It’s now well understood that young children benefit enormously from unstructured play time, but how do you provide an engaging play space, that’s also safe for your kids, in your home or backyard?
In this article we’ll focus on some affordable ideas for play spaces that will exercise your children’s imaginations while keeping them safe. Many of these safety tips, as a parent you may well already be aware of.
Outdoor play space
There’s almost nothing better for young children than playing outdoors and interacting with the natural world. Nature provides endless teachable lessons. Besides having young kids can be a great opportunity to teach yourself more about plants and animals and how ecosystems interact.
Your garden is essentially an ecosystem on a micro-scale and therefore a fantastic educational play space. To make it safe for your child, either block off or remove dangerous plants like arum lilies, cacti and chillies and ensure no sharp objects or snail baits etc have been left lying around. If you’re not sure whether a plant is safe; check with your local nursery.
If you have the space, set up a garden bed just for your children. Plants like mint, lavender, daisies and geraniums are all safe for children, grow easily and engage your children’s senses. Or try growing something quirky like giant sunflowers. These impressive, towering flowers will wow your young kids.
You don’t need to go out and spend a fortune on a backyard jungle gym. A simple swing set and/or sandpit offer excellent opportunities for young children to play. Just ensure swings are made of a soft material like rubber and, that you reinforce to your children that swings are for sitting not standing. You might also want to install a rubber mat underneath the swing to provide a soft fall.
To make a sandpit a creative space for play provide simple items like buckets of water and buckets and spades. At night time, it’s a good idea to drape a cover over the sandpit to prevent cats and other animals accessing it.
Indoor play space
An indoor play space does not have to be filled with expensive toys to stimulate your child. As you probably know, young children can entertain themselves for ages with something as simple as a large cardboard box.
Focus on providing a range of items or toys that offer different sensory experiences and allow your child to engage in different movements.
Simple things can be the most popular, like a colander with a pile of pipe-cleaners, which allows children to practice hand-eye coordination or, wooden spoons (for young kids to chew on) and saucepans. If your child is just learning to walk, you’ll want to equip the play space with a soft play mat and where possible block off entries to ‘danger zones’ like the kitchen or bathroom with safety gates. If your child’s play space can encompass an entire room, this allows them ample space to exercise and test out their muscles/balance and coordination. Keep in mind that toddlers can be incredibly canny, if you’ve made a safe play space just for them they’ll do their damndest to figure out a way to get out of it!