You don’t have to splurge on expensive play equipment to turn your backyard into an adventure playground for the kids. You can stimulate their imaginations and encourage exploration in myriad ways, from using a felled tree trunk as a climbing frame to building a simple sandpit.
First off, make the most of what nature has given you. If you have established trees with low branches, attach a tyre, knotted swing or rope ladder. If you’re handy with a hammer, you might even be able to construct an old-fashioned tree house.
If you have the space, why not plant a fairy grove of trees and shrubs, build a hill or two for them to ‘conquer’, bring in a couple of bush rocks for climbing on or create a pond with its own thriving ecosystem.
Although lawn is fast disappearing from many backyards as suburban blocks get smaller and more people opt for easy-care paved outdoor areas, kids love a stretch of grass to sit on or use as a playing field. If possible, set aside a patch of turf so the kids have somewhere to horse around. You can always pave it later when the kids are grown.
When the children are a little older you can also take the opportunity to foster in them an interest in the environment; give them their own garden beds to plant and tend and they’ll get a great kick out of planting some veggies or herbs, watching them grow and then eating them. Consider a raised garden bed filled with a non-soil-based potting mix so the kids will keep a bit cleaner.
While on the subject of planting, safety is always the first priority when there are children concerned so be wary of using plants that may have spines or thorns, poisonous berries or those that might produce a rash, especially around under-fives who still like to put things in their mouths.
If you’re handy, you can knock up your own simple, rectangular box-type sandpit and paint it in colourful patterns. Or you can build one with a roof to keep the sun and leaf litter at bay or even a novelty sandpit shaped like a car. If not, you can buy one readymade.
Just make sure that you only use washed beach sand or river sand and when the sandpit isn’t in use, place a plastic cover over it to keep the sand dry and the debris out — not to mention the neighbour’s cat who might mistake it for the world’s largest litter box!
A good spot for a sandpit, or any other play equipment for that matter, is on a patch of lawn that refuses to grow because it is beneath a tree or in the shadow of a nearby building. You then have the added bonus of some natural shade.
A cubby can also provide many hours, and years, of fun. And when your child outgrows it, the cubby can be converted to a garden shed or a very luxurious kennel for a pampered pooch.
There is all manner of play equipment you can buy if you have the space to accommodate it — trampolines, swing sets, slides, seesaws, climbing frames and play gyms. Or you can get a little fancy and install a putting green or mini bowling alley.
If blessed with a big backyard and your children are a little older, you can create a paved path for bikes, a skate area, a rebound wall or a games court. And don’t forget the humble basketball hoop — all you need is an expanse of paving, a wall to attach it to and a set of earplugs to drown out the incessant thump, thump, thump.
Never forget, of course, that safety is the byword of the kid-friendly garden. Any space where the children will be playing needs to be securely fenced and have a child-resistant lock. All tools and garden chemicals need to be stored in a locked cupboard or shed and never leave anything lying about that children could put in their mouths and choke on, which means forgoing gravel or pebble paths for the first few years.
The ground on which they walk and play needs to be very forgiving. Ensure there is a soft surface under anything children can swing or climb on. This could be lawn, bark chips, special playground mulch or a rubber safety surface designed especially for use under and around play equipment.