Guest Blog Post, written by Debi Huang
My family enjoys spending time in nature. Which can be challenging when you live in an urban jungle like Los Angeles. Although we love heading out to the trail, mountains or beach, we don’t always have the time to get away from it all.
The good news is that getting your fill of nature play can be as simple as heading out the back door. How? Set up some fun backyard play spaces that make taking a recess break anytime simple. The best part is that each of these ideas is low-to-no cost and can be made with little-to-no building skills.
Short on space? Pick one or two of these ideas or rotate from one season to the next.
1. Dirt pile
For kids, a dirt pile is a mound of possibility. They can dig; bury rocks, fossils and other treasures; add water to make rivers, puddles and mud; add toy dump trucks, bulldozers and the like; add other elements like tree stumps and wood planks to create bridges – or just climb to the top of the pile and run down it.
If you don’t happen to have any unused dirt lying around, buy some at a local garden supply store. You don’t need much – a small mound will do the trick.
2. Nature play station
We used a couple of unused wood planks and some tree stumps to create a makeshift shelving unit, but a few odd bins or old pots work, too. Think of this space as a one-stop shop for nature play supplies. This is where to house the bubbles, pails and sand toys, along with other natural elements like acorns, shells, sticks and rocks.
3. Sand play area
Don’t worry if you’re short on space. Use a medium-sized plastic bin (and if it comes with a cover, even better). Add some store-bought sand, shovels, sifters, plastic animals and water and voila – it’s a backyard beach. Can anyone say drip castle time?
4. Water play zone
With summer’s soaring temperatures, water play becomes a vital component of any backyard play. Set up a water table (or large container), preferably close to a water source. Keep water toys within easy reach. Some favorites include squirt guns, spray bottles (the kind with fans are a big hit), pails, sponges and water balloons for the older crowd.
5. Creative expressions wall
A large expanse of butcher paper set up at a kid-friendly height becomes the backdrop for all sorts of masterpieces. Don’t limit yourself to pens and paints – consider using water and mud, too. Instead of paintbrushes, dip natural elements such as flowers, leaves and seeds into paint and see what happens.
6. The kids-only space
Be it a fancy clubhouse, an unused tent or even a cardboard box, create a getaway that’s strictly for kids.
7. A garden of wonder
Children’s play spaces should be a least a little bit magical, don’t you think? A small pot can be transformed into a fairy garden using just a single plant, a few natural elements gathered around your neighborhood and a little imagination.
8. An outdoor eating spot
No, you don’t need a fancy table and chairs to enjoy dining alfresco. Try a comfy blanket instead. And why limit picnics to dinner? Head outside for breakfast, snacks or even a tea party.
9. The grownups hangout haven
When it comes to playing outside, parents need a place to call their own, too. Skip traditional backyard furniture for a hammock. Grab a favorite drink and a good book and take a much-deserved break.
Don’t forget to extend your backyard fun into the evenings with an outdoor movie, campfire or campout. The only limit to the fun is your imagination!
Debi Huang is a Los Angeles-based wife, mom and adventure guide for two young boys. She writes about connecting kids and families with nature in the backyard and beyond at Go Explore Nature.