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Kids don’t play outside like they used to. The roads are busier, the streets don’t feel quite as safe and, let’s be totally honest here, the lure of screens is far greater than ever before. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t create an outdoor space your kids will love in your very own garden.
A garden doesn’t have to be huge for kids to have a great time. Come rain or shine, with the right layout and toys, you can persuade most kids to get out there and run off some energy. With a bit of careful planning, it is possible to create a space suitable for year-round safe play.
Just getting a few minutes of sunshine (or even cloud-dispersed light) is really healthy and should be encouraged for children of all ages as well as adults. Getting natural light is essential for the inner body clock and kids who play outside are more likely to get a good night’s sleep.
Soft Surfaces to Fall On
The first consideration you need to make is the sort of surfaces you want to introduce to your garden. Kids fall over. Kids fall over a lot! This means that if you want to encourage them to go out and boisterous, they need to be able to fall over without hurting themselves too much. While you can’t completely protect your kids all the time, some surfaces are definitely better than others. Children need a safe surface to play, so whether you decide to put down lawns or soft tarmac in the garden, you need them to be able to play, and fall! Children will trip over, but it’s better for them to trip and land on something soft. You can play around with cool outdoor seating ideas, too, as bean bags can be used as both seating and landing options! Your children should be comfortable and happy when playing outside, so a soft landing is an investment that you really want to make.
Lawns are the ideal soft surface as they are green, won’t cause too much damage and are unlikely to cause cuts or grazes. Taking care of your lawn is really important though. You need to make sure that the grass growth is healthy, there are plenty of nutrients in the ground and the soil is well aerated to prevent compaction.
Of course, the downside of the lawn is that with a lot of play throughout the summer, it will take quite a lot of damage. Plus, when it rains, your lawn is likely to turn into a muddy pit and your child a muddy monster! Artificial grass is a good alternative. You don’t need to use it on your whole garden but just having a section you know will last forever will be a huge bonus when the weather turns. You can find out more online.
Wood chips are another great alternative popular for kids play areas in parks and at schools. Make sure you search for play grade chips as these are slightly softer. Using chips could be a great way to blend your borders in with the play area too as wood chip can protect the soil from frost, keeping your plants nice and warm through the winter.
Fun Toys For Imagination and Learning
If you want your kids to get outside, they have to have a good reason! Outdoor toys come in all shapes and sizes but the best ones aren’t necessarily the most expensive or the most complicated. Kids love toys that give them an opportunity to do something different. Kids love to pretend and to learn different skills and techniques. A good toy will give them that opportunity so whether they are rolling around and increasing their flexibility or running around with imaginary friends, it’s all about what they respond to, not what the toy shop is selling that week.
Asking your kids what they would like to be able to do and play with in the garden is the first step. You might not have an unlimited budget but you will probably find that a trip to a toy store gives you some good ideas. For example, you can build a den using some pretty basic stuff from your garden and create a really magical space with the simple addition of solar powered fairy lights. Building a den together is a really nice way to bond and give your kids a separate space of their own too.
Even tiny tots can have a brilliant time in the garden with some of their small plastic toys. Trucks and diggers are ideal for playing in the soil and, as long as you aren’t too precious about your borders, they can ferry soil to their heart’s content. Little kids love getting messy too so going round the garden making a mud soup is a fun, free activity you can all enjoy! Kids are all about experiencing different sensations so encouraging them to get involved in this way is ideal for their development.
Get Your Kids Involved in Gardening
No age is too young for getting involved in the garden. Growing soft fruits like wild strawberries is a sweet way to encourage your kids to develop a relationship with the natural world and learn more about where their food comes from. As they grow up, you can grow all kinds of things together from herbs and vegetables to beautiful flowers. There are lots of project ideas to choose from but you can almost guarantee that your kids will start leading the way quite quickly!
If you have some room, creating a small patch your kids can grow things in is a lovely way to give them a bit more responsibility and a chance to play. You can use old planks to create a simple raised bed and then all you need to do is buy the plants for them to look after. Some kids will love the idea of eating what they have grown but you could also think about creating a dye garden. There are plenty of plants that produce natural dyes you can use in further craft projects which might appeal more to some children.
The more you involve your kids in the maintenance and planning of your garden, the more likely they are to engage with the process and come to share your love of the outdoors. While they will probably never have to rely on their knowledge of edible plants to survive, the greater their appreciation of nature is, the more satisfying gardening becomes. Caring for plants and wildlife more generally is a fantastic way to help children learn to be more empathetic, gain self-confidence and feel more connected with their surroundings.