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Play Area Design

The play area design for a specific toddler garden doesn't need to be complicated. Toddlers are small, and the toddler play area can be equally small, but the important factor for the child is that it is all her or his own space, and for us, that it is a safe environment which encourages our toddler's natural curiosity and creativity!

If you are partitioning off part of a larger garden for your toddler or young child, you would be looking at a confined play area design (see image 1 below), whereas if you have a smaller space and want your toddler to have the run of the garden, you would be looking at the open play area design (see image 2 below). Either way, there are a few basics to bear in mind when designing your toddler garden.

toddler watering can clipart

The Basic Principles of Toddler Play Area Design

  1. Position the toddler play area so that you have a full view of it from the house, and quick access from the back door - you need to be able to keep an eye on your toddler all the time!
  2. Keep the toddler garden away from any public access areas, eg round the back or the side of the house but out of view of the road or footpath.
  3. Keep it simple! Toddlers and preschool children don't need vast amounts of expensive play equipment, a sandpit and their own little house or tent will be more than adequate to begin with.
  4. Try to position the toddler play area in the shade of trees, or ensure you have some form of sunscreen or roof, especially over sandpits.
  5. Keep weeds such as nettles and thistles and other plants which could hurt your toddler out of their play area by checking regularly.
  6. Keep the toddler garden age appropriate. You know your child best and are therefore the best judge of their current abilities ... if you are not happy about them climbing up the steps of a small slide by themselves, don't include one yet.
  7. Try to avoid hard ground coverings like concrete or tarmac. Grass is still the favourite, but special matting is also a possibility (bear in mind that it does get hot underfoot during the summer though!). Another option would be decking - easy to keep clean and no chance of nettles or brambles!

Having considered the basic principles of designing a toddler play area, let's look at some examples:

The Confined Play Area Design

Either a small section within a larger garden which is safe for your toddler, or just a really special little "all my own" garden! This sort of design is very good for the younger children, approximately 18 months to about 2 1/2 years old.

confined toddler play area designA small fence separates the toddler play area from the rest of the garden. Include a gate with a catch, so that you can leave the toddler in there while hanging out the washing and know they will not wander off while your back is turned!

Don't overfill the toddler garden with too many items, a small age-appropriate play house, a sandpit and a little bench for them to sit and rest are more than adequate. Position the sandpit in the shade and provide sandpit toys (eg bucket and spade) but also old yogurt pots and plastic sieves to encourage creative play.

Toddlers and young children love bright flowers. Consider including a little planter or corner of the play area for growing flowers - check out our list of poisonous flowers and avoid those. Edible flowers are a pretty and safe bet for toddlers!

If your toddler would like to grow their own plants from seed, allow some space for that in their very own garden, give them some pots, compost and toddler garden tools and try some of the easy to grow vegetables or flowers (sunflower, bush bean, pea and nasturtium seeds are all easy for a toddler to handle and generally grow well with very little care).

The Open Play Area Design

Suitable for the older toddler (pre-school) or a smaller garden which can be entirely toddler proofed! If you have a number of small children, using an open play area design usually works quite well, as they then only have to bicker about who is using the slide now instead of trying to shut each other out of the 'special' toddler garden!

open toddler play area designWhen you feel it is suitable for your child's ability level, include more play equipment, such as a small slide and/or swing. Larger play equipment which include climbing frames, ladders, and various swings, are not really suitable for pre-school children, stick to the individual smaller items specifically designed for toddlers and young children.

Try to include a free play area in the garden - a place they can kick a ball around in, have a picnic with their dolls, teddies and friends or put up a tent during the summer.

Older toddlers and pre-school children will really appreciate having somewhere they can ride around on their tricycle - provide a path with a hard surface or a decent patio area, but keep the play equipment on the softer ground or grass.

Older toddlers can also be given their own little gardening patch or raised bed to grow flowers or other plants. You can introduce them to the concept of growing vegetables in rows and looking after the soil.

Having completed your play area design for your toddler garden, sit back and watch your child develop their creativity and enjoy learning about plants and nature together with them!

toddler watering can clipart


Toddler Garden | Play Area Design | Sandpits | Edible Flowers |


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