Elements of a Child-Friendly Garden

The following post is by contributor Catherine Way of Adventures With Kids and originally appeared March 2011.

There are many physical and mental health benefits to children in spending time outdoors.  One easy way to increase the amount of time your child spends outdoors is to make your garden an appealing outdoor play space.

What do children want in an outdoor play space?  Children prefer natural playspaces that have plenty of opportunities for exploration, challenge, interaction and learning.

There are many ways that you can add child-friendly  elements to both big and small gardens.   Adding some of these elements to your garden will help make it a space where you child loves to be.

Add Water

It comes as no surprise to any parent that children love water and want to use it in their play.

  • the easiest way to add water in a garden is to create a fountain or water feature. This can be a beautiful bowl filled with water and coloured pebbles, a ready-made water feature or a water course complete with a waterfall.

Attract Birds and Animals

Children love to observe and interact with anything that moves.  Attracting birds, insects and other animals to your garden will appeal to your child”s curiosity about the natural world. Planting trees and shrubs native to your area will help in attracting wildlife.  But you can also add some other features to make your garden even more attractive to wildlife …

Create Refuges

Children love cubbies and places to hide. Here are some ideas for adding refuges and places to rest or hide in your garden …

  • build a cubby house or fort
  • add a table and chairs in a quiet corner
  • use a tent or teepee to create a temporary refuge in your garden
  • create a secret path for walking or bike riding

Create Places for Play and Movement

Create places in your garden that let children use their different muscles – places to run, jump, climb or play with a ball.

  • find space for a sandpit.  Even a small container of sand will be a magnet for your children.  gives some great tips for setting up and maintaining a safe sandpit.
  • plant trees for climbing
  • create open grassy areas for running around and active games
  • landscape with rocks and logs for climbing and balancing
  • add loose parts – dirt, sand, sticks and stones – that can be moved and rebuilt in children’s construction and dramatic play

Introduce an Element of Make-Believe

Adding a few surprises to your garden can encourage your children”s creativity.

  • create a fairy garden, big or small, or a dinosaur garden
  • add art, for example sculptures or mosaics, to your garden
  • grow a

Add opportunities for learning

Much of children”s learning occurs through play.  Planning a few areas of the garden alongside your children can encourage them to look closely and develop their interest in the natural world.

  • plant an edible garden
  • create signposts for your plants
  • add a sundial
  • plant a perfume garden, full of plants that smell beautiful, or a touch garden, full of plants that are begging to be touched.

Try adding some of these elements to your garden to entice your children outdoors. It will benefit their physical development and encourage their understanding and appreciation of the natural world.

Here are some additional resources for creating a child-friendly garden that you might find helpful:

  • a series on How to Create an Irresistible Outdoor Playspace for Children from
  • 10 Unique Gardening Activities for Kids from Code Name: Mama
  • A Parent”s Guide to Nature Play from Green Hearts

What are your children”s favourite places to play and things to do in your garden?

About Catherine

Catherine Way is mum to two boys living in North Australia. They read lots, run lots, love to learn new things and are good at finding fun and mischief. Catherine blogs about her family adventures and passion for lifelong learning at Indirect Observations.

Comments

  1. Great post, I love the ideas! We have a big garden but we still don’t know what to do with it-now I have some new ideas..
    My parents have a bird feeder in their garden and my child is always fascinated by it.

  2. My snow can’t melt fast enough! I LOVE this post and all the ideas. We’ve got a blank landscape to work with on our new property, so you’ve given me plenty of ideas for the future garden. Thanks you, Catherine!
    Aimee @ Simple Bites´s latest post: Healthy Fats Make Healthy Children

  3. Another great way to make a backyard magical is to create a vegetable or flower garden together. I can’t wait to involve my kids this year. As part of this endeavor, my kids and I are going to plant a bean teepee.

    Last year we made a circle of stumps in a shady corner of our backyard — a great space for storytelling, tea parties or jumping games.

    Two great books to get inspiration: Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots and Sunflower Houses, both by Sharon Lovejoy.

    • Stacey,
      My kids love having a bean teepee. I’ve found them there on quite a few occasions snacking with delight in their special secret spot. Once, a friend came to visit and was amazed at how her son – who hated veggies – demolished a bag of beans he picked himself. My 3-yo carrot-hating nephew quickly rivaled bugs bunny when he got to pull them himself. Getting kids into the gardening act is a great way to help them eat better!

      And Roots, Shoots, Buckets And Boots Is a fantastic book! Highly recommend it too!
      Sarah Clachar´s latest post: Healthy Fast Food- 7 Ways To Eat Better Quickly

  4. We just started our spring planting inside and I realized that I need to be more intentional b/c my youngest kept checking every few minutes to see what’s grown. Apparently, I need to do more on growth cycle and time lapse!! This post gives me tons of good ideas, thanks!

    http://imaginationsoup.net/2011/03/spring-planting-with-recycled-gardening-kit-giveaway/

    • That’s where we are right now, too Melissa. We’ve got a root viewer and a little dish garden growing right now in our windowsill and the kids are constantly checking in with it :-)

      I think we’re going to have a really good time once gardening season officially begins!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Elements of a Child-Friendly Garden

      • Melissa, sprouts are fun to grow inside and very fast growing to satisfy impatient children.
        Catherine´s latest post: 10 ways to make April memorable

      • ooh, a root viewer sounds fun!

        • It is pretty cool, Melissa, but I realized after we purchased ours that growing radishes and carrots in a glass jar would have been just as cool and effective :-)

          The radish are neat to grow in the root viewer because they grow pretty quickly.
          Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Elements of a Child-Friendly Garden

          • Can I also add growing beans in glass jars? Plant them close to the edge of the jar. They seriously sprout in about two days, and in an absurdly short period of time, you end up with a crazy visible root system. We haven’t started ours yet this year, but I think we will tomorrow.

            Kara–are the carrots and radishes from seed? We grew a ton of radishes on our balcony last year, but they were in regular pots, for eating. I’d like to do a visible rood of those, too, if possible.
            Two Chicks and a Hen´s latest post: Finally- Signs of Spring!

          • Jaimie, yes the radish and carrots are from seeds that came w/ our root viewer, actually (tho’ I’m sure any would work). Both are growing well (we’re trying onions, too and those don’t appear to be doing as well) but the radish grow so quickly that right now the kids are enjoying those more. But, the carrots are growing, too – just as a slower rate.

            I also second the growing beans! We’ve got beans and wheat grass growing in dish garden on our window will and, yes, almost daily changes there, too :-)

            What fun!

  5. This is a great post. It’s so hard to have a garden here in Phoenix, Az. Our yard is all rock. We do have several potted veggies and herbs and every year we go to the nursery and buy lady bugs to release into our plants. The kids love them.
    Gwen~healthymamma´s latest post: Chardonnay Poached Salmon with Fennel and Orange – In the Crockpot!

  6. Cat, these ideas are fantastic! It is snowing here as I type this, but you’ve got me thinking about Spring and outdoor plans, for sure :-)

    Best wishes!
    Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Elements of a Child-Friendly Garden

  7. We’ve fed birds in the winter. Have a garden. Let the kids play in the dirt, we don’t have a sandbox, we just tilled a small area in our yard for the kids to dig and play in, the grass doesn’t grow there much because of all the digging they do. We re-till every once in a while just to help the dirt stay diggable as we have clay like soil.
    See what my kids do visit http://family6-time.blogspot.com/2011/03/imagine.html
    Suanna´s latest post: One Year!

  8. Christine says:

    I’d encourage people to consider a “dirt pit” instead of sand. It isn’t possible everywhere (clay soil, oh, so not fun to dig). But, as a kid, my dad walled off an area for a sandbox and delay after delay kept him from ordering sand. It was a good thing. There was never a bottom to our “sand box” – it was just dirt. My brother spent the better part of every summer using his Tonka trucks to dig trenches, wild attempts to reach China, etc. We had a whole world in our dirt box. We kept the sand for the occasional beach trip. The dirt was much more fun.

    • Christine, you just brought back a ton of memories! During my early years, we had about a ten foot by ten foot area called “the dirt pile,” and that was where we did digging, building, river-making, etc. We did ultimately end up getting a sandbox later, but my fondest memories of that kind of play come from the dirt pile, not the sandbox.
      Two Chicks and a Hen´s latest post: Finally- Signs of Spring!

  9. I am in LOVE with this article. Thank you for the insight, Catherine!
    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s latest post: Who We Love and How We Live- A Community of Justice

  10. Oooh–I love the idea of a sundial! I’ll answer the discussion question by being a tad bit lame and just linking to the post I wrote about our natural playscape last year:

    http://twochicksandahen.blogspot.com/2010/06/trolley-garden-our-new-natural.html

    Great ideas here–thanks for posting on this topic as we’re all getting ready to plan our outdoor spaces for the coming year.
    Two Chicks and a Hen´s latest post: Finally- Signs of Spring!

  11. These are great ideas! I love the one about creating a fairy garden. I just read her a book about it and was thinking that sounded like fun to try! Of course we would love to do a little fish pond too!
    Scarlet of Family Focus Blog´s latest post: Giveaway- Clean Spirited Eco-Friendly Clothing 150 Gift Certificate

  12. This is wonderful! Thank you for sharing! I have pinned this to my pinterest board. http://pinterest.com/pin/11525870/
    Timma Sue´s latest post: Glue

  13. Great post! This spring, adding a lot of flowers to attract more bees and butterflies to my yard. I have so many ideas and dreams for my backyard. This post got me so excited to think of all the possibilities. Thank you!
    Gibson´s latest post: Why Outsource Tax Preparation Services

  14. Rosy Graham Hudson says:

    This is a wonderful post. My wife loves gardening, and she has also made a separate spot for the kids. But somehow the kids don’t like the garden very much. I think my wife would love to follow the tips and restructure her garden for the kids.

    Thanks for sharing.

    -Rosy
    Rosy Graham Hudson´s latest post: how to get a girlfriend

  15. These are great ideas. I love the idea in the comment about a dirt box. Add a water fountain to that and my daughter would love turning it all into a mud pit.
    Steph´s latest post: A Theology of Authority

  16. We have a mud kitchen in the back yard that my youngest enjoys. My girls love container gardening – this year we’ll need to opt out of it and I hope to eventually have someone build us some raised garden beds. I have an herb garden with a stone path running alongside my garage that we enjoy walking along/checking out. It has some beautifully scented plants. We have three apple trees which have beautiful blossoms and definitely attract the bees (not always pleasant early early summer). And we have a small perennial garden of non-fussy, hardy flowers that we all enjoy. We get so many birds and adore watching them and checking out any new ones is our bird guide – we have several feeders and added a bird bath last year but it remained largely unused.
    Kika@embracingimperfection´s latest post: Spring Planning: herb garden, eco-lawn, bug spray & nature journaling

  17. We don’t have a garden but we have a pretty large patio, and sadly it’s only now that we’ve done anything garden-related with it. I got a long rectangular pot and planted some carrot seeds. I hope they grow! I just want my toddler to be able to see that carrots grow from the ground.

    I love the idea of bringing animals in, so I was thinking of getting a hummingbird feeder. I also like the idea of making it a learning experience, so I think I’ll make a sign and stick into the pot that says “carrots.”
    Sleeping Mom´s latest post: Flashback Friday: How to prepare homemade baby food

  18. You ideas, I would say, are brilliant. I already made a fountain and it’s been amazing. My granddaughter loves it very much. Thank you for sharing these additional ideas.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] We might check out the fun at PBS’s Dirt Girl website. We need to learn about the growth cycle so here’s a printable growth cycle of a flowering plant. And, here’s a printable observation journal page which I’m using for inspiration. Then we’ll check out more ideas from Brain Pop. Also, I love this post today from Simple Kids on gardening with children. [...]

  2. [...] = ''; } Sarah’s Garden Week 20: Water, Water EverywhereElements of a Child-Friendly Garden — Simple Kids var switchTo5x=true;stLight.options({publisher:'wp.3995f9a7-e4d5-4e71-8fdc-286124ad14f7'});var [...]

  3. [...] Elements of a child-friendly garden @ Simple Kids [...]

  4. [...] to a water filled spray bottle. Just once every seven days, mist all your plants with this mixture.Most home owners have at least a little backyard garden in the back yard. I've made my own small gar…aid of my grandaddy I turned my garden into something that produces enough vegetables and fruits for [...]

  5. [...] Elements of a Child-Friendly Garden – Simple Kids Reading through these ideas, I kept thinking, “My kids would love that!”  Now, if I could just find one or two to implement, then they’d be thrilled! [...]

  6. […] been talking a lot about gardens and green things growing.  Last week I ran a post about creating garden spaces for your children by contributor Catherine Way.  This week I”d like to ask what are you and your kids are […]

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