With the arrival of my son last September, I found myself chomping at the bit to find ways to get him outside – and my research led me to instructions on how to build a play garden for kids.
I have to be patient for now. After all, he’s not even a year old! However, I can’t wait to start building him a play garden so that he can explore the outdoors as I work alongside him in our own full-size vegetable garden.
Kids need a place to play outdoors, and it’s even better if they can do so in their own backyard.
Building a play garden for kids is an excellent way to give them the space to grow, explore and have fun.
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What is a Play Garden?
A play garden is an outdoor play area where your children can be free to explore nature, learn how to garden, and simply have fun outdoors.
You can add whatever kinds of elements you want to the garden – much of these can be based on the resources you have available and the preferences of your child.
The most essential part of a play garden, however, is dirt!
Don’t be afraid of letting your kids get dirty. Dirt can not only improve a child’s mood (even if it means more laundry for you!), but it can also help reduce stress and strengthen your child’s immune system.
This might sound counterintuitive, but dirt contains healthy bacteria that is perfect for boosting an immune system to prevent all kinds of viruses and illnesses.
Allowing your kids access to a play garden will help them explore the natural world and spend more time outside. It’s free entertainment that can keep them occupied while you get chores done around the farm!
Play Gardens for Kids: 22 Ideas to Try
When you build your play garden, start with a dirt or grass area as your foundation. This won’t take up too much space – and while it may only be a corner of the home’s outdoor space, a few square feet at most, it can mean the world to your child.
You can transform an old sandbox into a play garden or even create a border area out of your existing garden. One tip, though – make sure at least part of your play garden is in the shade to prevent sunburn.
Here are some other cool ideas to consider when you are building a play garden for your child.
1. Put Up “Wildlife” Housing
A surefire way to encourage your kids to spend more time in the garden? Get wildlife to hang out there, too!
You can attract all kinds of wildlife, from bees to bats to butterflies, by putting up housing for them.
Consider building some bathhouses or erecting things like birdbaths to invite in all kinds of fluttering, crawling, and climbing creatures!
2. Make a Bean Teepee
There are several benefits to building a bean teepee with your kids. First, it will give them a cool hideaway to hang out in once the beans start to grow and use the teepee as a trellis.
Second, they can grow their own beans to enjoy! Who knows, you may be able to get them to start eating their veggies after all…
3. Set Up a Wooden Dollhouse or Play Area
Consider building a few rudimentary dollhouses out of woodblocks. You can let your kids play with the dollhouses or toys as you work nearby.
4. Make a Tire Garden
Another easy way to add some entrainment is to grow a tire garden. If you have a few old tires lying around, you can fill these with soil and encourage your kids to grow their favorite kinds of flowers inside.
5. Grow a Kid-Friendly Flower or Herb Garden
Herbs and flowers are great plants to grow if you have kids. They’re easy to care for, requiring minimal water (in many cases), and they mature rapidly – offering faster results for kids who often require more instant gratification!
6. Create a Fairy Garden
Fairy houses are small structures that children love to explore. They’re often made from natural materials, and can be crafted by the child themselves or with help of their father, mother, or older sibling. You can use natural materials or repurposed items from around the house.
For bonus points, encourage your child to grow their own plants in their fairy gardens. Buy them some seeds, and watch them grow!
7. Sensory Table
Building a sensory table in the garden is a great way to get your kids outside. Sensory tables, common in preschools and elementary schools, are kid-height tables filled with things like sand, water, and other materials that kids can stick their hands into.
You can put the table in a shady area and let your kids play to their hearts’ content.
8. Use Low Fencing
Need to keep younger kids contained in the garden? Use a low fence to section off a small piece of the yard for your kids’ garden.
9. Start a Pizza Garden
Another fun way to get your kids involved in gardening is to let them grow their own pizza garden.
Let them grow a few tomatoes, perhaps some basil and oregano, and other favorite pizza toppings. Then you can use those veggies and herbs to make your own homemade pizza!
10. Make a Sunflower Fort
Sunflowers are easy to grow and if you choose the right varieties, they’ll spring up to statuesque heights in a hurry!
Consider planting sunflower seeds in an exterior ring so your kids can enjoy the interior fort they’ll produce when they’re mature!
11. Outdoor Chalkboard
You’ve seen the old-fashioned outdoor chalkboard, with kids scribbling all over it as they walk by.
This is such a quaint and ingenious idea in its simplicity and rustic charm — but why not make your outdoor writing space more unique? You can use Plexiglas to create an impermanent chalkboard – use dry erase markers instead of chalk!
12. Make a Trellis Area for Shade
If you plan on keeping your kids out in the garden with you for long periods of time, you may want to consider adding some shady areas so you don’t have to worry about sunburns.
You can make the most of these shady spots by setting up trellises! Whether you use the trellises to grow squashes, beans, or other vining plants, what’s for sure is that these areas will be perfect for providing shade to the kiddies underneath.
13. Repurpose a Galvanized Wash Bin for a Portable Garden
Have a few galvanized wash bins hanging around? You might want to consider filling one up with dirt and some toys to make your child a portable garden!
Just go easy on the soil – these can be heavy to move!
14. Make a Mini Pond
Consider digging a miniature pond for your kids’ play garden. Your kids will learn so much about wildlife and ecology by playing in the pond – plus, you can use the water from the pond to irrigate the garden.
15. Create a Butterfly Sanctuary
Embrace the beauty of nature by creating a butterfly garden in your yard. Plant milkweed, purple coneflower and other plants that caterpillars and butterflies like to eat will ensure you have plenty of wildlife constantly stopping by throughout the day!
16. Put Up Some Raised Beds
Raised beds are perfect for little kids, allowing them to work at eye-level while you tend to your own plants nearby.
You can simply fill the beds with sand and let them play or encourage them to grow their own fruits, flowers, or vegetables here.
Let your kids have full control over the design and maintenance of these beds – sure, you might find that their plants look a little rough around the edges.
But who cares? Your kids will still be learning – and likely having a ton of fun in the process, too.
17. Try a Garden Table
Consider elevating some favorite garden plants, either by growing in containers or in flats, by raising them up on garden tables. This will make them easier to reach for your kids – and for you, too.
18. Don’t Forget Water Features!
Don’t forget to include water features in your play garden! Your kids will love splashing in the water and mud, and adding a burbling brook or a frog-filled pond are great ways to invite local wildlife to the party, too.
19. Grow a Play Meadow
The hard and unforgiving ground can be much more than a nuisance for outdoor children. With little to no cushioning, it often compresses under even the slightest of weight- especially in play areas where kids run up and down all day long!
It’s worth considering an alternative that offers some resilience but requires minimal maintenance or upkeep. Grow a play meadow!
Plants such as mosses, sedums, or clovers are excellent choices, and they are also great at fighting erosion by holding the soil together beneath them.
20. Build Pathways Among Edibles
This play garden idea is a great way to encourage your kids to spend time in the garden – and to eat their veggies, too.
Grow a mixture of fun edibles, like snap peas, mint, and radishes, along with soft, kid-friendly plants. Then, build some pathways winding around the garden beds and keep the area well-stocked with kid-sized watering cans.
That way, you all can enjoy the beauty and diversity of an edible garden!
21. Sand Pit Now…
…garden bed later!
Why waste time constructing an entire vegetable patch if there’s already plenty of space lying around underfoot?
A simple solution: build yourself a raised bed out of wood frames or wire mesh panels instead – then cover them entirely in five-inch deep layers of course play sand like what is used at playgrounds.
When your kids are older (or just bored with the sand pit), simply scoop away any unwanted particles by hauling them away. Then you can plant in your garden beds!
22. Camp Area
A classic campfire serves as a wonderful place for families to get together. Having these areas outside makes it more appealing when the weather is nice, or if you want to go back out after dinner for some s’mores around your own personal campfire.
The heat from ashes will stay warm in the pits so be careful not to let kids play with them even though they may seem cool.
Although a camp area might not seem like a natural part of a garden, it is a great way to encourage your kids to spend more time outside. Plus, you can use the wood ashes as fertilizer in the garden later on!
Start Your Play Garden for Kids Today!
The best piece of advice I can give you when you are thinking about building a play garden? Just get cracking already!
There are so many ways you can get kids outside and playing when you build a play garden – so just do it. It doesn’t matter how old your child is or what their interests might be.
From creating a whimsical fairy garden to incorporating outdoor toys or even allowing your kids to grow their own fruits, herbs, and vegetables, there are so many ways to get your children involved in your favorite hobby.
My son isn’t even one yet – but you can rest assured, as soon as planting season arrives, he’ll be outside in his very own play garden, too.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).