My own children, fortunate to grow up in the same neighbourhood as both their parents, found their own nature play spaces, even though many of our own were now sub-divided and out of bounds. Their roaming spaces were smaller and more play occurred in back yards, but their was still plenty of dirt, mud and risk taking going on unseen by parental eyes. Cubby houses, mud pie creations and endless games of imagination went on from dawn to dusk in the summer holidays and on weekends and school days when increasing extracurricular activities permitted.
Another generation is now growing up in that very same neighbourhood! My daughter, her husband and daughter have recently moved in with us for the foreseeable future. Where before, it was a part-time space on the days I cared for her while mum is at work, our back yard is now a full-time play space for my 13 month old granddaughter Charlie. And while we are still blessed with green spaces close at hand, even more areas have been sub-divided for housing and increasing fear of predatory adults means unsupervised play is rare now - and likely to be rarer by the time Charlie is of an age to gain such freedom.
There is concern around the world about children's reduced access to natural place spaces and free play outdoors. Our idyllic local environment - where we can access the beach, bushland and rural spaces within a five minute drive from our front door and have an abundance of community spaces many parts of the world could only dream about - is not to be taken for granted. We need to ensure all children have access to outdoor play.
Our family attend a weekly playgroup Nature Kids, uniquely using local natural spaces as its venues and using the environment to let our children play and learn. Charlie began attending the group before she was 9 months old and is thriving on the experience. This has motivated me to further encourage outdoor play at home by establishing an age-appropriate mini-natural space for her play in our garden.
I knew from the experiences Charlie enjoys at Natured Kids some of the elements I wanted to include in her play space - and Pinterest helped me develop those concepts into practical ideas. Rather than list all the sources of inspiration here, hop over to my Pinterest Board Natural Backyard Play Spaces and have a look.
The obvious requirements were: sand, water, dirt, mud, stones, sound, light and air. And art.
|A blank slate after my wonderful backyard blitz in January|
Bricks were lifted and a retaining wall put in place to both level the space and accommodate the sand area. A swing set was bought second-hand, as were a toddler slide, a small playhouse, water-play table and some child-sized chairs. Although this is a natural play-space, some plastic is needed and buying it used reduces the impact on the environment. As she grows, some of these will be replaced or no longer needed and passed on.
|Enjoying her new space already - and it isn't yet complete!|
|Not one to pass up an opportunity, the bricks were barely lifted and the play began!|
However, my vision was affirmed as Charlie took delight in playing outside at EVERY opportunity! I began to see my winter huddled under an umbrella, rugged up and pushing the swing endlessly! Her enjoyment pushed me to keep going until the full dream was realised. I drew my vision to share with the family:
And so - finally - I can call it done (well, tomorrow will see a final coat of blackboard paint and a tree stump has an appointment with a chain saw to create the stools). There will obviously be additions as they come our way and evolution over time. But for now -
|All the pieces in their places|
|One happy toddler!!!|
I hope we have inspired you to give up a little bit of outdoor space for child's play. We live on an average suburban block and this space is maybe the size of a single garage. We have spent a couple of hundred dollars on the retaining wall, sand and blackboard. And converted a disappointing space into one with real purpose.
And finally, as autumn tumbles into winter, a little glimpse into other areas of our garden which make me smile right now.
|In Granny's Garden magic happens|