Creating a Safe Outdoor Play Area

two girls playing in backyard pool with KidKraft playhouse in the background

Ready to get your mini-mes playing outside all summer long? Setting up an awesome outdoor play area will help them love their time outdoors, and making it safe will give you peace of mind. Instead of focusing on getting alllll the outdoor toys, think by category of play instead. Set up areas that encourage each of the following types of play, and they’ll take it from there.

Active Play

Usually, when we think of outdoor play, we picture active play! Any type of play that helps kids get their heart rates up, move their bodies, and practice new skills fits the bill. To give kids a variety of activities to choose from, try to think of ways your outdoor play area can encourage all of these types of movements:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Climbing
  • Balancing
  • Hanging
  • Vestibular system-building activities like swinging or being upside down
  • Hand-eye coordination activities like throwing, catching, batting, etc
  • Maximum effort activities like lifting heavy objects

Swing sets (especially with monkey bars and climbing features) can check a lot of these boxes. Other inexpensive ways to encourage movement are climbers, ball activities (t-ball, soccer goals, basketball goals, etc.), and plain ol’ open space.

Risk-taking Play

Do a few of the activities above sound a bit… scary? We get it. It’s tough to let our little ones climb to new heights (literally), but the risk-taking play has been shown to have valuable developmental and emotional benefits for kids. It helps them learn to evaluate risks and gain self-confidence. Your backyard may already have great options for reasonable risky play like a tree they can safely climb.

Of course, some risks are too risky. That’s where kid-friendly outdoor toys and your parental judgment come in. Swing sets and outdoor playsets are a great way to let kids explore their urge to take risks in a way that is still age-appropriate.

Pretend Play

Pretend play often goes hand-in-hand with active play. Whether they’re running from a dragon or swinging from vines in the jungle, their pretend worlds are often their motivation to get active and moving – meaning some of your active play toys and areas will work double-duty to encourage pretend play too!

Other ways to encourage pretend play outdoors include making your own fairy garden, bringing some indoor toys outdoors temporarily, and adding a playhouse where their imaginations can run wild!

Constructive, Creative, & Sensory Play

From mud kitchens to sandboxes to a nice, crunchy leaf pile, your backyard is full of ways for kids to get messy and get creative! Help them. Providing a few simple objects like gardening tools and buckets can go a long way to helping them see all the opportunities they have to build things, create art, explore natural objects.

What to Remove:

Sometimes, making a kids outdoor play area is just as much about what you remove from your space. To keep them safe and give them more freedom, try to make sure the play area is free of:

  • Dangerous plants (anything poisonous, thorny, or rash-causing)
  • Fire ant beds, wasp nests, etc.
  • Holes, hidden stumps, and other tripping hazards
  • Other hazards (nails protruding from the fence, etc.)

It goes without saying, but you’ll also want to be sure any play equipment is installed properly. Make sure to include a safety zone – an area around the swing set or playset that is completely clear and ideally filled with a shock-absorbing loose-fill material.