Friday, April 16, 2010

just add greenery

Children want vegetation in their play spaces.  They enjoy and learn as they climb, hide, build, pick, observe, collect, sort, tend, plant, water, prune, manipulate and arrange the things that grow in a garden. 

Today we will have a look at how we can include vegetation in our playspaces to enhance play and learning as a part of our series on how to create an irresistible play space for children.

We are vegetationally challenged at preschool.  This was us, three years ago just before we moved in:

Just one big blank slate of grass. The task ahead is to add plantings to break up the space into natural play areas; to add shade; to create intimate spaces and to extend our edible garden. 

My green-thumb director takes individual children into the neighbouring bushland to search for seedlings to transplant into our own garden.  The kids even get to name their own trees!   We also take small groups of children to local nurseries to pick out seedlings and herbs to nurture.

So lets go and have a look at what we can do in our own backyards and play spaces to make them irresistible places for children to play:

By adding trees to a play space you can improve the aesthetics, provide shade; clean the air; create natural screens; add character; give children a place to climb; to swing from; to create cubbies and can also spark children's imagination and creativity.

This preschool has worked around existing trees in the environment to make them an amazing feature:

Woodland Park Community Preschool worked around their existing Magnolia trees when creating their new sandpit:
Image: Teacher Tom

The tropical plantings along this boardwalk have made it an inviting jungle pathway:

With shrubs or mid level plants you can create natural barriers, hiding spaces, wind breaks or a dense backdrop for secluded play.  Hide toy animals in foliage or thow over some sheets to make a cubby.

In The Outdoor Playspace Naturally, Sue Elliot has some great tips on planting for play value.  She recommends you consider the 'playability' of plants, and include those that are:
  • fast growing
  • easy to maintain
  • resilient
  • native species
  • appeal to the senses
And avoid those that are:
  • uncomfortable to the touch
  • poisonous
  • irritate the skin
Lily Pillies or Dwarf Fruit Trees with their edible fruit and berries add additional interest to this walkway:

Edible Gardens

Any preschool garden should have at least a few edible plants.  There is so much to say edible gardens and their benefits for young children that it deserves a post of its own.  Surfice to say, children love plants that grow quickly:  sunflowers, corn, lettuce and strawberries for example. 
Little Eyes on Nature have some wonderful posts about creating an edible garden in their preschool.

Secret Places, Wild Spaces

Children love exploring nooks and crannies.  Child sized spaces offer privacy or a place to pause in the great outdoors.  
Look at what you can do with brush screening and plantings:

You can plant sunflowers to form a cubby or enclosure (You might like to read How to build a sunflower house).

This inspiring play space in Melbourne has incorporated a magical Hush Garden, where children can get away from the main group: 

I am following the progress of their latest addition to the Hush Garden - a dry creek bed - on their blog Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning.  Here they are adding some new plantings:

Weeping Mulberry trees make excellent natural cubby houses:

Image:  Playscapes

And a Garden Teepee is surprisingly easy to create using plantings of passionfruit vines or climbing beans.

Wild spaces just scream discovery and adventure and ignite the imagination:

Image: Little Eyes on Nature
Sensory Garden

A sensory garden is suitable for any sized preschool play space or backyard:

If the only way is up, vines such as flowering passionfruits are ideal:

Planter boxes, pots or hanging baskets are perfect for sensory gardens:

If you would like some ideas on what to plant in a sensory garden, this seems like a comprehensive resource:  School Playground Designers.

Small spaces

Don't let size stop you!  Look at this nifty idea:

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
Read the Full Series

This post is a part of a series on how to create irresistible outdoor playspaces for children. You can start reading this series here.  I hope you enjoy it and feel free to share ideas that have inspired or worked for you in the comments section.

Tomorrow: Just add animals, insects and creatures


  1. Just wanted to say how much I'm loving this series - so many great ideas that have caught my imagination. Given that today is Friday I was worried that it might be the last in the series - I'm so glad it isn't!

  2. Thank you for the kind comment - I'm so glad you are enjoying it. I've been collecting so much information to use at preschool that it seemed a shame not to share all the wonderful ideas out there!

  3. Oh boy ... so much to do and so little time. I am LOVING this series Jenny. I just want to do it all! Thanks again for inspiring us.
    Donna :) :)

  4. You guys are inspiring me :) And giving me loads of good material for my posts in the process, I might add!

  5. Wonderful! So often the outdoor space is not really planned. Well you just really got us all thinking with this post! I love what you said about size. No limits on what we can will use every inch of space if they see an opportunity.
    Thank you for this post!

  6. That is really inspiring. And, just the time of year around here to get into the swing of planting things!! Thanks for the kick in the rear!! ;-)

  7. I love all the walkways. And we really need more nooks and crannies outside for hiding out.

  8. so much to do and so little time. I am LOVING this series Jenny. I just want to do it all! Thanks again for inspiring us.

  9. thank you! This is so great. We live in the city with a small backyard. All grass and 1 tree. Do you recommend ripping out the grass and throwing down mulch for our natural playground? My hubby hates mowing and maintaining it.