10 Great garden play area ideas for kids
If you want to encourage the kids to set aside their phones, tablets, consoles and TV screens, we’ve got some great suggestions to tempt them outside. Whether you’re looking for a wooden playhouse to stimulate their imagination or some fun outdoor games and activities to burn off extra energy, here are 10 ideas to transform your garden from boring to brilliant.
1. Dig them a vegetable patch
Kids love growing their own plants and flowers. Successfully nurturing a tiny seed into a fully grown plant gives children of all ages a real buzz, and it’s a great way to inspire the next generation of gardeners.
Start by inviting your kids to help you with light tasks in the garden. Give them their own mini-watering cans, rakes and trowels. They can pitch in with you or make mud pies while you weed. Build a little kingdom for their toys by planting a leafy jungle setting or dig a moat to surround their lego castle. And when they’re ready, give them a little patch of their own to grow things like peas or strawberries.
Children also love simple lawns. Just mow the grass every now and again and suddenly that unassuming patch of green is perfect for sport, picnics and letting off steam.
2. Install a wooden playhouse
A playhouse is a great place to let your imagination run riot. One day it’s a mad science laboratory, the next it’s a rocket ship or a tea shop. And the best bit? It keeps the fun going all year round, especially if you pop a little space heater in during the colder months.
Children have boundless imaginations but you can give them a boost with a few cunning decorating tips. Blogger Aby of You Baby Me Mummy recommends simple additions like bunting, a few coats of paint and adding some cuddly, soft cushions to really bring it to life. Her top tip? Paint an inside wall with blackboard paint. Then the playhouse becomes a tiny studio for an up-and-coming artist!
3. Create a beach
A sand pit can provide hours and hours of simple fun. Easy to assemble, you can buy pre-cut sandboxes that just require a little bit of elbow grease when you get back home. Or you could get creative and upcycle other materials to create your own desert island.
Head to a DIY store for special play sand (it’s a finer grade, making it much better for kids to play in) and get the little ones to help fill it when the time comes. Just remember to cover the sand at night if you live in a neighbourhood with lots of cats.
4. Build a treehouse
Over at Skint Dad, Ricky’s daughter desperately wants a treehouse. And who could blame her? There’s nothing better than a super secret, no-parents-allowed hideout in the trees. Her dream space would have “a hot chocolate machine… every games console… trampolines, a giant ball pit and a climbing wall.”
But even if you need to scale it back, a few accessories can ramp up the cool factor of the humblest of treehouses. A pirate flag turns your child’s hideout into the bird’s nest of Blackbeard’s ship, while a homemade banner claims the space for all to see. But for those without mature trees in their gardens, don’t despair! Tower playhouses are a great alternative.
5. Grow a living willow den
Play areas created out of living willow are fun and magical. Plus, they look beautiful in the garden. A cost-effective, natural structure, children love the idea of a wild den where they can hone their survival skills and set up camp.
The best time to plant willow is between December and February, making this the perfect outdoor family activity during the winter months. Before you know it, spring will roll around bringing with it fresh green leaves and a rapidly growing structure. Want some tips? Little Trekkers has an easy, step-by-step guide to help you create your own den from willow whips, garden string and a bit of effort.
6. Re-wild your garden
For a taste of the “wild” in your play area, revive a neglected corner by sowing a wildflower meadow. It’s a great way to encourage mini-beasts, birds and butterflies to your space, and it creates a magical ‘enchanted forest’ feel.
Write a list of all the things you could do to encourage more wildlife into your space. You might like to make your own bird feeders, create a hedgehog highway, build an insect hotel or set up a wormery. Maybe you could even dig a small pond to really encourage biodiversity. Challenge the children to keep a record of each new animal they spot and learn some fun facts about each one. The team from Kids Do Gardening recommends making compost with children too. You might be surprised at how much they enjoy helping to reduce waste and produce their own ‘black gold’ for the garden.
7. Design a fort
It’s easy to make a temporary fort that goes up and comes down within the space of a few hours; ideal for making the most of a sunny summer’s day. Gather the family along with all the boxes, chairs and blankets you can find and see what you can create! In a guest post on The Middlesized Garden, Matt Jackson of Land Heritage is a big fan of this cheap and cheerful option “because the children can join in and have a real sense of ownership.”
But you can also make a fort that’s built to last. Matt says that they made one from old commercial wooden apple bins that they bought, stacked and secured. All it took was a “bit of elbow grease” and it was good to go! Just remember to check that the structure is sound and not likely to topple over before playtime commences!
8. Set up a traditional playground
Bring all the fun of the playground into your own garden with a swing set and slide. If your playground is a permanent fixture, consider investing in play-grade bark chippings for the floor around the equipment. It’s much kinder to little knees in case of accidental landings. You’ll need to make sure that it’s about 4 inches deep so it’s extra springy and safe.
And how about a trampoline? For added peace of mind, you could always sink the trampoline into the ground.
9. DIY obstacle course
Do your kids like mud runs and boot camps? Collect a load of different equipment and supply some stop watches so they can set up their own obstacle course. Think old tyres, skipping ropes, a football, a plank of wood to balance on and a net to scrabble under. You don’t need expensive equipment for this – look at what you can borrow from the house and get creative with the challenges. Old pillow cases are great for sack races and almost anything can be balanced on a spoon to make completing the course even more tricky.
10. Invest in their future
Finally, a garden building that can grow and evolve with your family’s changing needs is an incredible gift for a child. Young entrepreneurs will love the idea of setting up their own shop, cafe or art gallery. Role play is an excellent way to improve confidence, social skills and empathy and you’re never too young to start learning basic business skills!
For creative children, the 10x6ft Maine Summer House from Waltons makes an excellent craft studio. Light, bright and airy, they can paint, draw, sculpt and make to their hearts’ content. And when they reach their teens, they’ll definitely appreciate their own space to hang out with friends, do homework or simply relax in the garden.
There are no limits when it comes to outdoor play. If you’re looking for wooden playhouses and outdoor toys to keep kids entertained through the school holidays, Waltons has a great selection. If you’re not sure which type to choose, read Waltons ultimate guide to buying a playhouse.