How to Create Fabulous Fun in the Garden

Is your child happy playing? I mean really happy? When you watch your child’s playing  do you sense an inner contentment?

Do you remember that fabulous fun in the garden – to stand on a log, arms outstretched, with the breeze tugging your clothes and ruffling your hair?

It’s crazy – it’s the simplest thing to re-experience that exhilarating childhood joy – and yet, as adults, we seldom do.

Parenting expert Val Mullally - the joy of play

It was a blustery, sunny afternoon when I visited the Garden Outdoor Pre-school in Ruthstown, Ballyfoyle near Kilkenny, owned by Bridget Dowling, whose passion for creating environments for children to thrive is evident.

I was on a mini photo-shoot for a blog about young children and play, when I realized how peaceful I was feeling. I had arrived feeling happily expectant because of the good reports I had heard about this preschool, but I was surprised to notice the sense of stillness and relaxation that had settled upon me. It was environments like this, where we loved to play when we were kids.

Mum (or Dad) said, ‘Go and play!’ and we disappeared into the backyard, finding whatever scraps and treasures we could for our adventures. We were police officers chasing rogues and robbers, princesses in palaces, pirates sailing the seven seas, or gangsters tearing through deserts.

Our imaginative play took us wherever we fancied.

We took these play opportunities for granted, but today, if we want our children to have the rich play experiences that we had, we probably need to deliberately construct gardens to ignite our children’s imaginations.

It’s time to stop thinking in terms of the neat, urban well-manicured garden. It’s time to a focus on creating ‘magical’ place for children to play.

Do you sometimes tell your children, ‘ Go and play’ but they aren’t interested, or they whine for you to come too. The good news is you can create a garden where your children will want to play, with only a little  financial input, some effort, some imaginative recycling and a rethink of what you think your garden needs to be,  (or a section of it at least!)

Read on  to discover Easy To Implement Ideas for your ‘new look’, child-friendly garden.

✓ Let an area of grass revert to meadow.(You can trim it back in Autumn, if needed).  Cut a simple path through it. Use sections of log to create stepping stones.

natural garden for child play

Plant a small copse of light shade trees, like birch  and leave the grass to grow between the trees  and shrubs.
If you have enough room, create a simple labyrinth. It’s a deeply calming experience to wander the path.  (Maybe it’s not by chance that the words ‘wander’ and ‘wonder’ sound the same!)
Plant a copse of trees. Leave the grass uncut between them.


✓  Let sound be part of your garden too.Have bird feeders and a shallow bird bath to encourage feathered friends. Hang a wind chime.Create an ‘instrument wall’ with old pots, pans and other implements or the children to create their own orchestra.

create musical instruments for garden play

✓ A tarpaulin gives shade as well as creating sounds effects as the wind whistes through it and flaps its sides, adding to the music of the outdoors.

A tarpaulin in the child-friendly garden

 ✓ Recycle! Old pots and other implements can make a fabulous outdoor ‘kitchen’.

Recycle old cooker for play activity

Recycle old kitchen equipment for play activities

✓ Watch out for all sorts of interesting junk. A ‘builder’s corner’ will give hours of play.

Plumbing fittings make for great play activities for young children

✓ Grow your own veg. Even small beds are an awesome experience for children to watch the miracle of growth. It’s amazing how children who don’t eat veg will eat what they’ve grow themselves!

encourage children to grow their own vegetable and salad crops

✓ Grow a willow tent! Make some of the simple toys we had as kids. Butterfly nets can give hours of fun.
Grow a willow tent. Butterfly nets and toy telephones are easy to make toys for outside play


✓ Make ‘Toy Telephones’ Remember using two clean, empty cans with string between them to talk and listen to each other? (You can see sets of ‘telephones’ hanging on the fence in this photo!)

How to Create Fabulous Fun in the Garden

✓ Have the sand toys ready for play by adding hooks on a nearby wall. (Important to have a sturdy cover to protect the sand from being polluted when not in use).

Hang sand toys on a nearby wall - easily on hand for garden play

✓ Create a table and stools with sections of log.

✓ A wooden coat-hanger and cup-hooks attached to a pole make a weighing scale,or a captain’s wheel, or …   !

Wooden coat hanger attached to pole, with cup hooks attached on either end to make garden weighing scale

Involve your children in creating the garden. They’ll love it even more when they have a sense of ownership.

 Water play on a warm day is great fun, but always keep a watchful eye.  Of course, you need to be watching for any health and safety hazards, but remember what they said that fairies don’t come out when grown ups are around.  For your child to enjoy the ‘magic’ of the new garden, keep low profile, unless they invite you to join the play! If you’ve enjoyed this list you’ll probably also enjoy ‘How to Create a Child Friendly Garden’. 

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. Please do upload your photos and stories here, or on the Koemba Facebook page, so we can all get excited about the garden makeovers you create.