If you’ve always dreamed of an idyllic back yard with a koi pond, or a bountiful wildflower garden with a little nook where you can relax with a lemonade and a friend, but you’ve resigned yourself to a patch of grass and dirt because “that’s where the kids play” … take heart!
A gorgeous landscape and a kid-friendly play space are not mutually exclusive. You can have both! With planning, creativity and the right materials you can have that magazine-cover-worthy yard you’ve always wanted and still give the kids plenty of room to be kids.
Here are a few ideas to inspire and encourage you to imagine the possibilities.
Bring The Movies Outside
You may want to kick the kids outside to play for a while, but let’s face it – they’re hooked on their screens. From TV to tablets, they watch and play. And don’t you love those few minutes when they’re engrossed in a cartoon and nobody is pulling anyone’s hair or getting on anyone’s nerves?
Lucky for you, TV and movie-watching goes nicely from indoors to out. There are plenty of screens, monitors and electronics that are designed for outdoor use; it’s just a matter of designing the perfect viewing space.
The wall of a shed or fence, the stone face of an outdoor fireplace, or some other custom built structure all make ideal places to hang a screen. If you plan to let the kids watch during the day, consider keeping the screen shaded under a pergola or arbor.
Surround it with comfy seating like a few plush armchairs or those deep Adirondack chairs you love, and some low tables to hold drinks and popcorn, and you’re all set! The best part is that you can repurpose the space when the TV isn’t in use. Chairs can go from a theater arrangement during viewing times to a circular arrangement during conversational times. Add a fire pit for afternoon marshmallow roasts with the kids, or special evenings of grownup time.
And the necessity of hanging a screen may even get you that outdoor fireplace or pergola you’ve always wanted. That means grownups and kids alike can enjoy the space, and your new setup may inspire new family night traditions.
Build A Swimming Pond
You’ve heard of a swimming pool. But how about a swimming pond? If your desire for a great koi pond has always conflicted with the kids’ pool, now you can have both.
If you’re lucky enough to have the land space for both, go for it! But if space is at a premium, or if you’d just rather have a natural pool that fits seamlessly into your landscape instead of a chemical-filled swimming pool, then this could be the option for you.
Natural swimming ponds contain no chlorine or other chemicals. They’re kept clean naturally, through a balanced ecosystem of plants and biological filters. Including waterfalls or bubblers not only adds to the beauty of your pond but improves water quality, too.
It’s a win-win – the more beautiful your pond, the better, cleaner and healthier it will be. That means the kids can enjoy an afternoon dip and you can enjoy the flowing water, swaying reeds, colorful flowers and soothing landscape you’ve always wanted.
And yes, you can swim with the fish! Compared to a plain old swimming pool, that sounds like a lot more fun for the kids and a pretty good deal for you.
Leave The Park At The Park
Lots of people still think they need a huge back yard of smooth, green grass where the kids can play. Not true! New Jersey is full of parks and beaches where your little ones can run free. And the Monmouth County park system has some real beauties, with expanses of lush, green grass just made for playing baseball and Frisbee or hosting an afternoon picnic.
If you want a park-like atmosphere, take the kids to the park. If you want a gorgeous landscape that doubles as a fabulous play space, think differently.
Use natural elements to build play areas. Think of a swing hanging from a big, old-growth tree branch, or a cluster of tree stumps turned into a seating area for some quiet time. Instead of building a literal sand “box”, add a natural and irregularly shaped one bordered with large, natural stones that blend seamlessly and soothingly into the rest of the landscape.
You’ll be able to combine play with some unique elements that will not only make your space look great but actually enhance your kids’ enjoyment, too.
In fact, studies have shown that kids’ play is more diverse, creative and imaginative when they’re engaged with the natural world. And if you fear their eyes will become permanently glued to their phones and tablets, you’ll also be relieved to hear that kids tend to engage in imaginative play activities longer when they’re in a natural, outdoor environment. More play, less technology and a beautiful landscape – all the right ingredients for the perfect outdoor living space.
Turn Landscapes Into Games
You’re probably familiar with those outdoor chess sets where you walk across the board to move nearly life-size pieces. But have you considered bringing them to your landscape? That’s right, we said landscape – not yard. We don’t want you to plunk an oversized chessboard in the middle of your lawn. We want to see one designed into your landscape, instead.
Imagine the right patio design, whether it’s part of a main patio or a separate play area away from the house, that the kids can use as a giant game board for checkers or chess. It makes a great addition for the kids and adds an attractive and unique focal point to your space.
Or design a game of hopscotch to double as a natural stepping stone pathway between two areas of your yard. Add a miniature playhouse/shed at one end of the path and fill it with big pillows and plenty of table games for a rainy day, and you just might wish you were a kid again.
Only adults are ever interested in symmetrical, well-manicured lawns. But kids thrive in the natural environment, one that’s a bit more informal and, dare we say, wild. Variety in colors and textures, water elements like ponds, streams and fountains, wildlife in the form of frogs, bugs and butterflies, long grasses, herb container gardens full of rich scents, and places to sit and rest on logs and natural stones all contribute to a great play place for kids. Not coincidentally, they all make for a beautiful landscape for the grownups in their lives.
So instead of hanging onto the idea that your kids need a big yard, think about how you can provide them with a natural environment that they can explore. Believe it or not, that amazing landscape you’ve always wanted is a far more inviting – and beneficial – place for them to play than on that commercial swing set you spent so much money on (you know the one, it probably sits out there under the sun getting old while your kids hang out on the sofa with their tablets.)
Natural spaces trigger kids’ imaginations, foster language development, inspire curiosity and even enhance cooperation. Oh, and they look great, too!
If you want to talk about designing a landscape that you and the entire family will enjoy, contact us for a consultation. We specialize in building outdoor living spaces that can be enjoyed and appreciated all year long.