Kids need daily time outdoors, where they can run, dig, climb and explore. In our busy modern world, it’s sometimes difficult to find the time and to encourage kids to turn off the electronics and get outside. Creating your own children’s garden can provide hours of fun for your kids and encourage healthy habits. There are so many option and ideas for what to incorporate into a garden for kids.
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Why Design Your Own Children’s Garden?
If children are part of your backyard farm, (even if they’re just visitors) creating a children’s garden can welcome them and encourage them to explore their own small corner of earth. There are so many benefits of outdoor play for children, and a children’s garden can provide a wide range of sensory experiences for kids. A well designed garden for children will also include space for creativity and building.
There is an even greater benefit if you encourage kids to take an active part in helping to create, plant and grow the children’s garden. Helping children take part in the work of producing their own food benefits everyone. Gardening not only teaches children about the process of growing things, but also teaches compassion, hard work, and ignites curiosity. Working alongside children in the garden makes the experience even more powerful and can be an integral part of backyard farming.
When you begin to design a children’s garden, remember that this space can be simply a traditional garden space where a child is the gardener, or an entire area dedicated to structures and children’s related play and gardening. Based on your space, your time, the age of your child, and you children’s interest, you can design the garden space specifically to meet your needs.
Tips for Planning a Child’s Garden
There are two main categories that most children’s gardens fall into and most gardens have elements of both categories. One is a garden that children grow on their own. When I was young, my mother gave me a spot in the yard and told me that was my garden. I spent a few years digging, transplanting, failing and taking ownership of that plot of land, but it was truly MY garden.
The other category of a children’s garden, is a garden created for children to enjoy. There are many different elements that can be included and you can create this type of children’s garden in a specific part of your yard, or incorporate kid-friendly garden elements throughout your yard. No matter what type of children’s garden you create on your property, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
- Before you get started, remember this is a children’s garden. Make sure they are involved in the entire process (including the planning). While it’s tempting to do much of the work yourself, make sure there is an area that is truly 100% there own. While watching a child transplant the same plant everyday may be painful for you to watch, it is part of their process and learning, and will truly give them ownership over the space.
- Resist the temptation to hide the garden in the back or in a shady space where plants won’t grow. A child will place a greater importance on a garden if you show it is important and are more likely to use the space if it’s visible and close to the house
- Leave space that is unstructured or open so kids have space to create and explore.
- Encourage children to grow their own food. They will often learn to love the food they grow even if they don’t like the store bought version. There is nothing as tasty are food right from the garden.
- Work in the garden (or a nearby garden) with your child
What to Include in Your Children’s Garden
Before I share 10 ideas for creating your children’s garden, here’s a quick list of some things you can include in your outdoor space for kids. If you are looking for more inspiration and ideas – check out my Pinterest Board all about outdoor children’s gardens and outdoor spaces.
- A stick teepee for growing beans or vines
- A balance beam
- Strawberry plants
- Bulbs and seeds
- Favorite Vegetables
- A tunnel or fort
- A texture garden
- An aromatherapy garden with herbs
- Sunflowers – a sunflower house
- A sandbox
- A quiet reflective spot
- A bridge
- A fairy Garden
- A music wall
- A Game
- Natural Wood block
- Table and chairs
- A Fort/playhouse
1. Create a Place where Kids can Grow Their Own Food
Make sure part of the garden you create has a spot that is just for your kids, and encourage your kids to use this space to grow their own food. Helping kids discover the process of planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting their own food helps give them an appreciation of where their food comes from. It’s also fun to grown your own food, and I’m always surprised how much easier it is to get my kids to eat vegetables when they’ve grown them on their own.
Start with easy to grow plants like strawberries, peas, lettuce, and tomatoes.
2. Keep Part of the Garden Free for Play
Make sure part of your garden is left open for free play. You can do this by simple leaving part of the garden wild where the kids can create a fairy garden or a fort, or by building in elements to encourage free play. This might include a sandbox, loose parts, an outdoor or a mud kitchen. These spaces will help encourage creativity and play.
3. Make it Magical
If you are creating a garden space for young kids, specifically a garden for preschoolers, make sure to keep an element of magic – build a tunnel, make a doorway, create a fairy or gnome corner. You can even string lights and grow flowering vines over things to make it feel like your kids have stepped into another world. Keeping that element of wonder encourages creativity and play.
Other ideas for creative, magical play include: pirate flags and a flag pole, a boat, a garland, and a telescope.
4. Provide Sensory Elements
A garden is full of sensory experiences and you can build off these by highlighting them your children’s garden. Children explore the world and make sense of the world through their senses. Just think of the baby that puts everything in their mouth, or the kindergartner who always takes their shoes off. These kids are hunger for sensory experiences.
Think of each of the 5 senses and how you can use them in your garden space for kids:
- Taste – plant herbs, fruit, strawberries, or other thing kids can eat.
- Feel – include different textures such as making paths out of different materials
- Smell – include herbs like mint, lemon balm, and chive for kids to smell
- Sight – Make the garden beautiful with different colors
- Hearing – create a noise or music wall like the one in the photo below where kids can bang and make music
5. Keep it Active
There are so many amazing ideas for active components to add to your children’s garden and you kids will likely find their own tree to climb, or branch to swing on. You can also add balance beams, logs, climbing walls, zip lines, swings sets, ladders, tree swings, and more to your garden space. We added a small garden swing to a tree near our vegetable garden and I love how my kids come sit on the swing when I’m working in the garden.
6. Make it Beautiful
A children’s garden doesn’t need to be an eyesore! Make it beautiful with flowers and creative design work. We built a mosaic style patio as part of one of our children’s garden and the kids often sit there and chat or come up with the next idea of what to play. We’ve also grown sunflower forts and the kids love spending time under the towering flowers.
Kids appreciate the beauty of a garden space just like adults and will feel special with their own beautiful place. Some of the best flowers to grow in your children’s garden as pansies, sunflowers, cosmos, spring bulbs, zinnias and anything that attracts butterflies.
7. Make a Spot for Reflection and Quiet
Not all outside time needs to be active. Create a corner where kids can draw, write, read or simply sit. This could be as simple as a bench or chair, or as complicated as a children’s play house or fort. Having a table and chairs as part of the children’s garden makes it easy to have snack or play a game in the garden. You can create an outdoor checkboard or even a place to paint.
8. Attract Wildlife: Butterflies, Birds, Bugs and more
Children are fascinated with animals, so encourage them to visit your children’s garden. You can do this by planting flowers for pollinators, adding a bird bath, or creating a bug house. We love to plant butterfly bushes in our children’s garden so the kids are surrounded by butterflies when they play. There are lots of ways you can extend the learning in your garden by encouraging wildlife.
There are many kits available for building animal houses and collecting bugs and this can be a great project for you and your kids to do together and put into the garden. There are lots of plans online if you want to build your own, and here are a few kits you can easily build with your kid:
9. Inspire Your Kids with Books
While this isn’t exactly about what you can put in your garden, you can inspire your kid’s time in the garden by reading books about the garden and creative play outside. There are so many books for kids about gardening and nature, and you can also read books about magic and fairies or nature to excite your kids. It’s always amazing how much of kids play comes from the stories they read.
Here is a list of 8 of our favorite books to inspire your kids in their garden:
- The Curious Garden
- Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt
- Planting a Rainbow
- The Apple Pip Princess
- Fairy Houses
- National Geographic: Ultimate Bugopedia
- A Butterfly is Patient
- Grow: How we get Food From Our Garden
10. Get Children’s Gardening Tools
It’s important to make sure your kids have the right sized tools so they can help out in the garden. Kids benefit from handling and learning to use these tools and many schools have gardens partly for the benefit it gives to a child’s motor skills, such as when you’re gardening with preschoolers or creating a children’s garden Montessori style. Below are some of our favorite gardening tools.
Children’s Gardens When You Don’t have the Space
There are so many ways to create a beautiful children’s garden and encourage your kids to get outside in nature. If you don’t have a big outdoor space, you can find small elements to add to your home such as keeping potted plants (inside or outside), raising butterflies inside with a butterfly kit, or pop up play forts for outside.
There are also amazing children’s gardens you can visit around the country. Some are part of a botanical garden and some are a part of a museum or zoo. Look locally for the nearest children’s garden to your home and spend the day outside in the flowers with your kids.