Summer’s here.  You want your children to enjoy the sunshine. You’ve probably ensured you have a child-safe’ garden – but is it a child-friendly garden?

A garden may look fabulous – but does it call to your child, ‘Come and play.’

The Bloom Festival (Ireland’s answer to Chelsea Flower Show) is a fabulous outing and great place to get ideas on what makes a garden a great place to play for children.

No matter how pretty children don’t want a flat, all on one level, garden that is all immediately available to the eye on first encounter. They want somewhere the imagination can wander.  A place where their stories can come to life.

So what’s the difference between ‘child-safe’ and ‘child friendly’?  A child friendly garden is always child safe. i.e. no uncovered areas of water of any depth, no sharp corners, etc. and taking account of the age and developmental needs of the child.

Safety is obviously important for your child’s sake – and creating a safe secure environment leaves your child free to play without unnecessary adult interference. What child wants the parent saying – ‘Don’t do this/ don’t do that’ when they’re busy playing!

What is a ‘Child Friendly’ Garden?

But a child-friendly garden is something so much more than just a safe space!

A ‘child friendly’ garden is a place where there’s a sense of ‘magic’ – of mystery and wonder. A place where you can disappear into your own world of imagination – or wonder and curiosity, watching swaying leaves in sunlight, a bright ladybird on a leaf, or a bumblebee industriously collecting pollen.  A place where you can create your own stories with your dolls or dinkies, where you can build a house for the hedgehog or fairy, or have a picnic or a tea party with invited guests (whether teddy bears, the child next door or mummy and daddy).

Children  love gardens that are rich in natural textures, where there are leaves that will blow in the wind, where the land has hillocks and undulations, and sunlight dapples through the trees.

A garden where the child can lose herself in her imagination, where anything could be possible.

It’s a garden where there aren’t such perfect flower beds that she can’t tumble on the lawn. It’s not one level surface. It’s interesting to the senses!

Young children can have endless hours of imaginative play in a garden like this.

Five Tips to Create a Garden Space Your Child Will Love:

1. Provide props to encourage play.

For example, props for your children to create a picnic, or  to make a ‘tent’. Sometimes children will ask for the props they need – but wise adults will also be sensitive to when something extra is needed. Maybe it’s a bottle of bubbles to blow, or a temporary ‘clothes line’ and pegs for a morning of washing dolly’s clothes

Farms, zoos and many adventures can be created with a few props.

2. Provide natural play materials.

Water play is a much loved activity – but be aware of any safety hazards. A sand area is also great. Earth, mud, stones, wood and water are all part of garden play.

3. Create a safe (and enticing) garden – and give them freedom in that space.

Think back to your own favourite activities as a child. They were probably those times when you were free to create your own imaginative world, without an adult breathing down your neck. Young children need a child-safe garden with secure boundaries – and then give them space to create their own play, unless they’re inviting you to ‘join the party’.

4.  Expensive play equipment isn’t needed.

Many parents buy elaborate climbing frames and other playground equipment – but walk through a neighbourhood and notice how many of these are hardly used. The large pieces of equipment that are likely to give endless hours of pleasure are a good swing and a trampoline. (If you have young children, create a low boundary in front and behind the swing, so that younger ones won’t walk into the path of the swing).

5. Create a simple veggie patch

Children are far more likely to eat the healthy stuff when they’ve grown and harvested the food themselves! You’ll likely find great ideas for this too at Bloom 2016.

Why do ‘Child Friendly’ Gardens matter?

A garden is ideally a place where you can just ‘be’.

A place where imaginations can bloom, where the senses can feast and muscles and brains can relax or be challenged in interesting ways.

Even older children can experience a garden like this as a sanctuary – a place to be still and unwind.

To discover more about the Koemba Parenting approach buy your copy of ‘Behave – What To Do When Your Child Won’t’, available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.