Whether it be at home or in an early education setting, providing thought, space and resources to each of the 7 areas below will place you well on the path to creating an exceptional play space for young children to enjoy.
1. Active play
Space to move and simple toys and resources that encourage a range of ways of moving are great for encouraging children to be physically active. Think beyond running and include resources to encourage hopping, jumping, skipping, sliding, swinging, rolling, balancing, throwing and more. Equipment might be more permanent like a slide, swing or trampoline, simply homemade like a box car, or utilise loose equipment such as hoops, skipping ropes, balls, bikes or scooters. Our recycled car tyre and decking plank balance beam (shown below) has been a long term favourite in our backyard.
2. Messy, sensory play
Adding a space and tools for sand, water or mud play will not only make you popular with the smallest family members, it will also support important brain development that occurs when children are engaged with experiences that activate any or all of their five senses. Whilst a permanent sand pit or mud pit is fabulous, thoughtful use of smaller tubs or vessels to hold sensory materials can work just as well.
3. Creative play
Your choice of creative play elements will be influenced by your child’s preferred creative outlets – music, art, building, problem solving – to name just a few. Again, a permanent fixture such as a music wall or outdoor chalkboard is fabulous but regularly taking indoor resources outdoors works just as well – an easel and paints, a tub of play silks or a huge cardboard box can all spark a child’s creative enterprise.
4. Imaginative play
A fairy garden, bear cave, pirate ship, wild animal safari – look for ways to add elements of imaginative play to your outdoor area. This might be through the addition of small play figurines or the creation of dedicated areas within your space. Our fairy garden is planted with herbs and child safe plants and adorned with elements of whimsy to spark all sorts of imaginative stories and adventures.
5. Safe 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. Helping to tend a vegetable garden or grow herbs are both wonderful ways to introduce children to the joys of nature. Also consider adding stones, sticks, leaves, pine cones, shells, seedpods and other natural elements to your collection of outdoor play resources.
6. Quiet play and secret spaces
A cubby house, fort, teepee, hammock beneath the trees, bean hut or sunflower house all provide a place of respite from the busyness of outdoor play, a secret space to hide away from the world and just be alone and still.
(Bean hut image supplied by Paint on the Ceiling)
The final magic ingredient to an outdoor play space adored by children – TIME. Regular blocks of time for free, unstructured play, alone and with others.
Which of these 7 elements is your outdoor play area most in need of?
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