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Such cool ideas on how to set up a natural play space for your kids in the backyard (part of a 4-part series) - bye, bye plastic slide - hello forts and logs!

How to Set Up Natural Play Spaces in Your Back Yard

I’ve written before about how much I value outdoor time for kids.  Recently I’ve been thinking more specifically about the topic. Outdoor time of any type is great in my book, but time spent actively exploring nature is even better.

You may remember a few months back I told you guys I had the pleasure of attending an amazing talk on raising creative kids in a hurried world by Nancy Blakey.

Such cool ideas on how to set up a natural play space for your kids in the backyard (part of a 4-part series) - bye, bye plastic slide - hello forts and logs!

photo via Let the Children Play


The entire presentation was fantastic but during the two hours or so of talking, she said two things that really stood out to me. The first was a statement: 90% of our best childhood memories take place outdoors.


I’m not sure what type of science was involved in coming up with this conclusion but as I thought back on my own childhood it certainly seemed accurate.  Activities such as camping, hiking, boating, swimming and just laying in the grass were pervasive.


Great ideas on how to set up natural play spaces in your own back yard for the kids – bye, bye plastic slide, hello forts and logs!

photo via Let the Children Play


The second was a story. She talked about a young family who moved into her neighborhood and decided to install an expensive play structure in the back yard.  Their hope was that it would lure all the neighborhood kids into wanting to congregate there.


In the process of getting the structure up, they had to do some extensive landscaping and a giant dirt pile was created.  This, of course, was what attracted all the kids in the neighborhood and what ultimately kept them coming back – even when the fancy new play structure was finally installed.


Great ideas on how to set up a natural play space in your own back yard – bye, bye plastic slides, hello forts and logs!

photo via Teacher Tom


You may also remember that a few years ago we had quite a mess on our hands when four massive trees fell down in our backyard.  We’ve since rebuilt our demolished fence but there are still some dirt piles, chopped bits of tree trunks, loose landscaping rocks and even a brick pile remaining.


Until that night I saw these items as eyesores but since then I’ve come to see them as valuable tools for outdoor play. I’ve encouraged the kids to dig in, climb on, and move around these objects as they see fit – they’ve had a great time.  I truly believe these types of activity are so important in helping them to develop confidence, curiosity and a sense of self.


So why am I telling you all this now?  Because we’re finally pulling things together in the backyard and we plan to have it finished in the near future.


Which means that I’ve been putting a lot of thought lately into how I want it to function for the kids.


Ultimately I’ve decided I want to set up as many interesting natural play spots as possible.  So I did a little research and found there’s a whole movement growing around creating natural play spaces for children.


Great tips on how to set-up a natural play space in your own back yard. Bye-bye plastic slides – Hello forts and logs!

photo via Let the Children Play

One of my favorite resources on the topic is the blog Let the Children Play.  They actually have several series on the idea including:


photo via Let the Children Play

photo via The Aspetuck Land Trust Blog


All the series cover lots of elements you can use to create a natural play space such as tree logs or dirt/sand piles – my favorite section is the one on loose parts.


I’ve already witnessed my 1 year old and 3 year old work together to do nothing more than haul a pile of rocks back and forth with a play dump truck for unheard of amounts of time.  I can only imagine what they’d do with an intentionally curated collection of loose natural parts.


I set out for this post to be a round up of natural play space ideas but it’s already getting a little long and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet.  I’m realizing as I type that this could be a stellar summer series.  What do you guys think, are you interested in more specifics on how to set up a space like this for your kiddos?  Let me know in the comments.

Similar Stuff:
Outdoor Activities for Families in Honor of Earth Day
Good Idea: Bring the Garden Inside
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