By Kristen Castillo
Kids love playing outdoors, so why not give them a space that suits their interests? Create a backyard that’s all about play, fun and innovation.
“Nature play, or unstructured outdoor activity, is being embraced nationwide by educators, psychologists and other child care developmental experts as an effective way to engage your child’s mental and motor skills,” says Val Hunt Beerbower of Five Rivers MetroParks.
Visualizing a kid-friendly space can be tough, but it’s definitely doable.
“The best way for adults to approach the idea of making a kid-friendly yard is to think simple,” says Chris Wong of Young Urban Farmers, a company that helps people grow their own food in the city. “Don’t get too fancy or too complicated. It’s better to start small and expand after a year or two than to bite off more than you can chew.”
Get your hands dirty
“Kid-friendly landscaping embraces teaching opportunities and encourages discovery,” Beerbower says. “In other words, a kid-friendly garden is anything but ‘look-but-don’t-touch’ ornamentals.”
Have your kids help you create this fun outdoor space. A garden is an ideal place to start.
“A great kid-friendly garden is one that is explored, played in and loved,” Beerbower says.
Go to a nursery or garden center with your kids to allow them to choose what to plant.
“This gives them ownership of the project, and they will be more interested in keeping the plants watered and maintained throughout the season,” says Wong, who suggests setting up a “kids’ garden area” to give kids a sense of accomplishment. “It can be as simple as a small container or a dedicated in-ground area,” he says.
Be sure to plant in a sunny area. Wong recommends simple, easy-to-grow plants such as strawberries, herbs, beans, lettuce and tomatoes.
“Kids will understand where food comes from, and studies show kids who are involved with cultivating their veggies are more enthusiastic about eating them at dinnertime,” Beerbower says.
Be sure to include lots of kid-friendly touches in your outdoor kid zone.
“Give your kids and their friends a space to call their own, whether it includes a picnic table, swing set, trampoline or fun landscaping extras such as stone or stump ‘seats,’” says Kristine Kennedy, lifestyle editor for Wayfair.com, a home website.
Kid-sized items like tables and chairs will encourage kids to enjoy the outdoor space. A kids’ table for example is suitable for meals, crafts, games and other activities.
Another outdoor essential A tree for climbing.
“If you don’t have a tree in your yard, plant one, and care for it with your child,” Beerbower says. “He or she will love watching it grow, observing seasonal changes and discovering creatures that depend on your home’s new tree for food or shelter.”
Strive for safety
Safety is always a priority for a kid-friendly yard.
“Deck guards and driveway guards are temporary additions that shield your kids from danger,” says Kennedy, who also recommends adding a locked gate around pools.
Proper lighting is another tool to help keep the whole family safe outside.
“Set up motion-detecting lighting around all walkways for added safety and security,” says Kennedy, who advises using deck lights instead of torches or candles for additional lighting.
Don’t forget to include storage in your outdoor space.
“Create room for storage so toys aren’t scattered throughout your lawn or patio,” explains Kennedy, noting a weatherproof storage bench or chest keeps toys nearby, but out of the way.
Slather your kids in sunscreen, and install an umbrella shade to protect them from the sun while they play outdoors.
Make sure your play surface is safe, too. Though grass is nice, Kennedy also suggests “sand, smooth concrete, tiny stones or pea gravel to define play areas.”
Keep kids involved
Once you set up your outdoor space, you’ve still got work to do.
Keep kids interested and involved by encouraging them to observe and measure plant growth; learn about pollination, birds and butterflies; and create a photo album or journal about their yard.
“Sometimes the only limit to what you can do with your garden is your own imagination and creativity,” Wong says.