Creating a Natural Backyard Kids Can’t Wait to Play In

Plans to enhance backyard play

We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of moving into our new house. Last spring and summer we were too busy unpacking boxes and getting settled to put much thought into our backyard. Now that we’ve had almost a full year to observe things like what’s growing in the yard and how the kids play, we’re ready to make a few changes and improvements.

What do we love about our backyard? Well, the trees, for one. We have lots of trees that provide nice shade in the heat of the summer. We have a large deck with plenty of built-in seating as well as a swing. The previous owners also left behind a very nice playset. Although our kids rarely play in it, it is a nice draw for the younger kids in the neighborhood. It’s a very large backyard, so there’s lots of room to run and play.

As much as we love it, there is a downside. Because of the trees and the shade, it’s impossible to grow grass in the majority of the yard. As a result, a large portion of the yard becomes rather overgrown by mid-summer with weeds and brush. While we know that keeping some of that is important for wild life, it definitely inhibits the kids from playing in parts of the yard. We also worry about it being an eyesore, as most of the yards around us are very well manicured.

Our goal for the backyard is to transform it into an outdoor space that encourages play, invites relaxation and community, provides sanctuary for wildlife, and looks nice. It’s a tall order, and it will have to be done in phases over the next few years, but I know we can make it happen. Here are a few ideas I have that I think we can implement this spring and summer:


As we clear out some of the brush, I’d like to replace it with plants that encourage natural play. Some of the brush will stay, as it provides a habitat for insects kids love, like grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars.

Loose Parts:

Having the space is nice, but kids need things that will inspire play. Loose parts encourage all kinds of open-ended play. Sticks, rocks, PVC pipe, buckets, shovels, and funnels are a must. We have some pea gravel that the previous owners left behind – I’d like to keep it as well as a dirt pile for the kids to dig in.

Active Play:

In addition to the play set, I’d like to get some other items that fit well with the natural landscape but encourage active play. I’m thinking tree stumps for climbing, something to balance on, and a rope swing. We have some large rocks in a mulched area of the yard that I’d love to move to the wilder area so the kids can jump and climb on them.

Relaxation and Community:

We have a freestanding fire pit the owners left behind. We used it a lot last year, but it’s on it’s last legs. Mike is going to build us a permanent fire pit. I love thinking of evenings spent outside with the neighbors and their kids, visiting while the kids roast marshmallows.


You know I love my birds! I plan to add a few bird feeders. I think a bat house would also be a cool addition. We end up with a lot of sticks in our yard. Instead of getting rid of them, I plan to designate a spot in the yard for a woodpile. Not only will it provide kindling for the fire pit and loose parts for play, it’s a good habitat for bugs, amphibians and small mammals.

I will definitely keep you posted as these ideas become a reality in our backyard. In the meantime, feel free to follow my Risky Backyard Pinterest board for even more inspiration. If you’ve added anything to your backyard that’s enhanced the outdoor play experience, please share!