Monday, May 2, 2011

Come Take a Peek Inside Our Backyard

I talk a lot here about the importance of exploring nature right in your own backyard – no matter how small that space might be.

But I’ve never come clean about what our own outdoor space actually looks like. And here’s why: It’s not much to brag about.

The view facing the back of the yard ...

... and the same space facing the house.
Given our urban locale, I am thankful we even have outdoor space – with grass and trees, to boot. But wait! There’s more. More concrete, that is.

Facing our kitchen entrance into the house
And more in this odd space at the back of the yard!
Plus plenty of plastic toys – none of which we purchased ourselves, by the way. Here’s the “parking lot.”

The kids' current faves
I’m embarrassed to admit that we’ve lived in our current home for five years and have yet to make any major changes to our backyard space. The top three reasons for this are: 1) we can’t seem to commit to a single plan 2) neither the hubby nor I are DIY-worthy and 3) we don’t have the funds.

I have made a few noteworthy additions recently, though, like our kid’s vegetable garden.

 Plus a wildflower garden.

We also have a hummingbird feeder, a second bird feeder and a birdbath (in the center of our wildflower garden, above). All of which have brought in more birds than in the past, for sure.

We've also added some pieces from my dad's former backyard space, but none have held much interest to the explorers.

The explorers don't spend much time in this secluded space
But now that we’ve made finding time for unstructured outdoor play and interaction with the natural world a daily priority, I’ve noticed that our backyard could use some help. A lot of help, actually.

After all, the kids seem more drawn to bashing their plastic cars together than digging in the dirt (without prodding from me, of course).

I want our backyard space to offer plenty of nature play opportunities for the kids. Because I know that if given the resources, they would explore and enjoy.

So what do I have in mind? Here are a few thoughts (thanks to this great list of nature play space ideas from Green Hearts for the inspiration):
  • Water (beyond our plastic water table)
  • A dirt pile & a digging pit
  • Sand – the more, the better
  • Logs
  • Rocks & boulders
  • Seating (like a hammock or bench under the trees)
  • Secret nook (perhaps a fort)
  • Meandering paths
  • Loose parts
I’ve actually been eyeing tons of dreamy outdoor nature play areas for months now. But I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of getting started.

And that’s where I need your help: Where do I begin? How do I pull any of these changes off on a shoestring budget and with little DIY skill or knowledge?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Today’s post is part of “Your Green Hour Survival Guide,” a series which I hope will provide you with inspiration to make getting outside every day a habit.


  1. Debi-
    You have a great space to work with! One of the big challenges of DIY for some folks when they are first getting started is that you have to let go of the thoughts of perfection. Your skills will develop as you continue to tinker and work through it. Involve the children with your projects, and gather all of the free materials that you can! Jenny over at let the children play has some amazing inspiration in a series she did inspired by Rusty Keeler. I also have an outdoor classroom inspiration page on my blog with all kinds of great links to DIY ideas.

  2. Your veggie and wildflower gardens are a great way to start! Your "yarden" will naturally evolve in time. Trust me and enjoy, one fun kid-friendly project at a time! There are plenty of small water garden/pond features you can install as well. The goldfish, and the butterflies and frogs it will attract, will be a great incentive too. Happy gardening! <3

  3. Love your blog! As I've been struggling with the same kind of thoughts (wanting an enjoyable place for both kids and grown-ups out back), I'll share a few with you. Funny, but the website I'd have sent you to is the same one mentioned in the above post! Great, alternative type play ideas for the back yard.
    Also, consider using used, free tires! Great reuse project as well. You can find some neat ideas by googling tire play or tire playground. Tires go beyond tire swings for fun play; they can be buried halfway up for rubber stepping stones; they can be bolted together for climbing structures. I got pretty excited about the possibilities!
    Also, how about growing a bean teepee, or creating one from some cheap canvas until the plant one grows?
    Love the idea of boulders, or big rocks, etc. They can be surprisingly affordable! I'll write more if I come up with stuff.

  4. cool that you shared this! We're in EXACTLY the same boat--as of last week our yard is a bull-dozed blank canvas and my little one is in open space dirt heaven right now. We are swirling (overwhelmed) with ideas, including a natural playscape I want to create for my son, that can grow with him for a few years. I too have been oohing and ahhing over images of natural playscapes! We have boulders, those are always fun--loving that idea for sure. I know one thing we will be able to do are stepping logs (cross-sectioned stumps for balancing and climbing). Personally I would love to be able to do the tree tunnel, but not sure how to move or even locate a tree big enough LOL A couple of ideas from the sidebar of my blog:

    "Tree stumps, logs, and boulders make for fun climbing and balancing challenges, a large hollowed out tree trunk makes a great tunnel to explore; pathways through tall grasses can be made into pint-sized mazes for little adventurers. A sturdy fort made from secured branches becomes a child’s pirate ship, secret hide-out, dinosaur nest, or castle fortress! Grassy hills are great for rolling down, and don’t forget garden teepees covered with winding vines of edibles, or the sand and water play."

    And all of that was inspired by these images:

    We're also "planning" to have a wall dedicated to cementing/affixing recycled treasures to create an eclectic family art wall, I could see incorporating natural elements or design into something like that! Could be fun :)

  5. Thanks for this blog! Here's an idea I came up with to provide a secret hangout for the kids that looks good in the landscape!

  6. If it weren't for that fact that were moving from an apartment to a house this week and will have a nice big fenced backyard for Patrick to roam in, I'd say I was jealous that you even had a backyard!

  7. Thanks for all the fantastic suggestions, gang!

  8. Your yard's not so has a tree, and a lawn to run on! Mine's half the size, all deck and one small hedge.

    I'm embracing plastic while my boy is tiny --- he loves his "little house", and his sand table, and his slide/ship/castle. We will build a fort when he's old enough to help. My dad did that for us when I was about 7 -- the building is as great a memory as the playing ever was! So don't rush.

    In the meantime -- I'm putting tiny stepping stone paths through all my equally tiny flower beds; I'm going to use a tent as a hideout/reading space; and I'm working on a collection of loose parts. And lots of containers with kid-friendly plants. And if I had a lawn, I'd have balls to kick and balls to throw and bubbles to blow and a sprinkler to run through. Have fun!

  9. Debi, I love seeing how your are transforming your outdoor space. We are in the same boat at preschool - 4 years ago it was one big empty grassy space and it is slow progress but we are getting there. Remember what Rusty Keeler says: dream big, start small, never stop :)

  10. I know exactly how you feel, our yard is not very inspiring-very bland, suburbia. It is expensive and a lot of work to be sure. All I can ever manage is small projects at a time, especially with a lack of funds or skills.
    Seriously, this year the most exciting thing we got going is our strawberry pot. I've tried dinosaur garden, sand, chalkwall but now that my son is getting older (9) it's getting harder to make it enticing out there.

  11. So much great advice in these comments I don't think I can add much....just wanted to say good luck!
    I have been tackling one idea at a time, well kind of, trying to keep projects manageable.
    And I have learned to have my eyes out EVERYWHERE for things I can grab to add to our yard; like stumps, logs or big sticks that the neighbors put out as yard waste.

  12. You guys rock - I feel such support from all of you! I'm hearing the message: start small & keep at it. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :)


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