Health & Wellness Articles

Cultivating a Child-Friendly Backyard

How to Build a Safe & Fun Outdoor Space for Kids

Imagine that you are the same age as your child…
What grade were you in?
Who was your teacher?
Your best friend?
Favorite game?

Imagine that you are outside…
Did you have a place that you considered your own?
A treehouse or a fort in the bushes?

Remember that special place where, besides listening for your mom's voice, your imagination was the limit! Did you build hideouts or homes for your toys? Catch rollypollies or fireflies? What did you feel, see, smell or hear?

Remember how good you were at having fun? Your child is gifted with the same skill! Now that you've loosened up your imagination, join us in encouraging kids to use theirs!

First, let go of preconceived notions of an outdoor play area. As a society, we have designated concrete, plastic and metal areas as the appropriate places to play. Were those your favorite childhood play areas? It's more likely that you preferred a secret hideaway under the bushes, rolling down a grassy slope or using your imagination to build a fort. By encouraging children to see the potential in their backyards and other outdoor spaces, we allow them endless, undefined and undiscovered fun. Here's how you can create a fun and safe outdoor environment for your kids.

Define safety.
Create rules for outdoor safety so children can be free within your specified boundaries. Rather than clearing away all risks (which is nearly impossible), help your children to learn caution and respect. Do your own work outside while your kids are playing. Put away your tools after using them, but also give your children appropriate and useful tools for their "work." Teach them to observe and respect wildlife. Let them know what plants are useful and how (i.e. what is edible and that everything else is not). Get rid of poisonous plants. Do not use garden chemicals.

Allow kids to discover and use found resources.
Using objects available in nature, such as sticks and stones to build hideouts for toys and landmarks for play, will develop a child's creativity, teach them to be resourceful, build their confidence and heighten their awareness of nature's abundance. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden built collection boxes where children can collect pine cones, berries, etc. As you're cleaning the garden or yard, designate a place to collect useful sticks and stones that your children can use in their play.

Set aside some space.
You don't have to give your hopes of enjoying the backyard over to plastic sandboxes and swing sets. Designate areas for play and give control of those areas to your child's imagination! Allow your children space to dig, but hide it from view with a tall grass. Create a sand pit right in your landscape. Leave yard space for running or create a circular path; kids won't think negatively about running in circles, but will enjoy the rush of physical activity.
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About The Author

Leave No Child Inside Leave No Child Inside
Through education and community engagement, the Leave No Child Inside Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati promotes children's outdoor play, learning and lifelong connection with nature. Learn more at

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