Tuesday, April 13, 2010

series: how to create an irresistible outdoor play space for children

Welcome to the first in a series of posts in which we will take a look at simple and affordable ways to make a backyard or preschool playground a place where childhood memories are made.

Come with me and wander and dream through natural play spaces from around the globe.  We will take our time and look at each of these natural elements in a bit more detail.   

And where better to start, than getting the lowdown straight from the horses mouth?

What do children want in their outdoor play spaces?

Children love natural play spaces.  When given the opportunity, children choose and enjoy playing in natural environments and/or with natural elements.

This is not so surprising when you consider the overwhelming play potential of natural spaces filled with - naturally - delightfully open-ended natural materials.

What do children want in their natural play spaces?  

It is unfortunate that children can't design their outdoor play environments. Research on children's preferences shows that if children had the design skills to do so, their creations would be completely different from the areas called playgrounds that most adults design for them. 

Outdoor spaces designed by children would not only be fully naturalized with plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, sand, mud, animals and insects, but also would be rich with a wide variety of play opportunities of every imaginable type. If children could design their outdoor play spaces, they would be rich developmentally appropriate learning environments where children would want to stay all day.  (White and Stoecklin)

The things children like in their outdoor environments include:

1.  Water

2.  Vegetation

3.  Animals, insects, creatures in ponds

3. Sand (especially when mixed with water)

4.  Natural colour, diversity and change   

5.  Places and features to sit on; in; under; lean against; provide privacy; shade; shelter

6.  Different levels, nooks, crannies, places to hide

Credit:  Busy Bee Day Care

7. Structures or objects that can be changed, including lots of loose parts 

What does this mean for parents and teachers?  

Having a list of  children's preferences for their outdoor environment provides us with the ideal starting point for creating an outdoor space that will have children playing, creating, imagining, constructing and so much more.

Tomorrow:  Just add water!

Series: How to create an irresistible outdoor playspace for children.  Come with me and wander and dream through natural play spaces from around the globe.  We will take our time and look at each of these natural elements in a bit more detail.   We may just well find a few ideas that we can use in our own playgrounds or backyards to make them irresistible spaces for outdoor play:

Just Add Water
Just Add Sand
Just Add Greenery
Just Add Animals, Insects and Creatures
Just Add Stones, Logs, Stumps and Mounds
Just Add Places to Pause, Places to Hide, Places to Rest
Just Add Loose Parts
Natural Play Space Round-up


  1. Looking forward to these posts as we are trying to re-design our current play-yard at work!

  2. genius genius genius!
    Thanks so much - I can't wait for the rest of this series!!

  3. This is great! I too can not wait to see the rest of this series!

  4. I'm definitely interested ... our backyard could you some help in this department. Great idea for a series!

  5. Thanks Jenny. As we've mentioned already we are into faze two of our Hush Garden make over so it's perfect timing that you have posted this article today and we really are looking forward to following the series through. In fact Jenny as we are influenced by so much you post on your site we have nominated you today to receive our "Honest Scrap' award. You have had a major impact on the both of us in the very short time we have been blogging and this is one way we thought we could publicly say THANK YOU!

    So ... Thank you for making a difference Jenny! :) :)

  6. Thank you for your lovely comments. As you may know we are also looking at making changes / additions to our outdoor area at preschool so these are all the tips I have been gathering along the way. No point keeping them all to myself!

  7. I've had a bunch of evening meetings lately Jenny and have fallen behind in by blog reading. I'm so excited to get to read your entire series all in one go! I've already learned so much from you -- I can't wait to learn more.

  8. O wow! ... i just got bounced here from Teacher Tom, who I just found a couple of days ago via. Filth Wizardry blog. A-mazing - I haven't been so inspired for a while. AND I'm just in the middle of organising a busy bee to spruce up the playground in the Housing Co-op I live at... Couldn't have found your blog at a better time!! I'll have to post the before and after photos. I'll be back.

  9. toasted: I'm happy you wandered over! I love Teacher Tom and Filth Wizardry too. Good luck with sprucing up your playground - I would love to see photos. As you can probably tell, I'm a bit of a playground nut.

  10. Jenny - I'd like to link to your playground series on my blog. i haven't done this kind of thing before so I'm not sure of the etiquette. Would it be okay with you?

  11. Toasted: absolutely - link away! What is your blog, I'd love to have a look.

  12. You're linked. At http://toasted-toasted.blogspot.com/

  13. hi folk,
    I love this site, so inspirational. I have just ordered Rusty's book but wondered if anyone has any ideas to help me with my preschool outdoor play space I've inherited a rubber 'soft form' yard I have already added lots of loose parts and I am trying to get grants to put 'tan bark' down.
    Bikes are very popular at the centre.but the yard is small and I am struggling to fit bikes into my design. was wondering if anyone had any good ideas about bike tracks. Thanks Katy

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