Outdoor Natural Play Scapes

Natural Playscapes for Thriving Children

by Mr. Jay

Children love to play outdoors! Having a fun, inviting outdoor play space is a necessity when working with children. I’ve been lucky enough to have some space to build a natural playscape, and it has been one of my greatest pleasures since I started working with children. Visioning, building, and then seeing the children enjoy the space has been truly rewarding.

Outdoor Natural Play Scapes
An outdoor play sink is a great way for children to play with water, sand, mud,etc.

 

A used kitchen sink, some 2X4 lumber, and a lot of imaginative play!
A used kitchen sink, some 2X4 lumber, and a lot of imaginative play!

Daily, I get to see the therapeutic value of play, (read what Janet Lansbury has to say about it here) and I witness children benefitting from open ended, simple, and natural materials. Mud, sand, water, wood chips, sticks, and rocks are favorite ingredients for countless kid’s recipes and games. I am grateful to  have had the privilege of fostering an environment where children are free to play as they like.

Sunken tree stumps create the border for this natural sand play area.
Sunken tree stumps create the border for this natural sand play area.

Several years ago, a large tree fell on our property. Suddenly, the expression “windfall” made perfect sense! Here was all the material I needed to make seats, benches, a sandbox, and more! So, after the investment of a quality chainsaw, and several weeks of hard work, I was able to build a playspace that I enjoyed watching the children play in, almost as much as they enjoyed playing in it! After sinking a number of stumps into the ground in a circle, we then filled the middle with sand, creating a wonderful sand play area. The problem was how to keep it clean, dry, and critters out of it. Well, a 10’X12′ tarp, bungees, and stakes solved that problem.

This is a great way to tarp your sand play area!
This is a great way to tarp your sand play area!
The sand stays clean and dry under a tarp!
The sand stays clean and dry under a tarp!

Over time, I’ve added a couple more elements, and it just keeps improving! Of course, I have more ideas than time, but the process is what is so very enjoyable. At this point in the essay, I’d like to pause and note that I could not have done any of this without Ms. Lee! 90% of all of the ideas were hers, and mostly, I just used the power tools. She helped me move huge stumps, and had an active, physical hand in all of the work. She has such an incredible vision that I often worked to help her build something (like the play sink), that I wasn’t sure how it would look, and it turned out quite nice, plus, the children absolutely love it! They use it almost daily, year round! Boy, was I ever wrong to think that a used kitchen sink in the yard would look like trash. The children have so much fun, and it looks quite nice.

Here, you can see the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods in back, left side, the play kitchen, and the sand play area, as well as the woods!
Here, you can see the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods in the back, the play kitchen, and the sand play area, as well as the woods!

The play kitchen with the sink, combined with the sand play area, is a year round favorite for the kids. I hope you are able to find some inspiration and build your own natural play space for children, too!

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