Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where do the Children Play? 18 Tips for Child-Sensitive Garden Design

In the course of my work, I came across Earthplay, designers of child-centred outdoor play areas. They have some fascinating articles and an intriguing set of links (I haven't explored them all yet).

While Earthplay focus on commercial and public play areas, there is much that is applicable to home gardens. I recommend reading Magical Playscapes first to stimulate your thinking; it did mine today.

Our house is like many suburban houses in Australia, with a narrow (4') passage up one side. It's a neglected spot, too poorly-lit, dry and narrow to be a planting space. In other words, it's a junk area. Well, my boys have discovered the lengths of timber and the climbing frame painting stand there, and they like it. First, I issued the ritual comment about redbacks. Then I moved out a few items that made the area very difficult to access, and rediscovered a 60x80cm slab of concrete and some Besser blocks.

Inspiration struck. The boys and I pushed some of the blocks against the wall of the house, and levered the slab on top. The Twig and I discussed the wonders of levers, and I also gave him a vehement lecture on the folly of putting fingers under a heavy object while it is being moved. Fortunately he didn't injure himself.

Now, the boys have a low flat area that they can use as a seat or stage for domino runs (which is what happened today) or whatever else they choose. A 'nothing' area is now a desirable play space, after only half an hour's work.

The article 25 ways to improve your outdoor space is not designed for the home garden, so I've shamelessly appropriated the ideas from it to make a list which is. I've written another post previously, which has more practical tips.

  1. Which parts of your back yard do your children gravitate to? Which parts do they avoid, or not use much?

  2. Do they have easy access to their outdoor toys?

  3. Wait a minute, do you have suitable outdoor toys? Not just balls and tricycles, think of blocks, planks and other items for imaginative and construction play.

  4. Is there a richly-textured natural environment? Stones, trees, shrubs, small plants, gravel, mulch, sand? Does the topography vary (you could add hillocks, raised beds, or a dry stream bed)?

  5. Is there a way that they can play with water?

  6. Do you have pets? Do you encourage wildlife, and a respectful interest in animals of all sizes? (Do keep in mind, however, that while most children torment animals through sheer ignorance at some point, they do not all become psychopaths.)

  7. Are there plants that children can eat or enjoy smelling?

  8. Do the children each have a garden plot of their own?

  9. Does the built environment encourage exploration of its own materials, or of the space itself?

  10. Do fences and other barriers define spaces, or just say a big NO?

  11. Could you put in a labyrinth, or spiral path like this?

  12. Are there secret places and hidden paths to find?

  13. Are there any open structures that children can play on imaginatively? Trees to climb?

  14. Is there somewhere for balancing games: a beam or group of stumps?

  15. Is there a place to do art work outside? A concrete path for chalking, a place to do painting?

  16. Is there space for children to build their own constructions from found materials?

  17. Do you have materials that can be linked with science discussions? A rain gauge, thermometer, microscope? What about a sundial?

  18. Consider the sounds of the garden. Do you have wind-chimes? Some plants can be made into musical instruments. Others make distinctive sounds in the breeze, such as casuarinas and bamboo. Then there are water-related sounds: consider a fountain or a shishi-odoshi.

I suspect you will find that many of the things that make a garden exciting for children to explore also make it a delight to adults. Perhaps it's time to take a child's-eye look at your garden to fuel your creative processes.

Oh, do you have an ear-worm at the moment? Go on, you know you want to.


Amanda said...

I wanna pic of the new play space!!

Garry Allen said...

kids seem to gravitate to our dirt area. Grassed areas for ball games and to run. Hard surfaces to ride bikes, scooters... on

Gardenista said...

My 2 year old likes to explore and touch my flowers and collect rocks so far. The backyard proper is inhabited by a huge dog that landscapes it herself by digging holes!

I was impressed that your huntsman spider catches "lizards and frogs". Wow! Impressive abilities. If only it came in a pretty little suit, something like the robotic Roomba vacuum cleaner. Then I would welcome them into my house!