How to create an outside play area kids will love

It’s true, it’s not always easy to encourage your little ones to get outside or even find time to do so. Outside play can help boost mood, restore energy and provide endless opportunities for discovery. Providing space and resources for children to explore and get active will create a unique and special play area for them to enjoy.

Creating a successful play space is simple, as a guide, make sure it incorporates physical, social and cognitive needs of children:

Physical

  • Flexibility: Design decisions should allow for diverse activity
  • Variety: Provide a variety of small spaces, changes in level, changes in surface, stairs seats, bushes, plantings, colours, textures, and overhead elements

Social

  • Wide Range of Ages

Cognitive

  • Creativity: Play areas need to allow children to create their own environment to allow for adventure and creative play.
  • Sense of Accomplishment: Activities should provide differing stages of difficulty so that children can choose goals which are attainable yet challenging.

When it comes to play areas, the size of your yard need not be an issue; all it takes is some clever thinking. Here are some ideas to help you along …

Create a natural play space

Natural play spaces create an overwhelming play potential. It is possible to create such a play area by incorporating water, vegetation, animals / insects / creatures in ponds and sand. A natural play space will be full of natural colour, diversity and change and include places and features to sit on; in; under; lean against; provide privacy; shade; shelter have different levels, nooks, crannies, places to hide as well as structures or objects that can be changed, including lots of loose parts.

Playground Princess items to incorporate in your natural play space include – butterfly net, The Great Outdoor Adventure Kit, Seedlings, Magnifying Glass.

Ensure to have an active play area

This area would need space to move and simplistic resources that encourage a range of ways of moving and being active, a place where children can be encouraged to be physically active. An active play area needs more than opportunities to run, rather, an area where children can hop, skip, jump, slide, swing, roll, practice balancing and throwing. Consider equipment such as a slide, swing, trampoline, hula hoops, skipping ropes, balls, bikes and even scooters.

Playground Princess items to incorporate in your active play area include –Zen Balance Board, Balance Bikes, Skipping Ropes, Tyre Swing, Scooters, Elastics, Balloon Ball.

Messy and Sensory play areas are fun

Messy and sensory filled play areas are fun, helps with brain development, engages children and support the 5 senses children develop – hearing, touch, smell, taste, and sound. Encourage sensory play with games or activities that require the use of muscles: jump on a trampoline or the bed, crab walk, have a three-legged race, make a fort or an obstacle course, play leap frog or hopscotch, tossing or catching games (use different objects like stuffed animals, water balloons or bean bags) and play tug-of-war. An outdoor play area with space and tools for sand, water and mud play will not only make you popular with the smallest family members, it will also help support sensory play. How to get started with sensory play? Take your little one outside, let them feel the wind on their face, let them dig their little fingers in the grass and dirt, and draw their attention to the birds singing to each other.

Get creative with a creative area

This will generally be influenced by your child’s preferred creative outlets – music, art, building or problem solving. A permanent music wall or outdoor chalkboard are both great ideas, but consider taking indoor items outdoors works just as well – an easel and paints, a tub of play silks / music instruments or even an oversized cardboard box can all enhance your child’s creativity.

Playground Princess items to incorporate in your creative play area include – Chalk Board, Art House, Roar Box Set, Chalk Mat.

Let their imagination run wild

Who wouldn’t want a fair garden, bear cave, pirate ship, outdoor cafe, or outdoor cinema? To achieve this, look for ways to add elements of imaginative play to your outdoor area, this could be through the addition of small play figurines or the creation of dedicated areas within your space.

Playground Princess items to incorporate in your imaginative play area include – Teepee, Playhouse, Roar Box Set, Butterfly Net. 

Make it social

Create a play area so that when your little one plays with other children they learn to communicate, share, collaborate and empathise with others. Include space or structures that support social play. These will encourage language and cooperation skills as children role-play and learn to take turns and share. By including suggestive structures, rather than obvious shops, cubbies, etc. it will encourage creativity and imagination and allow children to use them in a variety of ways. Children can work together to meet a goal, for example, they can complete a self-made obstacle course or create a house for a small wild animal. Together they compromise and work together to meet a desired outcome.

Playground Princess items to incorporate in your active play area include – Nature Bingo.

Incorporate quiet and secret spaces

Quiet areas allow children to read; talk; play a special game; interact with nature; or quietly observe a play group before attempting to join in. Use landscaped plantings to create semi-enclosed spaces and remember to incorporate shelter and seating. Many children are hesitant to join large groups of busy, active children or enter large open play areas and including quiet areas in the playground gives these children a safe space while they build up confidence.

Playground Princess items to incorporate in your active play area include –Teepee, Cushions, Picnic Blanket, Playhouse.  

Learning can be fun

The elements of play include novelty, discovery, trial and error and social interaction, these are also components of learning, therefore, play and learning go hand in hand.

For outdoor discovery play, consider sandboxes and water trays for exploration. Creative play encourages your child to experiment and express their own ideas. Consider including items that will not only entertain and engage them, but also help improve cognitive, emotional, physical and social development. Balls are also a great outdoor activity for children, they improve your child’s hand-eye coordination as she learns to throw, catch and kick. Children can incorporate concepts that have learned at school in a hands on way while outdoors. Even seeing and touching the roots of a tree will bring to life the lesson their teacher had taught about how plants get their nutrients. Incorporating a grassed area for some old school games you played as a kid are the best for enhancing learning – follow the leader, hide-and-seek, leap frog and tag.  Slides, play tunnels, trampolines, ride-on toys, climbing frames and rope ladders will all help develop coordination, balance and physical play while stimulating the child with adventure. Ultimately, learning is fun, so create an outdoor play space that enhances this.

Playground Princess items to incorporate in your learning play area include –Dirtgirl World Journal, Balance Bikes.

Safety first

It was common place back in ‘my day’ to come back inside at the end of the day with bumps and bruises from being active and playing outside. I’d remember friends and family members, whom, most probably motivated by boredom, added their own risks and challenges, such as sliding down headfirst or jumping from the highest accessible railing. Although it is important for children to have fun and learn from their mistakes, it’s equally as important to create an environment where there is no over-riding danger or a permanent risk to a child’s health.

When planning a play space, make sure:

  • You select plants that are not poisonous and not likely to cause an allergy
  • Manipulable materials or loose parts such as small logs, leaves, seed pods etc. are readily available for children to take ownership of and incorporate in their play
  • All rocks – e.g. sand pit edges, dry creek beds or trickle streams – have rounded edges and are non-slippery even when wet.
  • That there is plenty of shade – construct canopies and awnings, especially if there are no trees to provide natural shading. If children will be playing in the sun, be sure to apply sunscreen.
  • To keep views of play areas unrestricted, especially if the area will be used by small children.
  • To keep all wooden play equipment sanded and well-oiled to avoid splinters.
  • All nails are hammered in on any timber structures or decking.
  • All structures, whether designed for play or not, are robust and won’t deteriorate quickly due to the weather.
  • To carry out weekly and monthly checks of play areas

Playground Princess items to consider in your safety play area include – Hat, Sunscreen.

All abilities

When planning your children’s play area, it’s important to plan ahead and make sure you get the maximum use of the area over time as the kids are growing up. Play areas should be designed with forward planning in mind and what will happen when the children using the area grow up or if the area is no longer needed as a play space. Things like sandpits can later be converted into garden beds, so as your little princess grows into a young lady she will always have a fun learning outdoor play area.

So, if you’re a parent who feels like they don’t have a creative bone in their body, and you can’t imagine actually re-creating all the elaborate play areas that are all over Pinterest – relax. Open the door and head outside with your children and let their imaginations create the ultimate play experience.