Case in point: Barlowland. Never heard of it? Well then, welcome! Grab a drink, pull up a seat and come have a look-see inside one heck of a fun and inspiring backyard play space.
Before we get started, let me extend a huge thanks to Sara Barlow for letting us have a peek around her Sacramento backyard wonderland (and for agreeing to share all of her amazing photos). Sara is one half of the creative genius behind TrailMix.net, as well as a blogger, wife, mother, hiker, climber and outdoor education lover. My kinda momma.
Can you describe the various spaces you’ve created in your backyard?
It all started with Barlowland: A play structure that includes swings, monkey bars, a slide, a play house, a picnic table and (most importantly to this rock climbing Momma) a rock climbing wall. This area was specifically designed to give our children a place to play freely and exercise.
Other spaces we’ve added since include:
The Forest of Fruit: The Forest is our original garden. In Spring 2012, we added another garden, leaving this as a fruit-only garden. This area teaches the children responsibility; each child is responsible for their box of strawberries. We have had several lessons about sharing, caring and timing – when the birds have beaten them to the strawberries.
Gourd Mountain: A great resource for fun ideas in the garden is the book, Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy. Gourd Mountain is based off her Garden of Giants. Using a teepee-style structure, the gourds will grow over the teepee hanging down inside, creating a secret hideaway for backyard adventures. To enter this secret mountain, we created an archway that long beans will grow over hanging down like curtains. Protecting Gourd Mountain is a moat of giants (named by the kids). The giants in our yard will be pumpkins, watermelons and sunflowers.
Valley of Veggies: While looking for a way to expand our garden, we discovered square foot gardening. Nothing like a square foot to teach you about mathematics, mapping and patience and so the lessons begin …
Camp Barlow: Is just a simple tent nestled on top of a tarp over a fluffy bed of shredded cedar. The cedar makes it smell like we are really in the forest. Camp Barlow was created specifically with the kids in mind. What better way to learn a love of the outdoors than spending significant amounts of time in it?
There are so many benefits to sleeping in a tent, such as learning to sleep sharing a space, not being fearful of the noises in the night, enjoying the peace and quiet that being outside offers, and most importantly in my opinion, creating a bond between siblings that they will share the rest of their lives.
The Pond: Shortly after Barlowland was introduced, we added the pond. Little did we know the pond would become a fountain of education. It encompasses what we are all about when it comes to our children. Our overall goal is to use recreation, adventure, and fun to develop lifelong learners, which also happens to be one of our core philosophies over at TrailMix.net. It amazes me each day that a simple walk out to look at the pond can turn into an hour of discovery.
The Pathway: A simple meandering flagstone path leads to so much adventure. It is our gateway to the entire yard and has also been used as a scooter track and a racing route.
The Grass: A place of freedom. A grassy area can become anything you need it to be on any particular day. We use our grass for the slip-n-slide, flying kites, searching for ladybugs, and as a place to run and play whatever game the kids think up.
The Fairy Houses: Right on the other side of the path to Camp Barlow is a redwood tree with little houses nestled below. This is where the fairies live.
What inspired you to create such fun, creative spaces?
When we moved into our current home, we specifically looked for a house with a big yard. Mike and I both grew up playing outdoors and wanted the same for our children. For me specifically, my grandmother and parents were a huge inspiration. My grandmother inspired my love of gardening and my parents inspired my love of nature.
What resources are required to create a space like yours? How could someone do something similar?
All you need is imagination, some space outside, sweat and determination. Don’t be afraid to try something. Our yard is constantly evolving as the children grow and our needs as a family change. As I mentioned earlier, Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy will provide great inspirations for your outdoor spaces.
What’s your favorite way to spend time in your backyard with your kids?
Wow, that is a hard question. I think our gardens are my favorite. It allows us to discover new things every day by exploring the yard. There is nothing better than seeing the smiles that come from eating a strawberry they planted or the mmm’s I hear after using the zucchini to bake a loaf of bread. Just the other day we found a giant bumble bee enjoying the zucchini flowers. It was incredible to listen to my oldest explain pollination to her younger sister and brother. How can you not love hearing that and being there to spend that moment with your children?
Camp Barlow is a close second, waking up to see the sweet faces of my children warms my heart.
How about you? Do you have a special place in your backyard dedicated to play, wonder or exploring?