Creating a natural playscape in your own yard brings hours of education and entertainment to your family. While a traditional swingset is fun, adding playscape elements will bring your child’s imagination to life and put them in touch with nature in a new way. My own children – ranging in age from 4-14 – all still enjoy elements of the playscape even when they have outgrown the swings. A playscape is great for families with multi-aged children as it encourages them to continue to play with one another!
Utilizing natural materials – wood, rock, stone, branches – both make your playscape blend in with your environment and give children the opportunity to look at everyday materials in a new way. Try to be creative with your space! For instance, along this dry river bed, we placed a border of tree stumps of varying heights. It creates a visual edge to the bed and doubles as a great place to practice balance walking or a table for filling bird feeders!
In addition to plenty of pinecones, leaves, rocks, sticks, and branches give your children tools to extend their play. Buckets, scoops, shovels, colanders, measuring spoons, watering cans and pie tins are great places to start. Pick up items like these that you don’t mind leaving in the yard at your local Goodwill!
Work with Your Existing Landscape
Seeking opportunities within your existing landscape both honors the nature of your yard and makes life a LOT easier for you! Have a hill? That might be the perfect spot for incorporating a slide!
We consider interacting with nature to be a major plus of a playscape. Many features will attract animals to your yard. While this will often be a source of delight, be mindful of animals that you may not want your children to regularly experience such as some insects. Insects are fascinating, but I know that if our dry river bed has as many ants living there as rocks my children will be less enticed to play there. Plants are your friends! Many of them discourage different types of insects. For instance, consider landscaping your play areas with chrysanthemums, lemongrass, dill and lavender. You will enjoy the flowers, foliage and scent of these plants and they are known to be a deterrent of several insects.
Consider touch- friendly ground cover in areas where your children might sit and recline. The University of Minnesota Extension office is an excellent resource for selecting plants. Find the perfect ground cover for your soil type and sun exposure by visiting their site.
Water features are universally loved by children. Personally, we opt to bring in buckets of water to our play area. This keeps us from turning into a mosquito breeding ground and works better for mom. There are days I am ready to deal with water and the fun (ie HUGE MESS) it brings and times it works better for us not to. There are many great ideas on adding water to your playscape. A bubbling fountain, a wet river bed, and waterfalls are all good places to start. If you do choose to add water, it will need to be water in motion in some way to avoid mosquito larvae.
Let Someone Else Do It!
If you are new to the idea of a natural playscape consider visiting one first to get inspiration. Observe what your children are drawn to and start with one of those elements in your own yard. The closest one in our area is at Oxbow Park in Byron and we highly recommend it. There are also several in the Twin Cities and my children love the one at the Minnesota Zoo near the carousel.
Do you have a natural playground in your backyard? Share a photo with us!