Thursday, April 22, 2010

just add places to pause, places to hide, places to rest

Spaces to pause, spaces to hide, spaces to meet, small spaces; secret places: children love to have nooks, crannies, cubbies and places to kick back and relax in their play spaces.

Today in our "how to create irresistible play spaces for children" series we will look at play spaces around the globe to discover how we can create small child-sized places using natural elements in our own backyards or playgrounds.

1. Cubby Houses

Teepees are simple to create using found natural resources such as branches or fronds:

Image:  Playscapes

The kids at our primary school created this natural structure by learning sticks they collected from the adjoining bush up against a tree trunk:

Or you could use a big old tractor tyre as a base:

Involving the kids in the construction process is half the fun.  These preschoolers from the Melbourne Early Learning Centre are taking part in the Eco Cubby project, which teams schools and preschools with local architects to make their own cubbies using sustainable practices:

They went foraging for natural materials, and made this beauty:

You can use trees or poles to attach fabric to for tent like cubbies:

Or maybe you would prefer a more permanent structure.  How about this one made from logs?

Image:  Playscapes

The added bonus of a natural play space is that kids can easily find loose parts such as leaves, tan bark and pods to use in their pretend play in the cubbies.

2.  Living, growing cubby houses

Weeping Mulberry Trees make magical natural play spaces:

Image:  Playscapes

This child-sized tunnel and den from Planet Earth Playscapes is made from living willow:

Or how about a bean teepee?  This one is from Patti's Nursery School Class: pop on over for step by step instructions.  They are surprisingly simple!

3.  Secret places

Hidden, child-sized spaces offer privacy, social intimacy and places to pause in the great outdoors.  You can use a combination of plant materials, lattice, bamboo, wicker or brush screens to create easy and inexpensive secret places:  

This simple planting arrangement around a backyard sandpit will grow high enough to offer kids a sense of privacy and enclosure without obscuring adult vision:

It doesn't have to be elaborate - simply a corner with overhanging greenery becomes a special secret space for children to play:

Image:  Playscapes
At the Kate Greenaway School in London:
There are numerous 'quiet' places tucked away for solitary imaginings. Bamboo is used effectively as a durable screen, but one not so dense that it can't be wiggled through or crawled under. (Playscapes):

A chair, some cushions or a rug transforms an overgrown corner into an inviting play space or hidey hole:

To set the scene and create an atmosphere of promise and discovery, why not add a gate to your secret place?  I love this: a gate, just for the sake of it:  

And on a grander scale, take a look at the entrance to the Hush Garden at Sherry and Donna's (Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning) preschool:

Do you have a favorite secret place in your garden or at your preschool?  I'd love to hear about it. 

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

Next:  just add loose parts.


  1. Hey Jenny ... love the picture of the screen (Melbourne Early Learning Centre) ... who am I kidding, I love all the pictures ... BUT I saw a bamboo screen very similar to the brush screen in the picture, at Bunnings last weekend and wondered what we could do with it ... now I know. It was 1.8 meters long and (I think) 1.2 meters wide for $20. I'm heading back there first thing in the morning to pick one up ... BRILLIANT!

    Thanks again Jenny! :) :)

  2. Hey, thats a great price. I was thinking of checking out our Bunnings after work tomorrow - its a simple idea and cheap too.

  3. I moved into a house with three large pine trees growing together. Inside the shelter of these trees is my children's favorite place to play. They love this hidden play area.
    With your ideas anyone can create and make a magical play place for children.

  4. We're definitely going to build a teepee this summer. I'll be sure to include the kiddos in the process! :)

  5. I want to try to grow a cubby this summer!

  6. As an adult I STILL love secret garden spaces! Here's a link to a cubby my daughter and I made with fabric, string and pegs.

  7. Oh me too. I loved the book "The Secret Garden" when I was growing up and always imagined a secret place of my very own.

  8. I would love to set up a hidey spot for my daughter, but am a little concerned that wildlife (some of which is pretty dangerous here in Florida) may find it every bit as inviting as she will. I imagine you have similar concerns where you are. How have you addressed them?

  9. I'm still learning from you, as I'm trying to achieve my goals. I absolutely love reading everything that is written on your site.Keep the posts coming. I liked it!
    ADAMS MFG CO Mighty Miniature Man Clip