Create a practical outdoor area that will be attractive to kids, and will handle a bit of their wear and tear too.
Inspiration can come from all areas, but it’s also hard to go beyond the tried-and-true grassy suburban backyard. There’s much to be said about kids having access to an open space for unencumbered imaginative play, or just a friendly game of backyard cricket.
If your yard is large enough you can create a faux rivulet, which is really just a long narrow pond edged with big pebbles. There are plenty of DIY tutorials online on how to create a mini wetland at home. Populate it with small fish or tiny turtles and your children will spend hours here watching them go about their daily business.
It seems counter-intuitive that a paved backyard would be an ideal play space, but in the right context, it is. The hard surface is perfect for tearing around on trikes. It’s also a great blank canvas for chalk drawings, handball and endless games of hopscotch.
With a little out-of-the-box thinking, kid-friendly spaces can be created anywhere, regardless of dimensions. This inner-city home has a converted rear courtyard that doubles as a small-scale theatre, framed by the perfect proscenium, for acting out kids’ dramas.
Equally functional for adults and kids alike, this backyard in Melbourne makes the most of all available space. The usual backyard turf has been cleverly transformed into a grassed tennis court, and a section of the deck houses the pool.
Younger kids love to touch and smell their way through the world. Stimulate their senses with pots of different fragrant and textural plants: think rosemary and lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina) or stepping stones overgrown with thyme.
There are plenty of fun ‘tasting’ shrubs too, such as the old-fashioned shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) that produces a slurp of nectar in each flower. If space permits, include an area for vegie growing and perhaps even a backyard chook or two, to teach kids about food and where it comes from.
An essential element of childhood, whether it’s a lovingly built play house (such as this one) or a temporary fort made from reclaimed sticks, is a cubby. All kids need their own hideout, away from prying adult eyes, to act out their ideas. Part of the charm of this cubby is that it’s partially hidden from view behind a secret garden.
When embarking on a large-scale project, plan to utilise all available space. In this heritage home in Clifton Hill, Victoria, the owners have created formal and informal outdoor recreation spaces, with a pool and plenty of green space for kids to play. With all pools, make sure the fencing is secure to prevent accidents, and that there’s adequate adult supervision when kids are in the water.
Protect the kids from the harsh Aussie sun by providing a shady spot to play in. Consider incorporating a permanent built-in shade structure like this one, a retractable awning, or a stand-alone option such as a cantilever umbrella or a removable shade sail.
Intrepid outdoor designers can incorporate fun fixtures at home to entertain kids. This rock-climbing wall on the side of a cubby house is an ideal way to encourage the bigger kids to burn off some energy. For younger kids, installing a slide to span the slope of a terraced area in the backyard is sure to be a winner.
Research shows that gazing out over green space, whether it’s real or a clever foil as on this large-scale backyard screen, can help to raise your body’s serotonin levels to keep you calm. And let’s face it, most of us could benefit from a bit more calm.
All this aside, providing large grassy areas for play, with trees to climb and space to run around in, makes for an ideal childhood. If you’re lucky enough to have the space, string up a hammock or hang a swing chair for hours of fun and a little relaxation too.