In the busy world we live in, gardens have never been a more valuable space for giving your little ones somewhere to safely play outside. Especially in a time where we have to consider social distancing and we’re all spending more time at home, having a garden play area can feel like an absolute luxury.
However, some kids need some encouragement to go outside and play. If your garden could honestly be a bit more exciting, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start making a play area in the garden with some fun and functional DIY playground ideas for kids.
Ready for the challenge? Read on for tips and inspiration for simple, low-maintenance children’s play area garden ideas that will have your kids running outside as soon as they get home from school.
Kids Garden Play Area Ideas: Sports and Games
If you’re living with a budding athlete, it may take a bit of work to tire them out. Keeping sporty, energetic kids stimulated is going to need a garden play area that combines lots of fun and exercise. Take a look at some of these clever outdoor activity areas for inspiration.
1. Homemade Obstacle Course
An obstacle course is one of the most exciting ideas you can build for little ones who love adventure, especially if you add ways that it can be switched-up once they start getting bored. Depending on the age and agility of your kids, try to include balance beams, slides and tunnels.
You can build obstacle courses using all kinds of leftover items you have lying around – obviously just make sure they’re safe, clean and strong enough for your children to clamber over. Tyres, planks, logs and pallets are the ideal basics for a DIY obstacle course, and you can use paddling pools, ropes, swings and ramps too.
Of course, you can also buy professionally-made obstacles to integrate with your own homemade pieces. Although… once you start building, you’ll probably find that you start analysing everything you see as a potential addition to your course!
2. Mini Climbing Wall
Some kids just like to climb. We’ve got a whole thread of garden treehouse ideas if that’s what you’re after, but you could also add a climbing wall to your garden to encourage your child’s ever-extending reach. Climbing walls are a fun way to get your kids to build strength and improve balance. Plus, climbing walls are a pretty versatile garden fixture, and you could even incorporate them into your design for an obstacle course or treehouse.
Unless you’re a regular climber yourself, building your own climbing wall can be a bit complex, but you can see a guide over at impatientlycrafty.com. Get some tips from online experts, or give yourself some peace of mind by purchasing a pre-made wall. You can get them customised to fit whatever dimensions you want, and usually have them tailored for different difficulty levels, too.
3. Classic Playground Games
You might find that you really don’t need to overthink it when it comes to sporty garden activities for your children. Set up some goalposts, a basketball net or a badminton net if you have the space.
If you fancy a bit of DIY work, there are a couple of family-friendly games you can borrow from the US. Cornhole is a popular choice, where the aim is to toss beanbags towards a target to score points (this video offers a clearer explanation). You can build the target box quite easily with an old pallet and paint.
Alternatively, a tetherball court can be easily put together with just a few materials – an upcycled tire, a pole, and – of course – a tetherball. Adding a bit of personalisation by spray painting the tire is a great way to get your kids involved and invested in the game early.
4. Water Balloon Forts
Although summer may be fleeting in the UK, we seem to be hitting record temperatures every single year. Let’s swiftly sidestep the terrifying conversation about climate change, and emphasise how this means that – for at least one or two days every summer – a water balloon battle arena really is a sensible garden addition.
The simplest setup is to build a defence screen or fort at either end of a garden, with a bucket of water balloons in the middle or – if you’re feeling kind – a bucket of balloons behind each screen. Set up teams and watch the chaos commence. Alternatively, if you’d like something a little less aggressive, you can make a water balloon piñata by hanging them from a clothesline, low branch or climbing frame.
Of course, water pistols are a great alternative.
Children’s Garden Play Area Ideas for Inquisitive Kids
Some children just love exploring and learning about the world around them. Chances are, these types of kids are already interested in being outside, so the best thing you can do is find ways to encourage this.
5. Bug Hunting Games
Combine our garden treasure hunt ideas with a bug-hunting kit for kids, and let your little ones discover the insect world. A set of magnifying glasses and containers is enough to start an expedition, although you might want to come along for the first few bug hunts to help younger children learn the safest ways to interact with nature.
6. Create a Conker-run
Conker runs are the autumn, outdoor equivalent of a marble run, or ball run. This kind of activity run is great for children that are figuring out basic physics, and can be a fairly straightforward DIY build if you have the right materials stored. The essentials are having surfaces at at least two heights, which can be connected with tubes, ramps or troughs.
7. “Soup” Stations
It’s just a fact of life that kids like mixing various materials and liquids together. Some might call it “soup”, while others are more inspired by “magic potions” or “science stuff”. It all comes down to the same thing: grabbing a tray that’s big and deep enough for some wet play, and setting up a station in the garden with “ingredients”, water and containers. Depending on how brave you’re feeling, food colouring and glitter is usually popular too! A word of advice: don’t let your youngsters forage for their own ingredients – that’s how you end up with your prized blooms in shreds!
Kids Garden Play Area Ideas: Creative Spaces
If you have kids who are a little more in tune with their creative side, the garden is the perfect place to let them hone their skills while keeping your home (and wallpaper) relatively “art” free.
8. Rock Painting Station
Have a little bit of nature to spare? Lead your children on a treasure hunt for natural materials they can turn into exciting art pieces. Build a station with fun, age-appropriate materials like wool, paints, chalks, coloured sand and glue so that kids can make and craft mini masterpieces out of their favourite finds. You can use buckets or trays to organise your creative materials (and to ensure they always have a home outside).
9. Leaf Walls & Flower Art
When autumn comes, there are ways to make use of raked-up leaves other than just tossing them in the compost bin. If you’ve got young children, tap into their creativity with a leaf-decorating play area! Like a seasonal rock-painting station, adding simple craft materials like scissors, glue, paper and tape can result in nature boards, collages, wreaths and mobiles.
10. Chalk Canvas Spaces
When it comes to expressions of creativity, chalk is a win-win. Kids love the bright colours and the ability to colour just about anything, and parents are just relieved that it all kind of washes away in the rain (but take a look at our garden mural ideas for something more permanent!)
Take advantage of this fun fact by making a chalk-friendly area of the garden, where chalk drawing is completely permitted, no questions asked. Aim for three or four different surfaces, ideally with some subtle variations in colour and texture to keep in interesting (but remember plain, smooth surfaces are the best)!
Kids Garden Play Area Ideas: Cars, Bikes and Wheels
Do your kids have a need for speed? Whether they’re obsessed with Hot Wheels, constantly attached to ride-on vehicles or treating everything like a baby-BMX obstacle, it may be time to fuel up your child’s excitement with some car-themed play areas.
11. Garden Racetrack Ideas
There are lots of ways to create a racetrack in your garden, whether you want a temporary track for racing bikes around over a weekend, or a more permanent circuit for pocket-sized cars to be raced around indefinitely.
Using cones, bamboo canes or pool noodles is an easy, safe way to mark out a larger track in your garden. If you’re working with a solid surface, you could use chalk, too. Mowing out a circuit in the garden gives you the option of laying down plastic or paving for a more long-term track. For toy cars, check out “road tape” – virtually eliminating the effort it takes to draw a track by hand!
Size-appropriate obstacles can be built with breeze blocks, planks of wood and whatever similar materials you might have available.
12. Car Wash for Kids Toys
Perfect for the summertime, a DIY garden “car wash” is a simple and effective mechanism to keep your kids entertained for a good few hours. You can build your car wash with PVC pipes and sprinklers or hang up hoses on a tent frame. It’s a sneaky opportunity to add soaping and drying stations (hidden behind a tunnel system of vinyl tablecloths or bin bags) and get the kids washing dust and cobwebs off of their outdoor toys. Take a look at a step by step guide over at afewshortcuts.com.
When they run out of toy vehicles to clean, it’s time to bring out the water pistols and set them on each other!
13. “Off-Road” Sand Pit
Make truckloads of fun with an off-road track or pit using sand or gravel. Just a little bit of imagination transforms it into a rugged arena for construction play or other-world racing – especially if you add additional toys, ramps and tunnels.
If you don’t already have a sandpit-sized tray, it’s as easy as nailing together a DIY frame and adding a tarpaulin. You could also use bricks, stones, logs or any other kind of block to keep the mess contained. Position it away from the house to minimise grit getting tracked in, and supervise younger kids so they don’t start putting gravel and sand in their mouths!
Kids Garden Play Area Ideas: Playhouse Inspiration
So many kids love “playing house” in one form or another. It’s pretty cute that they have an innate desire to mimic the adults they see around them (if only real adult life was so carefree)! Whether your kid wants to run their own business, live the suburban dream or escape into adventure, we’ve got some inspired playhouse designs to help you get them set up. Check out even more kids playhouse ideas here.
14. Simple Playhouses
Remember playing house as a child? It’s a timeless activity that all kids enjoy – so why not get them to take it outdoors and indulge in a little fresh air? Lay down some turf to separate your child’s play areas from the rest of the yard (plus, it’s a lot less mowing to keep up with).
Fill the space with different stations – a kitchen, cleaning area, lounge, and bedroom. You can leave your child’s “house” up to their interpretation with playful additions like a sandbox, water table, or sports zone. This is a great way to get all your kids’ favourite outdoor toys in a single space that requires minimal maintenance. Let their imagination run wild!
15. Tremendous Treehouses
Anyone that had a treehouse growing up knows it as a place filled with fond childhood memories. If you want to pass those climbing, camping and clubhouse experiences down to your kids, a treehouse really makes a garden feel homely. Even if you’re lacking a tree (or the DIY skills to build a sturdy playhouse in a tree), there are loads of great treehouse-style ideas that are simple to pull off.
16. Snack Stand
Encourage early entrepreneurs by creating a mini storefront where they can “sell” snacks or drinks to obliging family members. Depending on how old your little ones are, they could serve juice, homemade traditional lemonade, or even biscuits or fairy cakes they’ve baked themselves.
Business can be based just about anywhere, so even a picnic blanket with “shop” signs might be enough to keep younger kids amused for an afternoon. You could convert an existing climbing frame or playhouse, or even build a DIY stand out of pallets, if you felt so inclined.
Play money and shop uniforms (aprons or hats) are the perfect finishing touches.
17. Outdoor Reading Nook
Not every child is an outdoor child, so if you’re desperate to get a bookworm in the garden for some fresh air, try setting up their own little reading nook. A covered daybed – like the one in this post – could be fun, or you might prefer to add outdoor cushions or a bean bag to an existing Wendy-house. Even a pop-up tent can do the trick – just fill it with blankets, bunting and whatever other cosy details might tempt your little reader outdoors.
Enhancing your backyard play area can be inexpensive and practical. Doing a little bit of research and smart shopping can turn any yard into a one-stop-shop for endless engaging activities and hours of fun and games. Why not try out some of our favourite garden activities for kids for more inspiration?