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Playgrounds Gone Natural: Play Gardens

photos counter clockwise from top: The Imagination Tree, Pinterest, Paint on the Ceiling


After first writing about playgrounds and backyards going natural, I was so excited to hear you all wanted to come along on my journey in building S and C their own natural play space.  I’ve thought a lot about how best to approach this new series and I think the simplest route is to use each post to spotlight a different possible element.  Today we’re talking about play gardens.


Setting up veggie gardens and getting the kids in on the action has been super popular for quite a while now.  To be honest I don’t love gardening (and I have a total black thumb).  So while I like that idea – it’s never made it to the top of my priority list.


A play garden is something different though.  Basically, it’s a spot for the kids to claim completely as their own, to dig, plant, and explore over and over as they see fit.  What I love most about the idea is that, in contrast to a traditional garden, this is a space where I can let my 1 and 3 year old take complete ownership.  Plus I don’t have to worry about accidentally killing their tomatoes (and in the process, their spirits).


Here are few examples to show you exactly what I’m talking about…



This play garden from The Imagination Tree is what got me so excited about the concept.  It’s everything I love in an indoor activity outside (multi-sensory, open-ended and perfect for dramatic play).  It doesn’t get much better than that!  Notice there are planted flowers and kid-sized gardening tools along with lots of space for the kiddos to get in there and get messy.  Check out the link for all the details and click through for lots more inspiration.


This is another great example via Paint on the Ceiling.  It’s so cool how she incorporated play props like those adorable cupcake liner flowers alongside the real thing.



And here’s a great reminder that play gardens aren’t just for flower-loving little girls (although we all already know that’s a big generalization right?  C loves colorful flowers).  From road bricks and a pond to a little planting corner, this rad pinterest find has all sorts of interesting elements.  It’s a great example of using space where you have it and thinking outside the box.  Speaking of which, if you’re a true urbanite facing a serious lack of space, consider the play garden’s little sister, the fairy garden, which can be housed in a large planter.



Helen of Curly Birds also has a few natural play space posts, including this one on creating a kids’ picking garden.  What I really loved, though, were these wooden garden totes her husband made for her twin girls.  Because fun tools (including a DIY bug viewer) are what put the “play” in play garden.


Before I wrap up, I wanted to point out this post by TinkerLab on helping your kids to find nature.  Here’s an excerpt:

…when given the option of imagining their ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slides…a surprising observation in light of what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (2) and promote competition rather than co­operation (3).”  Slides and swings are no doubt fun, but children will bore more quickly of these closed-ended activities than they will of open-ended play spaces like sandboxes, forts, ponds, and climbing trees that allow for plentiful interpretations.


I found myself continually nodding as I read this – yes! That’s exactly why we went with a sandbox instead of a swing set! – It really speaks to why I’m so into this natural play space idea.  It also contains a great list of basic components for a naturalized play environment.

P.S. In case you’re wondering how our very own natural play space is coming along, progress is being made!  Last week we re-barked the area left of our lawn where all of these cool spaces will one day live.  How about you guys, anyone been inspired enough to put plan into action yet?

Similar Stuff: How to Set Up Natural Play Spaces in Your Own Back Yard



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