Outdoor play spaces for children offer an environment for healthy growth, physically, emotionally and mentally. When the sun is shining and kids don't have to wear boots to play outside, they can run around and pretend they're almost anywhere. Before you rush out to buy a swing set, which seems to be a spring tradition, consider alternatives that encourage and support healthy, active outdoor play.
Take time to think through what your child really needs for outdoor play. Even better, talk to your children to learn what they want. You might be surprised when it's not a swing set.
Kids's wants and needs are much simpler that adults, and often less expensive. Remember your toddler during the holidays. They spend more time playing with gift boxes than whatever came inside. They're able to use their imagination because there's no structure.
What Kids Want in Outdoor Play Spaces
What kids want more than anything else is a space that belongs to them. Outdoor play spaces don't need to be large or filled with all sorts of play things. Less is more because kids have incredible imaginations which they'll use to create a world you and I can no longer see. Just like the movies, kids will invent star ships, cities and planets when they have the space.
Like having their own room, your child will blossom when they know they have the freedom to do what they want in their outdoor play space. Kids don't need things limit their imagination. A small, uncomplicated swing set where they can climb, swing and slide safely might be fun but they won't appreciate one of the new “bigger is better” swing sets that begins to resemble a house.
Your kids would much rather design and build their own play space with you. Don't think you have enough time to do this? Based on my experience running a handyman business, you'll spend less time on your own design than assembling a swing set which can take several weekends. We used to tell parents to schedule a handyman technician for Monday, to complete the assembly they didn't get done over the weekend.
Simple Ideas for Great Outdoor Play Spaces
When I first wrote this article, Pinterest didn't exist (can you imagine). Now everyone is a photographer and there are thousands of ideas online. I discovered this amazing website focusing on outdoor play spaces, TheImaginationTree.com, and wanted to share with you. Don't you love their mud pie kitchen (above).
Here are ideas to help you plan the perfect outdoor play space for your children. They'll love it even more if they get to participate in the planning process.
- Use natural things like rocks, shrubs, trees, dirt pathways and non-toxic plants and flowers. Think about Peter Pan and Neverland. Weigh the benefits of the play space at the back of the yard where the children will have some privacy versus the typical swing set sitting out in the open.
- Consider multiple nooks, some for groups of children to play together and alone space. Children know when they need space for some alone time. Give them a place to sit on a big rock and think about … kid things.
- You'll want to consider safety in case of falls. Use grasses and playground mulch without chemicals to define the space and paths through the play space.
- Add natural elements with colors to help your children recognize and appreciate nature. Pick trees or shrubs that turn red, yellow and orange in the fall, evergreens that stay green all winter long and bulbs that bloom in the spring.
- Add bird feeders to invite birds to become a part of your play space. This will give your children an opportunity to learn about birds. Keep a book handy for them to research their visitors. Your children will also take great pride in a birdhouse they built (Amazon has lots of birdhouse kits for kids, to help you out).
- Add raised planting beds for your children to learn responsibility growing their own flowers and vegetables. Watch out for those watermelons which my son wanted, as the vines went everywhere. Here's the raised bed garden he recently built with my granddaughter. The black fencing was an emergency solution after the wild rabbits ate some lettuce.
- Plan activities that help your children learn about insects and small animals attracted to outdoor play spaces. It's a fun way to get them interested in science. Use books to identify birds, trees and insects. Add magnifying glasses, binoculars and a butterfly net to your outdoor toy stash.
Hopefully I've given you some ideas and you're ready to start planning. Draw out your available space and identify the best places for your outdoor play space. Sit down with your kids and plan to your hearts content.
Involve the kids in picking out materials like the perfect rocks and planting bushes. If you get a simple swing set, you should be able to assemble it in a weekend (a long weekend which will go faster with the help of friends). Most of all have fun watching your children grow.