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.
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 …
- add a bird bath or bird feeder
- use plants that attract butterflies and other insects
- create a frog or fish pond
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. Sand Play: Making it Work 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 sunflower house
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 let the children play
- 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?