Creating a nature play space in your backyard

There are so many adventures awaiting in your backyard! From gardening, craft activities, building a den and learning to use tools, your child's sense of wonderment and curiosity can be cultivated right at home.

On this page you will find practical tips on how to create a natural play environment in your own backyard. The great news is that you don't need to spend countless hours setting up activities for your little ones and you don't need to buy expensive equipment. 

 

Fixed equipment, in fact, can often limit play. Think about the playgrounds we often see here in Australia - the usual slide, swings, maybe a flying fox if we are lucky. We know kids can still have lots of fun and often find their own unique ways to use the equipments. But more often than not, play becomes a repetitive action with little room for experimentation, rather than a stimulating and problem solving experience. 

Why it is worth the effort

 

Research shows that children who play in natural environments are much calmer, happier, more creative and focused. They develop a better sense of balance. They are more physically active and more aware of their movements. Given the opportunity to freely use natural materials with appropriate guidance, children will learn how to use twigs, sticks, branches, stones and rocks to construct and create.

Your child will be absorbed in play, often on his own, for hours on end. And your backyard will look so much more inviting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting started

 

  • Talk to your children and involve them in planning. Ask them what they like to do when they play rather than what they would like in a playground.

  • Think about your own childhood and what you played with. Chances are your kids will love it too, and it will be a beautiful trip down memory lane every time you step outside and you'll find yourself playing with your children more often.

  • Look at your backyard and decide which area/s you want to allocate for play, and tackle one area at a time. For example, you might have a corner for sand play and one for art. Ensure to leave enough free space in between though.

  • Connect different areas and spaces with paths, tunnels, stepping stones, tree stumps. Again, you don't need to spend lots of money here.. upcycle and think out of the box!

  • Plan to stimulate all the senses.

  • Use bright colours sparingly. Instead enjoy the beautiful, calming earthy tones of nature.

  • Create hideaway spaces for children - teepees, dens, a tunnel, a tree house.

  • Create lots of sitting spaces.

  • Allow for imaginative play using sticks, fabrics, leaves, pods, water.

  • Create both active and quiet spaces for social and solitary play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A beautiful simple quiet space made with a wire arch and some bamboo screening.

Image courtesy of The Empowered Educator.

 

 

Using plants and trees

You can use plants to create different spaces and hiding places for children. Organise an excursion to your local nursery or a specialised native nursery to choose appropriate plants for your area.

Consider a range of planting such as groundcovers, climbers, grasses, shrubs, herbs and trees. Involve your children and ask them to assist with planting and maintaining the garden - they will love it!

If you are lucky enough to have trees in your backyard, the world is your oyster! Trees are a great option for providing shade, climbing, swinging, building tree houses.. the list can go on and on! Deciduous trees (those tress that every fall shed their leaves) also provide such wonderful colours and fun times with falling leaves.

 

You may like to consider pruning trees to stimulate the growth of low branches for climbing.

Backyard play ideas

Your child will probably give you plenty of ideas! But here's a few easy to set up activities that are always a hit, to get your started:

  • Create a construction site with sand and rocks, a few shovels and toy diggers. You can buy a sandpit or easily make your own. You can also bury interesting things deep in the sandpit for exploration and discovery.

 

  • Climbing on low branches or low scramble nets.

 

  • Get hold of some old tyres - they create so many wonderful play opportunities! 

  • Create areas for water play and have a mud patch

 

  • Balancing and climbing on tree stumps and stones, or create your own plank or balance beams

  • Consider creating a small veggie patch and let your little ones help, with watering for example, or picking veggies and herbs when ready. Using water tanks, composting or worm farms you will also teach your child about sustainability.

  • Teach your kids how to use tools - supervise but give them the chance to be autonomous too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardening tools for children

The finishing touches

 

Not essential, but they would add a nice touch to your backyard:

 

  • Create a frog pond or have fish or turtles

 

  • Use tree stumps to create a sitting area

 

  • Have art sculptures in the garden

 

  • Think about attracting birds, butterflies and creatures - bugs, worms, slaters, spiders

 

  • Have hidden charms around for your child to discover

 

  • Have chickens.

And now it's time to play!

Your backyard natural play space will naturally evolve and change as your child grows. Think of it as a constant work in progress, rather than a finished project.

 

What is really important is to allow enough time each day for uninterrupted play. Let your child discover and explore. 

Allow them to manipulate and influence the outdoor spaces. This is important. I know I have spent hours setting up play spaces in a beautiful, harmonious way only to have my children quickly re-arrange everything. I must admit, at times I felt slightly annoyed. But I had remind myself that it is their space and they need to be able to enjoy it.

There is a lot of information about natural outdoor play spaces on the internet. For more inspiration, don't forget to check our Pinterest Outdoor playing areas board.

 

The information in this fact sheet is based on information and inspiring ideas obtained at the Western Australian Kidsafe Playground Conference called The Nature of Play and the Department for Education and Child Development of South Australia.

About us​

Big Scrub Nature Play offers nature playgroups and forest school sessions in Lennox Head, Ballina and Byron hinterland. We provide a warm, inviting and stimulating environment which nurtures children and embraces families as partners in a community of learners.

 

Big Scrub Nature Play acknowledges that we work and play together on the traditional land of the Bundjalung people.

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