Creative Ideas For a Child-Friendly Garden

From space for messy play and den building to a place to grow their own, a garden can be a learning wonderland for kids.

A front view of cute small child outdoors gardening.
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If you have kids and outdoor space, creating a child-friendly garden should be a top priority. A garden is a wonderful resource for parents and guardians – a place for learning, fun, and growth (of all kinds). A child-friendly garden should, of course, be a safe place. But creating a child-friendly garden is not just about safety. It should also be about finding ways to maximize the space for your children and family life in general.

So to help you make sure you make the most of your garden, and make it a truly child-friendly space, here are a few tips and suggestions:

Give Kids Space to Grow Their Own

Growing your own food at home is a great thing to do with your kids. But in a child-friendly garden, it is a good idea to loosen the reigns a little. Let them call some of the shots.

You can create garden beds and growing areas to work on together – but think about giving them their own separate spaces too. Let them have an area that is entirely their own. A space where they can choose the seeds and plants and make their own decisions.

Giving kids a sense of "ownership" over their own small plot can help them learn. But will also give them a sense of pride, accomplishment, and autonomy. When things go according to plan they will feel great. And when things don't go as they wish, it can still be a learning moment.

Make Sure Your Garden is a Space that Can Be Enjoyed Through Every Season

Gardens are often spaces we spend a lot of time in over the warmer months, but neglect during the colder seasons. Yet even in areas where there are very cold winter temperatures, a child-friendly garden should be a space they can explore and enjoy year-round.

Creating a garden building, or an undercover growing area can make it easier to ensure kids can make the most of the garden all year long.

A polytunnel or greenhouse, for example, could be a place to grow food throughout the seasons. But it could also have a corner for kids to use. A heated garden building could open up even more options – especially in areas where very cold winters are experienced. Even an open-sided structure like a pergola or porch area could allow kids to spend time outside but out of the rain.

Create Space for Dens and Den Building

As well as creating your own structures for kids to enjoy the garden year-round, you should also consider creating spaces where they can make their own hideouts and dens. You might leave an open glade in a forest garden zone, or prune the shrubs in a perennial border to make spaces for imaginative play and "de-engineering" projects.

Make sure there are plenty of natural and/or reclaimed materials lying around that kids can use to create dens and play structures of their own. Older kids might even be taught to use tools to create more permanent structures in these spaces.

Create a Play Kitchen for Experiments, Mud Pies, and Messy Play

An outdoor play kitchen can also be a great addition to a child-friendly garden. Provide access to water, pots and pans, buckets, and spades ... and let kids explore the natural environment of the garden through experimentation and messy play. Younger kids can have hours of fun with even the simplest of equipment.

And older kids might even be able to rustle up their own real meals for outdoor dining when you give them the skills and tools they need to make the most of what they grow. An outdoor kitchen with, for example, a cob pizza oven, could provide hours of fun for them and their friends as they grow.

Make Spaces For Wildlife Watching

girl looking at butterfly on her hand in park
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An important part of spending time in a garden should be enjoying the wildlife with whom you share the space. A child-friendly garden should have plenty of spaces for wildlife watching. Make sure that through your planting and habitat creation, you attract plenty of wildlife to the space.

From simple benches overlooking garden ponds or wildlife zones, to fully kitted-out "hides" – make sure kids can see and interact with the nature around them in a range of interesting ways.

Think in Three Dimensions, and Consider a Child's Eye View

Gardens tend to be designed from an adult's perspective. But when designing a child-friendly garden, it is important to take some time to see things, quite literally, from younger peoples' point of view.

Creating a layered and diverse planting scheme is important. Be sure to think about the garden in three dimensions. Adding structure and height can add drama to a garden. And you can also use taller planting to create a magical and exciting world for younger members of the family.

A mound on the ground can become a sleeping giant. A simple slope can become a mountainside to scale. A winding path between tall grasses and meadow planting can make it seem like there is an adventure around every corner. Trees or shrubs can create leafy tunnels to new worlds, and dense planting can be a jungle to explore.

Create Quiet Corners and Allow for Undirected Free Time in Nature

In a child-friendly garden, it is important not to manage everything too much. Children should have undirected free time in nature. They should be able to climb trees, crawl under shrubs, dig under rocks, and mess around in the mud.

Leave wild and undisturbed corners where kids can have some alone time and discover the natural world on their own terms. Make sure you give them some space where you won't be annoyed with them for making a mess in your garden.

Consider Movement as Well as Static Zones

Carefree children running and playing in garden
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Finally, remember that young kids are always on the move! A child-friendly garden is not a space where you just consider creating spaces for specific activities or play that involves remaining in just one spot. You need to give kids space to move – run around – stretch their legs.

Just remember that space to move does not necessarily have to be a boring lawn. Creating winding woodchip paths between trees and shrubs, or mown pathways through a wildflower meadow, can also give kids the space they need to run around and play more actively. More diverse planting schemes can be more fun for kids, as well as being more eco-friendly spaces.