Simple natural elements can make a garden special for younger children

Simple natural elements can make a garden special for younger children

Surveys show how playing in parks or their own garden come out tops for children when asked what their favourite activities are. And an expert warns that children are no longer ‘free range’.

Providing simple play pleasures won’t cost parents an arm and a leg either! Thinking about how to make your garden child-play friendly and then spending a little money on creating the right space will repay dividends over  many years.

Start with the idea that the garden for children (and for adults too for that matter) should be a multi-sensory space, with:

  • different surfaces and textures to touch – stones/ gravel/ bark/ brick and plants with interesting leaves such as Stachys byzantina  (‘Lambs’ Ears’),
  • varied smells – from different flowers and leaves,
  • tastes – growing and picking your own strawberries or fresh vegetables,
  • sounds – wind through grasses, chimes, water dripping into a child-proof pool
  • sights– break up the garden into different zones with their own character.
A children's food garden

A children’s food garden

Then talk about the ways you might create this in your garden with your children, focusing on the sorts of play activities they would like…and work up your ideas using these…

Seven tips for garden play:

  1. Natural resources– treat the outdoors differently to the indoors- its special, so create spaces and provide playthings which children can’t get inside; e.g a tree house or a tree for climbing if you have one big enough,  a pit or pile of sand, or if you’re feeling very brave- a mudpool…
  2. Growing children– give children a separate, personal garden where they can ‘grow their own’ food…
  3. Futureproof- think ahead and provide things which will engage children for several years or which can be easily adapted as they grow older – convert a sand pit to a growing area, a swing frame into a hammock frame…
  4. Small and simple– a few odd bits and pieces of wood, boxes, bricks, cloth, plastic pipe etc. can fuel children’s imaginations and creative play, though purchased play equipment does have a place too, if you have the space and cash…
  5. Doubling up– make the most of space – think about garden structures which can play a role in the ‘adult garden’ as well as  providing something for children; e.g wooden arches that can support a swing, sand pits concealed below trap doors in wooden decked terraces, a climbing frame that’s one side of a pergola, varied path surfaces with some in-built pattern (you can even get some with fossils imprinted on them)…
  6. Move the earth– don’t be afraid of creating (even small) hills and hollows in your otherwise flat garden (unless you have these already of course)- children love running up and down slopes and use these for all sorts of creative games. If you like, add in a few rocks and logs (fixed down) for them to clamber over…
  7. Get social– encourage your children to play with other children – invite their friends round and take them to friend’s gardens, play areas and other places where there’s a good chance of meeting other children…

    Play garden using simple materials
    Play garden using simple materials

    Even if your garden is small, you can use your imagination and create a unique and special place for your children.

Further information:

Growing food with children

A children’s food garden

Garden games

Old School Gardener