Tips for creating an outdoor play area that kids will fall in love with.
There are so many great reasons to encourage kids to play outdoors. The benefits to physical health are well documented but it is the mental health benefits that I believe have become just as important for children, thanks to the pace of our modern day lives. One way to encourage your kids to spend more time outdoors is by creating an outdoor play area that will have them begging to be outside. This isn’t hard (nor need it be expensive) to do and today I am sharing seven features to outdoor play spaces that kids will adore – so much so that it will be you begging…for them to come back in for tea!
These tips are great for backyard play space but they are also worthwhile considerations for those working in early years learning environments. In my experience within a range of early education settings (that’s across daycare, preschool and the early years of school), taking time to think about the space and resources you offer can make all the difference to the quality of how kids (of all ages) play and the length of time they are engaged in the outdoor play area.
7 Essentials For Creating An Outdoor Play Area Kids Will Adore
1. Active play
It might seem obvious but children love having space to move! Toys and resources that encourage a range of ways of moving are great for encouraging children to be (and stay) physically active.
Think beyond running and include toys and resources that encourage a range of movements. For example;
- Hopping: pogo stick, hopper ball, chalk for hopscotch or a hopscotch mat
- Jumping: skipping rope, hula hoops or trampoline
- Pulling and pushing: scooter board, wheelbarrow, wagon
- Climbing: ladders and climbing domes
- Sliding: slide
- Swinging: sling swing, button swing, nest swing, trapeze
- Balancing: stepping stones, balance pods, stilts, scooter, balance ball
- Throwing, bouncing catching, kicking: balls, frisbee disc, goals
- Batting: T-ball set, plastic racquets
Equipment can be permanent like a slide or swing, consist of loose parts that can be moved around or reconfigured such as hoops, skipping ropes and scooters, and even homemade like a box car or paper bag kite.
They can even be re-purposed. Our car tyre and decking plank balance beams (we have three in a sequence across the rear of our yard) have been a long term favourite in our backyard.
There is no denying that moving is important to physical health and the development of motor skills but through active play kids also learn how to fall, and how to get back up again as they learn to assess and navigate taking risks.
2. Messy, sensory play
Adding a space and tools for sand, water or mud play will not only make you popular with your smallest family members, it will also support the important brain development that occurs when children are engaged with sensory experiences that activate the five senses.
Think outside the box to extend the outdoor sensory experience by adding any of the following;
- Grassy surfaces: including grass of different lengths
- A leaf pile
- Pine cones
- Sea shells
- Safe flowering plants
If you have a smaller outdoor play space or are looking for suggestions for storage of sensory elements outdoors, check out the suggestions in Making Space for Outdoor Play When Space Is Tight.
3. Creative play
Creative play does not just refer to painting or drawing. Look for ways to add music, building challenges, problem solving opportunities and art experiences to your outdoor space.
You might consider a permanent fixture such as a music wall or outdoor chalkboard but regularly taking indoor resources outdoors works just as well – an easel and paints, a tub of old bedsheets or a huge cardboard box can all spark a child’s creative enterprise.
4. Imaginative play
Could you create a magical gnome garden, a bear cave, a pirate ship or a wild animal safari in your yard? The opportunities for taking imaginative play outdoors really are endless!
If you have a cubby house, playhouse or fort, consider it’s potential for some fabulous pretend play. Whether it’s a secret hideout, a hair dressing salon or a rocket ship – playful possibilities abound.
Alternatively, you might create a small world play scene in a potted plant or a race track in the sand pit or an area for dinosaurs to stomp and roar in the shade of a tree. A fairy garden planted with herbs and child safe plants and adorned with elements of whimsy to spark all sorts of imaginative stories and adventures.
5. Child Safe Space for Play with Natural Elements
Involving your child in caring for your garden and teaching them how to safely look for and handle the minibeasts who live there is important to their development as the next generation of guardians of the world’s natural resources.
Expand the child’s interests and natural curiosity about the world by introducing an outdoor inquiry bag, a magnifying glass and bug catcher or butterfly net, a bird feeder and bird bath, binoculars or a telescope – all of these tools promote inquiry into the natural world.
6. Quiet play and secret spaces
A secret space to hide away from the world and just be still is a fabulous respite from the busyness of outdoor play. Your secret space might be any of the following;
- cubby house
- hammock beneath the trees
- bean hut
- sunflower grove
- stick teepee
- large box
- even a pair of large umbrellas can form a lovely, non-permanent hideaway.
(Bean hut image supplied by Paint on the Ceiling)
The final magic ingredient to an outdoor play area children will adore is…TIME.
Regular blocks of time for free, unstructured play, alone and with others. This might in fact, be the most important ingredient of all!
Which of these 7 elements is your outdoor play area most in need of?