with very diluted muddy water, so Silas proceeded to get into the bucket, sit down on the rim, and start “washing” his hands over and over. Nyla quickly joined him in a second bucket, and both children laughed and giggled and had a quintessential childhood moment. Had I simply carried the heavy bucket over to be a supply source for their mud mixing, this would not have transpired.

Silas washing his hands while sitting on the lip of a galvanized bucket. Nyla joining in the fun and dancing in the bucket of mud.

Silas washing his hands while sitting on the lip of a galvanized bucket. Nyla joining in the fun and dancing in the bucket of mud.

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