Are you considering any upgrades to your home’s exterior over the summer months? As you do, it’s worth thinking about ways you can add some “kid appeal” to your yard. It doesn’t matter if your yard is part of a twenty-acre estate, or a ten-by-twenty-foot postage-sized space behind your city row house. Many of these kid-friendly lawn & garden updates can work in yards both large and small.
But why should you bother? Well, plenty of reasons. For starters, making sure your home’s outside is kid-friendly is a good start to getting them to spend more time outdoors. Spending time outside helps to keep children active and healthy, and you can feel good that they’re getting plenty of fresh air. Creating a safe, fun home exterior for children transforms that space into something the whole family – not just your kids – will love.
Sound intriguing? Then read on!
Start With A Good Base
As long-time readers know, I’m all about the prep. This holds true whether you’re planning your next family camping trip, or overhauling your yard: good prep makes all the difference.
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If you property has seen better days, get it cleaned up before you start on the child-friendly projects:
- Clear out any overgrown flower beds, clean up your garden furniture, and replace any broken fencing.
- Get your trees trimmed, weed as needed, and clear out the brush.
- Then get the patio or deck looking like new again with a deep clean and a re-stain.
This gives you a great starting point to turn your home’s outside into a beautiful space for your children to play in.
Let Them Grow
One of the most fun ways to make your yard a fun and kid-friendly space is to plant a small garden. Or if you already have a garden or two, get your kids involved in the gardening process.
Creating a garden with your kids as the focus can be a wonderful way to get them enjoying being in the great outdoors. You can use the garden to teach them about nature, food, and so much more – all while creating a space you and the children can enjoy together.
Give the kids their own space in the garden to plant things. If you have a vegetable garden, give them a row. Or if you’re more about flowers, let them have a flower bed of their own to be in charge of. Help them choose what they’d like to plant, while teaching them about what grows best in different seasons and climates, and the conditions different kinds of plants need to flourish.
One of the first gardening projects my girls had some ownership in was the herb garden just outside our front door. We call it the “tasting garden” because once the spring bulbs have gone by, everything in it (even the violets and their leaves!) is edible. They’ve helped me pick the perennials for it over the years, and they love coming each spring with me to the garden store to choose that year’s annual varieties.
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Seeing something they’ve planted growing well will give kids a real sense of achievement, and will help them to appreciate nature. Bright flowers are a great option for little ones. Or you could encourage them to grow easy vegetables like peas. They might be more likely to eat their daily servings of fruits and vegetables if they had a hand in the growing!
Avoid Water Features
Water is a beautiful addition to a garden, but hard to keep safe if you have very small children running around. Don’t be tempted to add a water feature.
If your garden already has a pond, consider filling it in. If you’d rather not, you can easily cover a pond with mesh, so you can still enjoy it without the risk of little ones falling in.
If you decide to keep a pond, use it as a teaching tool. Teach the kids how to interact with the water safely, and try and attract wildlife like frogs for them to learn about.
Consider Lawn Alternatives
Before you groan too much, hear me out: Some people live in places that get plenty of rainfall, where it’s all they can do to keep up with the mowing. Others, not so much. With changing climate patterns, drought conditions and wildfires are becoming more prevalent all the time. And not every climate can handle a picturesque lawn of green grass without an awful lot of added help. Adding tons of fertilizer and water to force a lawn into existence, or keep one up when it’s not the most natural choice for that landscape, is a poor use of resources (not to mention expensive).
One option is replacing actual grass with an artificial lawn. Having a fake turf yard might be unusual, but it’s actually a great option for kids. With artificial grass, the lawn won’t get soggy during winter, meaning the kids can play on it even after a heavy rain. There’s no mud for them to track into the house, and you’ll minimize garden mess. If you install the lawn with a foam underlay it’ll also offer a soft surface to cushion the impact of the inevitable falls that all kids have. (Plus, no mowing)
But this isn’t the only option. My husband has colleagues in the nearby city whose backyard, though still tiny, is larger than most. They’ve landscaped it into a lovely environment of wildflower gardens and small shade trees, punctuated by a large sand play space, meandering paths, and lots of decking. Their yard is a perfect retreat for parents and kids alike.
Invest In Play Equipment
Play equipment is the obvious addition to make your yard a space that kids will love being in. True, it’s not always the most attractive thing if you still want a yard that’s magazine-perfect. Natural-wood playscapes are the most obvious solution, but they come with the challenge of needing to re-treat the wood every year. Pressure-treated lumber is more durable in this regard, but not as “natural” looking. As a compromise, look for playscapes that are made of recycled plastic materials, such as HDPE (high-density polyethylene). These have the durability of plastic, but the appearance of fresh wood. And since they’re made of recycled plastics, they’re a durable eco-friendly option.
You might have to get a little creative about choosing a playscape, especially if your yard has an odd configuration. Ours has a steeply-sloping and shallow back yard, a side yard with minimal shade that’s right on the street (and out of view from those inside the house), and a front yard that is shady but easy to monitor from indoors and out. Thus, though it’s an unusual choice, the swingset my husband built for the girls lives in our front yard. As a result, it’s made our front yard a neighborhood focal point, even though many of our neighbors have more elaborate playscapes in their back yards.
If you don’t have the space or desire for a fixed play set in your yard, invest in smaller play things that can be put away. A collapsible soccer goal, a set of lawn games, or a playhouse that can be closed up when the children aren’t using it are all great options. Also think about season-specific options that you can pack up when not in use, like a sprinkler or slip’n’slide for summer fun. Even a small sandbox or water table can keep little ones busy in a tiny space.
One of the selling points of our current home was the shady front yard, dotted with a half-dozen trees that shade the south side of our home. Given my husband’s fair complexion and family history of skin cancer, I knew that this shade would make our front yard perfect as a play space for our family. This continues to be true, almost a decade later.
Young children shouldn’t be in direct sunlight at the hottest part of the day, so make sure you offer some shade to escape into. This could be with a playhouse, a parasol on the patio or with some shady trees. Or make your own shade: Tie up a tarp across a rope to make an instant tent. Or drape a sheet or canvas drop-cloth across the corners of the porch, to create instant shade.
You can enjoy the shade, too, if you add it in a place where you can sit and keep an eye on the children while they play. We’ve upgraded our front yard to make it more adult-friendly in this regard over the years, with a hammock for summer lounging and some HDPE lawn furniture for year-round relaxing.
Embrace The Mess
Finally, if your kids enjoy playing in your yard, be happy! No, it won’t be a perfect pristine place anymore (though that doesn’t mean you can’t insist they clean up after themselves). Let kids be kids, and embrace the fact that a few plants may get crushed and some rocks may get rearranged. Being relaxed about the space will mean that your kids can enjoy it without worry – and you’ll be a lot less stressed, too.
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