Interesting Backyards Make the Best Playgrounds

CC BY 2.0. JustyCinMD

Here are some ideas on how to create a backyard that is more child-friendly and conducive to creative play.

The “Theory of Loose Parts” is based on the idea that children love to interact with variables and that having access to loose parts in the play environment enhances creativity. The theory is attributed to architect Simon Nicholson, who came up with the idea in the 1970s.

He wrote: “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.”

As one parent wrote on her blog, “A swing is a swing, but the gravel can be a home for a bug, fairy dust, a cake, something to draw in, a track for a car, and other endless possibilities.”

It’s easy to create a backyard that’s more conducive to creative play and is worth the effort, since it means kids will be more eager to spend time outside, which, in turn, gives parents a break. These are some suggestions from Rain or Shine Mamma, currently my favorite outdoor parenting guru and blogger.


Kids LOVE dirt. Think outside the sandbox. Indeed, my own sons routinely empty the contents of the sandbox and end up playing on the ground instead. Designate a place in the backyard where kids can dig in the dirt without fear of ruining gardens.

You can also build a mud kitchen: “This can be made simply by putting a 2×10 over a couple of tree stumps and giving your kids some old pots and pans to place on it."


Provide access to water, whether a tap or hose, where kids can get wet or fill buckets for mixing mud. Have empty containers lying around, either old yogurt containers or milk jugs.


Kids are drawn to little critters. The more plants in your backyard that can provide food and shelter, the more wildlife will be drawn to it – and the more entertainment your kids will derive from watching and catching insects. Rain or Shine Mamma encourages planting native species using the Pollinator Partnership’s online tool that provides a planting guide based on your location.

Nooks and Crannies

Kids instinctively like to hide and create forts in secretive, hidden-away spots. Rain or Shine Mamma recommends boulders, logs, or high bushes and grasses planted in clumps to provide gathering places. You can even build/plant a sunflower house next season.

Loose Parts

In keeping with the philosophy, it’s important to have loose parts lying around your yard. These materials can be moved around, redesigned, and changed to create new games, which means the possibilities are endless. Rocks, wooden blocks, tree nuts, sticks, branches, leaves, pinecones, fallen fruit, feathers, old flower pots, plywood, pieces of leftover wood, shells, stumps, gravel – all of these are wonderful additions to a backyard.

In other words, your backyard will not look like that perfectly manicured, pristine oasis that you may have imagined when you initially moved into your home. Instead, it will be a haven for fun, adventurous, creative play, and a place to which your children (and others) will gravitate. They will be better off for it in the long run.