You want a beautiful garden with plenty of room and places for your children to play but you don’t want to setup and see a giant playset every time you look outside…sound familiar? There are many materials and options if you want to setup a play area for your kids but keep your lovely garden intact.
Jumping and Stepping
Whether it’s hopscotch or the floor is lava, kids love moving and hopping from one place to the next. Steppers are great and can be positioned in several variations to give kids different options for play. This kind of play is helpful for developing gross motor skills along with hand-eye coordination, confidence, and balance. You can use more traditional materials like flagstone, pavers, or circular steppers (great for games like hopscotch) or you can add height with rounds of logs placed at the same or varying levels. You can also bury parts of smaller rocks/boulders to create rounded steppers.
Balance beams are so fun and help develop better concentration with learning, reading, and writing along with proprioception (knowing where the body is in space). Most playgrounds typically have a metal beam (that seems to always catch my shins at some point), but we have other options for you. An elevated log creates the perfect place to practice balancing and more than one can create balance pathways. For younger ones, you can cut in half or bury a log to place directly on the ground. Boulders of different shapes and sizes can also be buried partially to create textured steppers that require balance to get across.
Wood, rope, and rocks are a great combo for climbers. Using wood and rope you can create ladders, swinging bridges, and even ropes courses. You can also purchase rock climbing hand holds and install them on a sturdy piece of wood or even a large stump to create climbing walls. Large boulders can be placed throughout the play area for kids to climb on all while working on their grip strength, balance, and confidence. Logs can also be placed in hillsides to create stairs for climbing up and down.
If you have a sloped area on your property and space allows, this is a perfect place for adding a slide. Single and double slides can be purchased separate from a playset and come in all sorts of colors to help blend into your garden. Placing a slide on a hillside creates natural opportunities for climbing and pretend play.
According to my toddler, play areas are not complete without some kind of swing component. Traditional swings are great but have that typical playset look. If you’re looking for something out of the box and still functional for adults, you can put up chair swings, sofa swings, or cocoon/pod swings. Swinging helps develop both fine and gross motor skills, spatial awareness, and helps regulate their sensory system. It can also be calming and soothing for kids and adults.
If you have creative kiddos, having a space where they can express themselves artistically is important. Pavers or concrete steppers can be drawn on with rocks and chalk or you can add in a hanging chalkboard or mural wall where they can use chalk or paint in a vertical space. Water can also be used to “paint” and clean up, it’s a win-win! If you have older kids that are into building things, a workbench made of palettes or logs works well as a space for them to do projects.
Gardening is a great way to include your kids in how you use your outdoor space. If you have raised beds or a gardening area, consider adding an area where they can dig in the dirt and plant their own flowers, fruits, and veggies. A sand box/area is also another option if your little one loves digging while you are, but you don’t want them in your raised beds.
If you have a water baby, water is a must in your play area. Wood troughs can be placed on logs of varying heights so kids can pour and splash to their heart’s content. Sensory bins and tables are also a good option for including water and other sensory play and can be built from so many different types of materials.
While wood chips and hog fuel are the most common types of material used in natural play areas, you do have other options if that’s not your thing. In shady, moist areas, moss can cover ground quickly while adding a bit of cushion under possible fall areas. Steppable groundcovers like leptinella and thyme are another option but if your kids or animals play very rough, those areas could experience some wear and tear but can easily be filled in with more groundcover. Another option are eco lawns that have different types of grass seed mixed in with things like clover and wildflowers. This a great option for the feel of lawn while providing another sensory play option in the spring and summer when things are in bloom.
These natural play materials and areas will blend seamlessly into your landscape and will grow with your children. Using found materials on your property or salvaged materials from your local reuse stores can also save you money and maintenance versus buying a standard playset all while helping the environment.
If you were going to build a natural playground, what elements would you incorporate? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!