Tuesday, 20 October 2015 01:10

Let's Go Outside

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If you have children, creating an outdoor space that is safe, fun and engaging is a must. From the classic swing set and sandpit to more contemporary alternatives, Lara Bailey explores the ways to create a child-friendly backyard without sacrificing on style.

Many of us fondly recall afternoons spent in the backyard during childhood running through the sprinkler, bouncing on the trampoline and digging in the mud. If your children – like many of the current generation – are more interested in playing on a computer than playing in the backyard, cultivating an atmosphere that will entice them into the great outdoors can be a challenge.

With some creative thought and careful planning, however, you can develop a range of fixed and non-permanent elements in your backyard that will appeal to your youngsters now and in the future.

GREAT CLASSIC HITS

Some things are synonymous with childhood fun in the backyard. Regardless of generational changes, most children will find it hard to tear themselves away from a trampoline, for example, or their very own cubby house.

A cubby or tree house (if you’re really committed!) is ideal, because it will offer your children privacy within the safety of your own property. Whether they use it for drawing, having a tea party, playing games or quiet contemplation, offering your kids a room of their own will ensure they’re keen to head outdoors at every opportunity.

Other traditional go-to options for kid-friendly backyards can promote movement and help keep children fit. With bundles of energy to expend and endless imagination to entertain, simple things can keep children on the go without feeling like a chore. A trampoline is an ideal way to encourage activity, and the spring-free models with retaining nets are far superior to the rusty ones of questionable safety many of us played on in the 1980s and 90s.

Young children in particular will also enjoy a sandpit – it will remind them of the beach and their favourite attraction from playschool or kinder. We also can’t forget the humble slide – you can purchase relatively affordable, safe slides that are compact enough not to absorb all of your space, but can keep your kids occupied for hours at a time.

“If you spend your weekends in the pool or cooking in your outdoor kitchen, your kids will naturally be inclined to head outside, so you might as well capitalise on this and get creative.”

A swing set or tyre swing will be as enjoyable for today’s children as for generations past. Swings are always a huge hit in the playground, and having one they can access whenever they want will keep even the fussiest children happy. A tyre swing can be hung from a strong tree branch, and can be easily removed when your children grow older and the novelty wears off.

Older children will appreciate things like a basketball hoop. For kids entering a stage where sport is a priority, the chance to play at home will be greatly appreciated. Compact and simple to install, a basketball ring is an affordable way to encourage exercise and time in the backyard.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

The trend towards regarding the backyard as an extension of the house can be as beneficial for children as it is for adults. If you spend your weekends in the pool or cooking in your outdoor kitchen, your kids will naturally be inclined to head outside, so you might as well capitalise on this and get creative.

If you have a pool and/or spa, chances are your kids are in the backyard right now. Pool safety is paramount – your fencing must be up to scratch at all times and the kids should never be able to use the pool unsupervised – but as long as the area is safe for children, hours spent splashing and swimming can form some of their greatest childhood memories. Any moveable items, such as chairs, near the pool should be heavy enough that children cannot lift them and use them to climb over the pool fence.

Pool toys like noodles and inflatables will provide entertainment, are affordable and can be retired once your kids get older. Store them in an outdoor toy box to make the backyard feel like an extension of your child’s bedroom or playroom.

If you have an alfresco area and/or outdoor kitchen, your children will be inclined to use them. Children will love having a place to gather to enjoy barbecues and will most likely invite their friends over to join in the fun. Again, safety is paramount, so ensure any utensils or cooking equipment is kept well away from little ones.

To make a space that is versatile enough to be used by young and teenaged children, unite elements that will appeal to different age groups. This way, your space won’t become stale or disused once your kids get a little older.

Having adequate and appealing seating is an important consideration – kinder-aged kids might not mind sitting on the grass, but good luck getting your teenage daughter to use the backyard if this is the only option!

Seating can be appropriate for children without appearing childish. Hanging chairs are a novelty for all ages, so incorporating one for every member of the family is a good idea. Similarly, having a hammock strung between trees in the backyard will be as appealing to your kids as it is to you.

“Unite elements that will appeal to different age groups. This way, your space won’t become stale or disused once your kids get a little older.”

Purchasing items like furniture upholstery, outdoor cushions and Acapulco chairs in bright colours will catch the eye of youngsters, but not look out of place – if you’re going crazy with bold and bright colours, the outdoor space is the place to do it.

Another feature you can include is a small bridge between parts of your yard. Even if it’s purely for show, it can be an attractive focal point and make your children feel like they are adventuring around their own home. It’s a simple way to promote the use of their imaginations in the outdoors.

ALL GROWN UP

As enthused as you may be about creating a nurturing, safe and enticing outdoor space for your children, they will eventually grow out of the things that once kept them enthralled for hours. To ensure your outdoor space ages well enough to negate the need to start all over again, it pays to incorporate flexible or semi-permanent elements into the design.

First of all, kid-friendly backyards must have plenty of grassed space. Your children need room to run around, play games and kick a football. To use this grassed space in an unobtrusive, semi- permanent way, you could consider making a mini-golf course in your backyard. If your children are very young, they don’t need a big space, and trying to improve their score (and that of their siblings) can provide endless hours of fun. Then, after your children have outgrown the course, you can simply reintegrate the dedicated patch of grass back into the lawn.

To engage your children in something educational and healthy, and give them a sense of pride and responsibility, look at creating a vegetable garden. You can help the children set up the garden, and they will no doubt enjoy the opportunity to help choose which vegetables to grow and tend to the garden regularly. A benefit of a vegetable garden is that your kids can literally reap what they sow; eventually serving up the vegetables at the dinner table.

By allowing them to assist in the choice of vegetables, maintain the patch and eventually harvest their work, your kids can feel like they’ve created something important – plus anything that gets them to eat their veggies is always good!

FUN FOR NOW

There are some novel, inexpensive DIY projects you can find online that can be executed fairly easily, even if you’re not the creative type. Things like outdoor Twister – where you spray paint through round moulds directly onto the grass – can be a source of amusement through the school holidays, and can simply wash away or be mowed out at a later date.

If you have a fairly isolated property or know the people next door are at work during the day (a little neighbourly consideration goes a long way), you can create a ‘music fence’ for your littlies.

Dig into the kitchen cabinets and pull out some no-longer used items. By attaching old pots and pans to a wooden board, hanging it over the fence and giving your children some old spatulas or wooden spoons to use, your kids can make ‘music’ and let out their energy at the same time. It might make quite the racket, but it will keep them busy and is also a great way for you to keep track of where they are! Because a music fence won’t cost anything and will probably be a little worse for wear once the kids are done with it, you can either pass it on to someone else, or put it out to pasture.

A more subdued, quiet method for entertaining young children outside is to either purchase a blackboard or paint a surface with blackboard paint. By locating a blackboard outside, you won’t have to worry about chalk dust going all over the carpet. Again, this is an easily removed feature that you can retire when your kids move on to bigger things.

Other relatively simple DIY projects include making a slip ‘n slide (a bit of tarp and water and your kids are set for summer), and even see-saws and games of quoits. None of these are permanent fixtures, and can be passed on to younger relatives in the future.

Something you can incorporate into a kid- friendly backyard that is more permanent but still adaptable, is pavers. By applying them in an interesting pattern, it can create a feature as well as providing a place for your kids to play hopscotch or dream-up their own games by jumping paver to paver. If you use a stylish product, there’s no reason why it can’t just be used as a path after your children have dispensed with the imaginary fun.

Depending on the pattern of your pavers, your children could even use them to play chess. This won’t be relevant to very small children, but can be used as they enter their high school- aged years and have moved on from kinder and primary school fun.

A water feature, too, either as part of your pool or as a standalone piece, will provide amusement. Functioning as a source of joy for your children, a birdbath for the fauna and a centrepiece in its own right, a water feature will outlive its use long after the children stop making it an integral part of their outdoor games.

To cater for kids of all ages – and adults too – accommodating a projector outdoors is a fantastic idea. With plenty of comfortable seating and the perfect spot to take in a film on a warm afternoon, a projector in the backyard will appeal to the kinder-aged kids wanting to watch the latest Disney film, to your teenagers gathering with friends on weekends, and of course will be a big hit at your own dinner parties. It’s also a great way to bring your children together and spend some time as a family outdoors as well.

SEE HOW THEY GROW

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to create a backyard that is safe, functional and engaging for children. Striking the right balance will ensure your kids enjoy being outdoors, which is great for their wellbeing, imagination and fitness.

“Other relatively simple DIY projects include making a slip ‘n slide (a bit of tarp and water and your kids are set for summer), and even see- saws and games of quoits.”

Being outside means you can be a little lax with rules about tidiness, so it’s a great idea to encourage your littlies to leave the house in favour of the yard. Investing in features that will entertain your children as well as enhance your home is a clever approach, and by incorporating affordable semi-permanent features, many of which you can make yourself, you can encourage your kids to spend time outside at every stage of their childhood.

Enjoy creating and using the space you make with your children, and if all else fails, remember: running through the sprinkler on a hot day is as fun at 60 as it is at six.

 

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