With the end of another winter upon us, I’m reminded of my mom’s summertime refrain: “David, go outside and play!” Here’s a list of ten things to think about when creating a play space for your kids (or grandkids, or nieces and nephews, or whomever):
1- Love The Lawn.
With a little imagination a lawn is a soccer pitch, waterfight battlefield, or a perfect spot from which to lay back and analyze puffy clouds. Do not underestimate the lawn!
2- Sometimes, the simplest play spaces are the most fun.
A sandbox is easy to put together and provides an inexpensive space that can be repurposed when the kids are older. Just make sure you incorporate a lid; neighborhood cats don’t differentiate between Tidy Cat and play sand.
3- If you’re adding a playset or other equipment, keep it safe!
Most manufacturers recommend a minimum six foot buffer zone around equipment, and you want a soft surface to cushion falls. Grass doesn’t hold up too well under swings and it can be a hassle trimming around slides and posts. Recycled rubber mulches and specially-engineered wood mulches are popular with community playgrounds but can also be purchased in reasonable quantities for home playsets.
4- Outdoor toys need a home.
Even something as simple as a bench with storage inside can keep toys out of the rain, and off the grass when it’s time to mow. If you have the space and the budget for a larger solution, why not combine a playhouse with some storage?
5- Plan for paths!
Remember that the shortest distance between two points is often over or through Grandma’s heirloom roses, unless there are several clearly identifiable ways around them. It may be urban legend, but I was once told that when a new building is built at a college, the designers wait to see where the students create paths before they install the sidewalks. If you’re starting from scratch, why not see where the kids go?
6- Learn what plants are especially poisonous, and make sure that they’re not planted where they’ll be a temptation.
You can find a number of great lists online (websites that end in .edu are often the best), or contact your local County Extension Office.
7- A garden full of edible plants can help kids learn where food comes from and why plants are so important.
Even something as simple as a “Pizza Garden”- tomatoes, basil, oregano, peppers, and onions- can encourage healthy eating and a little help pulling weeds.
8- Edibles are great, but don’t forget to plant for the other four senses!
Those, of course, are smell (lavender, roses, mint, lilac); sight (sunflowers, hosta, Echinacea, hydrangea); touch (globe amaranth, lambs’ ears, silver artemesia, sedum, river birch); and even sound (ornamental grasses, Chinese Lantern Plant)
9- The magic of gardens is that they’re not just about the people.
Encourage pollinators, birds, frogs, and other critters to give kids a chance to see Nature in action. The National Wildlife Federation even has a program through which your backyard can be recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. You can learn more at www.nwf.org/backyard/
10- Think about the future when planning your child’s play space.
After all, he or she won’t be this age forever. When I was little, I clamored for a treehouse. My dad and I built one, but it was not your “normal” backyard tree fort. The treehouse was beautifully framed, and built to adult proportions so that when we were grown, the structure could be lowered with house jacks and converted to a garden shed. A wise man, my father.
I should include a rule # 11- just be open to using your imagination and having fun. Listening to my neighbor’s kids screaming, laughing, and running around, I think they’re doing just fine without my Top Ten list. Get outside, spring doesn’t last forever!