This post is a part of a series on backyard play spaces. For other posts in the series:
::: More ideas for creating backyard play spaces
::: 6 Backyard play spaces for fun and learning
Our backyard is no longer toddler or preschooler friendly. My boys spend their time there mucking around in the pool or finding new and improved ways to terrify their mother on the trampoline.
So in anticipation of my young nieces visiting in the holidays, we set up a little corner of the backyard just for them.
Creating a backyard play space doesn't have to be tricky, costly or time consuming. It doesn't even have to be permanent. All that is needed are a variety of opportunities for children to imagine, create, build and explore using open-ended materials.
Here is what I did.
1. Create a place to dig
Dirt is one of nature's ultimate open-ended play materials. Children can dig to China, make mud pies, build roads, discover grubs, roots and worms or simply enjoy the sensory experience.
Creating a place to play in the dirt is as simple as giving your child their own little patch and the permission to do whatever they like with it.
We had a shady corner where the grass wasn't growing, and used that to create a simple digging patch by turning over the soil with a fork to loosen the dirt and making a border of rocks and pavers we found in the garden to define the space.
To make the dirt extra 'diggable', add some sand to the mix.
Some gardening tools and a tub of water was all that was needed to have them happily engaged in playing in the dirt and the mud for hours.
2. Create a space to hide
Children love the feeling of being away from the prying eyes of adults. Simple shelters provide places to pause, places to imagine, or places to tear down and build back up again.
The boys used some old bamboo stakes from the veggie garden to make a simple teepee and created "walls" using fallen branches from the backyard. Even the chickens loved it:
3. Create an outdoor kitchen
The perfect accompaniment to a patch of dirt or sand, the outdoor kitchen provides hours of fun filling, pouring, mixing, creating and pretending.
I found an old side table during our last neighbourhood council clean up which - with the addition of cooking utensils, sand and loose natural materials did the trick.
I took out the drawer and filled it with sand, and the shelf on the bottom was perfect for holding all of the other bits and pieces.
The sand drawer also did double duty as a sand tray for small world play.
Everything here can be taken down, put away, moved or replaced with little fuss or disruption to the garden as the children's needs or interests change.
And whenever my nieces came over they rushed straight outside to play - mission accomplished!
If you would like more ideas for backyard play spaces you can't go past Greenheart's Parent's Guide to Nature Play.
You might also be interested in:
::: Mud Pie Kitchens Revisited
::: Create a Natural Playscape in your own Backyard
::: More Mud Pie Kitchen Madness
::: Creating a Dirt / Mud Patch at Preschool
::: The Role of Cubbies in the Outdoor Play Space
::: Just Add Places to Pause, Places to Hide