7 Steps to the Ultimate Outdoor Play Space

Summer break is around the corner, and kids will soon bringing recess home with them. Rather than watching the living room become a playground, why not take things outside? After all, today’s kids are spending less time outdoors than most maximum security prisoners. With a few simple elements, you can create an outdoor play space that will make your kids and their friends forget all about the school play yard!

Having a place for kids to play outdoors isn’t just a summer thing, either—done right, it can pay dividends all year long.

1) Start With Active Play

One thing kids can miss out on during summer break is all the running, jumping, rolling and clambering that comes with school recess. This means less exercise and more energy to be rambunctious in the household. Providing little ones with a space to expend that extra energy during the summer will keep them healthy and more likely to go to bed without a struggle.

Depending on your kids’ preferences and the size of the space you’re working with, active play can take any number of forms:

  • Semi-permanent fixtures like trampolines and swings are perfect if you have the space
  • Smaller slides and structures, such as the Tree Top Climb and Slide or the “Gus” Climb-N-Crawl Caterpillar, can fit neatly into a corner while still leaving kids plenty of room to rollick
  • For a more custom solution, try making a DIY obstacle course or balance beam—just be sure to take the proper precautions to childproof it
  • Cheap, easy items like jump ropes and hop scotch are classics for a reason

2) Give Kids Space to Make a Mess

An outlet for messy sensory play is important for a well-equipped play space. No matter what, summer break promises a whole new era of messes, so why not give kids a designated place to make them while developing fine motor skills? Sensory play is vital to healthy brain development—plus, it’s just plain fun! Sand & water play stations are among the best ways to keep messes contained while kids splash, rake and knead to their heart’s content. Having multiple bins allows for groups of kids to be social and silly as they play. The more, the merrier!

3) Add a Dash of Friendly Competition

Summer break means summer play dates. And while it shouldn’t always be about winning and losing, adding a fun outdoor game or two is a great way to keep kids entertained and active. Keep little minds engaged by including something that takes some brainpower—a Junior 4-To-Score, for instance! Add something more physical (like a fun ball game or oversized Jenga set) for a well-rounded spread of games that will keep kids active in both body and mind.

4) Let the Kids Make Some Noise

It might seem ill-advised to help kids be even louder than usual—isn’t volume control half the battle of parenting? That said, setting up an outdoor ‘loud space’ can actually help keep it quieter inside! There are a ton of options for noise-making. Create a chime or bell for kids to knock around, build some rain sticks that you keep outdoors, DIY a boom drum set or something similar, or just invest in a tambourine, maracas or another durable instrument. Set concrete rules about where kids can make loud noises to ensure your house is more tranquil all year long.

5) Leave Space for Natural Exploration

Branches and flowers and beetles, oh my! Some of the best outdoor amenities can’t be bought or built. Poking around a tree trunk or garden bed is a perfect way for kids to get their nature fix when there isn’t time for a trip to the park. If you have a garden, enlist the kids to help you maintain it—it’s mutually beneficial, not to mention fun! Even a few potted plants are will attract enough bugs and wildlife to keep little ones fascinated with the natural world. If you have any, climbable trees can make excellent play structures. Just be sure to advise little ones on safety, and supervise them if they’re feeling like monkeying around.

6) Make Room to Create and Imagine

Art and dramatic play can be done indoors, but taking them outside opens up a whole new realm of possibilities! For art, try setting up an outdoor chalkboard (or converting any available concrete into a giant chalk canvas). You can also bring an indoor art easel outside temporarily to encourage some nature-inspired artistry. Dramatic play tends to happen organically when kids are outdoors. That said, creating interesting spaces is a great way to encourage imaginative play. For a finishing touch, try sitting down with your kid and selecting some action figures and other toys that can live outside for the summer.

7) A Quiet Spot to Hunker Down

It doesn’t matter whether they’re made of pillows, boxes or twigs—kids LOVE their forts. And while they’ll probably end up making a few forts of their own, giving kids a cozy space lets them get away for quiet time when they need it. Depending on what your kids like, there are any number of possibilities. You can string up a hammock and pad it with cozy blankets, set up a kid-designated tent, or take advantage some of the native plant life to support a tepee or other structure. If you have the space and time, creating something like this cubby house will make your back yard the talk of the neighborhood.

However you do it, encouraging kids to play outdoors is an important part of summer break. Plus, setting up an outdoor play space for summer means you’ll have it for long weekends, winter break and any other time energy levels are running high during the school year. Have any tips of your own for creating an outdoor play space, or want to share the one you already have? We’d love to hear from you on our Facebook page!