Tuesday, April 20, 2010

just add stones, logs, stumps and mounds.

A simple arrangement of rocks and logs and earthworks has a high play value and can be vastly less expensive than the pipe-rail and plastic structures too common in the municipal landscape. I would very much like to see us get away from the idea that a playground has to cost alot of money. - Playscapes
Kids love to play on and with rocks, boulders, fallen logs and tree stumps.

As part of our series on how to create irresistible play spaces for children, lets look at how easy and inexpensive it is to add natural elements to your own play space to create a rich learning environment and a place of aesthetic beauty that helps to connect children to the natural world.

1.  Tree Cookies

We love our tree cookies.  They are easy to move around and to use in different ways: to create paths, define or enclose a space, to sit on, to use as a play surface, to add to an obstacle course or in a sandpit:

Open ended and easy for kids to move, tree cookies lend themselves easily to creative and imaginative play.  One minute they are a seat or table, the next a part of a train, and then a tower:  

Adding natural elements to a playspace that kids can move around: gravel, mulch, tree biscuits and stones can give children a real sense of empowerment within the environment.   

Image:  Playscapes
2.  Stumps

Stumps are also very versatile within a play space, and if you are nice to your local landscape supplier they may even be free!  Stumps enclosing a sandpit can also be incorporated into a child's play or used for seating:  
Image:  Teacher Tom

Stumps add challenge, interest and imagination to a play space.  Used as stepping stones they beg the question "where does this pathway lead?"  

Image: Playscapes

Or used to define a small area they create an inviting and intimate space for play:  
Image: Playscapes

They can be incorporated really easily into garden beds:

3. Rocks

Children sit on them, crawl over them, incorporate them into their cubbies and imaginative play and learn from their permanence in the natural landscape:

4.  Logs

You can source logs from your local council or landscape supplier.  Try to find a variety of sizes: some to balance on, some to move around or some as interesting design features.  You will be surprised just how much play value you get from a humble log: they become balance beams, climbing frames, dinosaurs, airplanes, serpents, trains…anything the children can imagine.

Image:  Playscapes

I'm really being inspired by the work going on at this Australian preschool in their Hush Garden.  Sherry, Donna and the children have added rocks, plants, logs and stumps to wonderful effect:

5.  Mounds

Mounds and bumps help to create spaces to climb to, to look out from, to roll down, to mount slides into and grow plants on.

Giving you any ideas?  These images helped me to realise that with a little imagination and some sweet talking with local gardeners, carpenters, and nurseries you can make a big difference to a play space for very little outlay.

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 places to pause, places to hide, places to rest


  1. Another great post, Jenny. I never knew there was such a thing as a "tree cookie." Cool!

  2. You are so right Jenny ... it doesn't have to cost an arm or a a leg to create natural beauty. We were very surprised at just how inexpensive our Hush Garden make over was. The trees were the most expensive part at around $30.00 each but the river rocks, stones and pebbles were very cheap and the logs ... well we've had them lying around in our own gardens as well as at kinder for ever ... and we also have tree stumps through out the playground which were given to us by a tree lopping friend ... Ask and you will be pleasantly surprised what people will give you in the form of beautiful natural materials.
    I'll write up a post in the next few days outlining what monies we spent on the new garden to support what you have written about here Jenny. Thanks for another beauty!
    Donna :) :)

  3. Thanks guys. I think its so helpful to know that you have created something so amazing at preschool for relatively low cost - especially when you look at how much outdoor equipment costs! I think our swing set was up around the $800 mark (but we wouldn't be without it).

  4. Fantastic -- in fact, I am going to send you an email about it. :-)

    Cheers- Bethe @balmeras

  5. Tree cookie's are such a versatile natural element to incorporate into a play space. All of these ideas are inspiring.

    Thank you so much for your kind comment about the birth of our baby girl.

  6. This is such a great idea! I've been looking for ways to make our backyard more exciting for my children, and this is perfect. -And the best part is no primary colored plastic equipment! Thanks!

  7. Cookies and logs -- that's what we're missing! Unfortunately, our little playground is getting so full.

    I just had a parent offer some more stumps. Maybe I can convince someone to cut them into cookies for me.

    Again, thanks Jenny. I think I'm all caught up now!

  8. Thanks guys - the cookies are a great idea. Our kids use them in all sorts of imaginative ways.

  9. Hi good day ! nice post you have . It's very nice , I have plan to setting up my garden can you give me an idea or steps on how to make it beautiful. i have heard some garden accessories such as garden spinners , wind chimes , wind spinners and many more . I want to try this things in my garden but i don't know how to get the right accessories . I hope you can help me . thank you .

  10. where can one find stumps? that's probably such a newbie question...

  11. Yes! Thank you for these! We are grieving the loss of our old tree, but these ideas are so redemptive! So glad that I googled for some ideas!!
    Thank you~

  12. Thanks so much for this post! I love these ideas.

    Our backyard is in dire need of help, and there is a lot of inspiration in here.

  13. Great to see this type of tree cookies nice post and photos are also good thanx................

  14. Thanks for all the great ideas for creating an exciting and fun outdoor environment for children.

  15. I love this! Does anyone know where to find these materials? Unfortunately, we don't have them on our property. I have called a couple of tree removal places but nobody seems able or willing to help. I have even offered to pick up the materials. Not sure where to go next, but would love to use these to create a natural playscape. Thank you!!! We live in Eastern PA.

  16. what is the best way to secure the tree stumps for stepping "blocks"?