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No matter how small or big your backyard actually is, it needs to be a space for the whole family to enjoy. But if you feel like your family isn’t able to make the most of your home outdoor space that seems currently uninviting and uninspiring, then here are the things you need to know to make the most of every tiny bit of space in your garden.
The Basics: Transform Your Outdoor Space for Relaxation and Fun
Fresh air and exercise are vitally important to your kids’ growing minds and bodies. So, your outdoor space needs to be a place that encourages your children away from screens and out into the open to explore, play, learn and enjoy time with other kids and their family.
Equally though, it absolutely must be a place that the adults can enjoy, too. Yes, the kids would love a playground for a backyard, but would you love to sit out there and enjoy it with them? No. The grown-ups need a space for rest and relaxation, too.
So, how do you get the balance of having a child-friendly play paradise, with a sophisticated grown-up oasis? Well, planning the perfect garden can be a minefield.
The key is to learn what functional spaces your family needs in your backyard. Then… zone it up!
You’ll see that the careful planning of your garden into functional mini zones will optimize space, bring everything you need into the garden, and create spaces for each and every one of the family to enjoy.
And before you panic that this will involve an expensive landscaping overhaul, it doesn’t. Many of your zones can be marked simply by using soft features, such as containers of plants.
How to Zone Up a Family Friendly Outdoor Space
The two absolute musts of any family garden are that there are spaces for relaxation, and spaces for play. These should be separated to some degree so that play can happen without worry of damage and breakages. Nobody can relax or enjoy your garden otherwise.
Relaxing Spaces for the Whole Family
Getting your relaxing spaces organized first is wise since you want to ensure that they’re in a convenient location for bringing out refreshments, but also in a part of the garden that will get sunshine at the times you want to use them, or perhaps shade if that’s more appropriate to your local climate.
Relaxing spaces will probably include at least one area for outdoor dining, but if you are lucky enough to have space, you might want to have an area with a hammock or garden chairs for enjoying a mid-morning coffee or the early evening sunset.
The other important thing to remember is that these spaces need to be in a spot where you can enjoy watching your children play, but not where too much mess from elsewhere will spill into them.
The objective is not to make child-free zones, however. You should consider how your kids can enjoy the spaces too, so include some appropriate seating for them. They’ll need space to relax and refresh before they continue their play.
Play Zones: The Spaces You Need
There are many ways in which your children play and play-to-learn. All of these can take place in your backyard. There’s the physical side of play where they run, jump, climb and swing. Then there’s kind of play where they are developing their fine motor skills through activities such as drawing or toy assembly.
There’s explorative play where they discover the world around them. This may include playing with water or other natural materials. An imaginative and creative play is also really important to child development.
With some imagination, and usually with relatively little time and expense, all these types of play can happen in your backyard. Here are the zone’s you need:
A Physical Play Zone
Your kids (and you!) need a space where you can stretch your legs and use up some energy. Playing together is a great way to enjoy family time, and it’s great for everyone’s physical health, too.
At the very least, you need an area where you can play ball, do some cartwheels or headstands and, if space allows, run. Lawn, artificial grass or any other reasonably soft surface is ideal for this.
If space allows, you could consider purchasing an outdoor play-set such as a swing, slide or climbing frame for the kids. Or you could stretch the imagination further and use or adapt slopes, walls or trees already in the garden for play equipment.
A Messy Play Zone
Kids love messy play and it’s great for their development, too. Playing with different textures like sand, water, or mud children are exploring and experimenting, being creative, and making the most of their natural curiosity.
Having a specific area of the garden for it is ideal for many reasons. Firstly, it can be a focal point for the kids; a place they’re drawn to for exploration and play. Secondly, it’s easier to contain the materials and keep them out of the house. Thirdly, you can set some boundaries, i.e only use the area if you’re in old clothes.
Good items to place in this area are a sandbox, water table, mud kitchen, and an outdoor chalkboard.
A Quiet Zone
Not many things appeal to children more than a secret hideaway or den. There they can escape the real world, either to read or play quietly by themselves or to play imaginary games with friends or siblings.
This area need only take up a small space in your garden, and there are lots of options from pack-away play tents for small spaces to more permanent playhouses or beautiful willow teepees.
A Nature Area
Encouraging more wildlife into your garden has lots of benefits. Your plants and vegetables need pollinating insects for a start. But your children can also learn a lot about our planet, just by observing the micro-ecosystem in your garden.
Often, children are fascinated by mini-beasts and enjoy caring for creatures such as birds. You can also feel good that you’re encouraging your children to look after their planet.
If you have space, you might consider letting part of your backyard go wild and watching which flora and fauna move in. If you don’t, then there’s much you can do with very little space. Encourage birds by setting up a feeding station or birdbath, or encourage insects by creating a bug hotel. Set up your unique letterbox post amidst a tiny field of mums and daisies, street-side.
You can use vertical spaces such as walls and fences for climbing or trailing vines that will not only look pretty and discourage invaders but will also serve part of your tiny wildlife sanctuary. Local nature groups should have lots of information about how you can attract and care for wildlife found in your area.
A Child’s Own Garden
Children often love to help out in the garden with tasks such as watering, so why not allow them their own patch to look after by themselves? It needn’t be a big area; it could even be just a box container or a couple of tiny pots.
The main idea is to let them do as they wish with it, to encourage creativity in planning what they’d like to achieve, to learn some practical gardening skills for kids, and to enjoy the rewards of patiently nurturing their mini-garden. Children will enjoy ownership of the project and develop the confidence accomplishments like this bring.
Growing plants for food is very rewarding for children. It can be done with surprisingly limited space if you use inventive ways of growing fruit and vegetables.
What About Plants?
Many of you will zone up your garden taking into account existing planting. If you’re worried, however, that allowing too much of the garden to be a practical and play space will leave little room for adding plants, then think again.
Use containers of plants or small shrubs, or perhaps even a new flower border, to mark out areas of the garden. This will add color and interest too.
Or you can add baskets of plants to walls and fences, or do some serious vertical gardening. Just be sure that your planting is kid-friendly, and that delicate plants are kept out of areas where they are more likely to be damaged.
Finally, remember that as your kids grow and your own needs change, the garden will need to adapt, too. Your children are unlikely to want to play in a sandbox during adolescence, for instance! So, whatever project decisions you make, especially costly or structural ones, consider the long-term and how these spaces may need to evolve.
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Beau Flavell has been a Product & Account Manager for Sandleford Holdings since July 2017. He completed his VCE at Brighton Grammar School and also holds an A-Class Electrician License. Beau has been working on developing a new range of innovative letterboxes and currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.