DESIGNING OUTDOOR PLAY SPACES FOR CHILDREN

by   Laura Henry Kukulski     Terralinda Design, Oakland, CA

by Laura Henry Kukulski
Terralinda Design, Oakland, CA

Photo courtesy of Laura Henry Kukulski.

When designing a residential garden for a family with young children, we have amazing opportunities to create space for children to play.

Play space can be integrated seamlessly into any landscape design. Outdoor play for children is not just about large lawns or big expensive play structures. In many places around California, lawns are not a possibility, as well as not advisable, and many people do not have space for large structures. But that is fine! There are so many other ways that children play! A good play space provides room for physical, social, dramatic, cognitive play, and can invite many kinds of spontaneous activity.

It can be hard to know what exactly a child will engage and play with, especially if you have only met them once or twice. You should get some basic information about a child’s personality from the parents. Ask questions like: is your child more prone to active play or imaginative play? Do they seek out sensory input, have big energy, or like to create with their hands, or do they seek out quiet spaces for contemplative play?

Aim to create spontaneous, organic play for kids by including natural elements that allow for undirected and open-ended play. Such as:

 

SWINGS, HAMMOCKS, AND PATHS

 

TREES FOR CLIMBING

 
 

ELEVATION CHANGES (ROCK WALLS, BOULDERS, SWALES AND HILLS) FOR PHYSICAL PLAY

 
 

MUD KITCHENS AND PLAY HOUSES FOR SOCIAL PLAY

 
 

FAIRY GARDENS AND COZY HIDDEN SPACES FOR READING A BOOK
ALLOW FOR QUIETER, MORE CONTEMPLATIVE PLAY

 
 

MOVING PARTS (BLOCKS, STICKS, PEBBLES, OR WATER) FOR COGNITIVE PLAY

 
 

SENSORY INPUT (SOUNDS, COLORS, TEXTURES AND SCENTS)
THAT CAN BE BE CREATED WITH PLANTS

 

Photo courtesy of Laura Henry Kukulski.

 

Add these element seamlessly into a design so that the landscape can grow with the children. For example a gardener's mulch path through a garden bed provides hiding places and a running path for kids and maintenance access for adults. Water retention basins (rain gardens) are a way to manage rainwater and can be a place for kids to observe wildlife, seasonal changes, and provide loose parts to play with.

All of these are elements in any normal residential landscape design. By thinking in terms of how a child will use the space, you can enhance their experience.

 

SOME OF LAURA’S FAVORITE RESOURCES:

Planning for Play     by Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood

Planning for Play by Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood

Plants for Play    by Robin C. Moore

Plants for Play by Robin C. Moore

Children’s Garden Book     by Olive Percival

Children’s Garden Book by Olive Percival

An Outdoor Classroom   by Steen B. Esbensen

An Outdoor Classroom by Steen B. Esbensen

 
Natural Playscapes   by   Rusty Keeler

Natural Playscapes by Rusty Keeler

Designing Outdoor Environments for Children   by Lolly Tai, Mary Taylor Haque, Gina K. McLellan, Erin Jordan Knight

Designing Outdoor Environments for Children by Lolly Tai, Mary Taylor Haque, Gina K. McLellan, Erin Jordan Knight

Last Child in the Woods   by Richard Louv

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv