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Creating an outdoor play and family area  RSS feed

 
gardener
Posts: 824
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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So really the whole homestead can be an outdoor play area for a child - but not all of it is safe without supervision. One of my homesteading goals has been to create a kid friendly area that my son can explore and play to his hearts content on his own. I also want this area to be a nice place for adults to hangout while the kids play. This project has several steps:

- Install hugel bed hedgerow along the side next to a shared dirt road for privacy and safety.
- Improve nearby planting bed by adding new plants and mulching.
- Build large sandbox.
- Build swingset.
- Install bench for adults to sit and enjoy under cherry tree.
- Install fence around the core backyard area.
- Install new eco-lawn.
- Install outdoor patio.
- Install fire pit gathering area.
- Plant tons of edible yummy plants!

The hugel bed is installed and the plants are growing! You can learn more about it in my thread about hugel bed hedgerows. This was the first step in this project since it creates a solid barrier along a shared dirt road. Going great and hopefully it will fill in soon and serve as a privacy/wind screen.

I have been working on the near by planting area and it is looking great - I will share some pics of it later on. I planted some salvaged thimble berries in it as a future yummy treat!

The sandbox has been the most recent project and I just finished it over the weekend!



I built it using salvaged wood from a restoration site and from neighbors. I dug some trenches/holes for the wood to go in to make it secure - figured if I could run and jump on it then it was good for my son. My son loves digging in the dirt and he just loves his new sandbox. He also loves climbing on the wood on the edges - later when he is older I will harvest willows for him to build forts out of. I figured the sand will be easy to stick the willow sticks into to build a fort out of. I still need to mulch around the sandbox and I will be putting in a small patch of eco-lawn near the bench and the sandbox as a small picnic area.



You can see the bench that I built in the background of those two pictures. It is just a simple cedar board that my neighbor gave me - it was scrap from his construction company - attached to some western hemlock rounds from a different neighbor. It works great and is very comfy - three adults can fit on it. My wife and I have already enjoyed some nice evenings with a glass of wine out there after our son goes to sleep (baby monitor works there). From the bench you can watch the sandbox and see most of the property - very nice view.

The next steps for this year is to finish mulching the area around the sandbox and install the patio. We are planning on hiring someone to do the fencing for us - I'm just too busy to do it myself right now. In the future I will be installing ponds on my property and the fence will make sure my son does not get into trouble in those areas while he is little. Plus I can grow all sorts of yummy edible plants along the fence!

In the fall I'm going to install an eco-lawn but I will remove most of the existing lawn area. I think the new lawn will end up being 2,500 to 3,000 square feet - big enough for playing with friends but not massive. The eco-lawn mix I'm getting should only need to be mowed once a month and should need no watering. Once I get going on the lawn I will post about it. Should look more like a meadow than a lawn.

Also in the fall, winter and spring I will start adding a bunch of new edible plants - lots of berries, some grapes, and other plants. The patio will have a small garden area around it for annual vegetables and herbs. I will have a larger garden area outside of the fenced area too.

The rest of the steps will wait till next year or the following year. I will likely be working on this for the next few years before it is "done". Really this project is the zone 1 area of my homestead. My goal is for my family to be able to spend most of our days outside enjoying this area. I want to be able to grow food, cook food, serve food, play and just enjoy life in this area - plus host friends and family. Really just starting - I will share as this project moves forward! June is patio month for my wife and I!
 
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Location: Pacific Northwest
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Ooooh, I like the idea of the logs around the sandbox! As he gets older, he'll undoubtely love jumping from one to another. They're also comfy places for adults to sit while little one plays in the sand.

Having cats, we can't do a sandbox, but I would love to make a pea gravel bed for my kids to scoop and dump in. We were given an old gazebo set, and I'm thinking it'd be neat to have the inside be a gravel pit for them to play on, and have kiwi's growing up it for shade. Our play area has lots of sunny places to play, but no real shady ones for when it gets hot in the summer.

My dad built us a swingset out of giant pallet wood. Let me see if I can find a good picture...
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It has a chin-up bar, a platform to climb on, and a climbing rope
Pallet-swing-set.jpg
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We tucked up the plastic playset we were given, so they can climb between them
 
Daron Williams
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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That looks like a lot of fun! I'm still debating on the type of swing set to build next year but I'm thinking about having some pull up type bars on the sides and perhaps another climbing feature.

I think a pea gravel play area could be fun! You could also try regular dirt instead of sand - if it is more compacted the cats might ignore it but the kidos could still dig in it. I had something like that growing up and the cats ignored it for the most part. Luckily where I live there are no cats so that should not be an issue for us.

I have a load of cedar play chips (no splinters) coming on June 9th - that will be nice because I can finally get rid of a lot of the grass around the sandbox and other parts of the play area. For the most part I just used regular wood chips that I can get for free but my wife was concerned about splinters from those. So the compromise was to use the cedar play chips around the play area and the regular type around the plants and elsewhere.

Most of the play area I'm building will be shady in the spring/summer but should open up a bit in the winter. But most of my zone 1 area will be sunny year round.

Nicole - what do you find your kids like to do the most outdoors? Trying to think of ideas to make my zone 1 area as kid friendly (fun) as possible
 
Nicole Alderman
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Hmmm, that's a good question! They've liked various things over the years. I think I'll go year-by-year as a way of helping me remember.

Son:
  • Age 1-2: Loved pushing around his wheelbarrow and crashing it into things, pushing around his dumptruck, digging in the dirt, splashing in the water and dropping things in the water to see if the sank/floated. REFUSED to even try to ride his trycycles. Didn't play with the toy kitchen we put out there. Loved playing with the hose.
  • Age 3: Still loves his wheelbarrow and trucks and cars. Still loves dropping things into water and will do so for 30 or more minutes at a time--hallelujah! Likes cutting grass with scissors and driving around in the Fisher Price Flinstone's Car-thing we were given. Really, really loved that car. Doesn't play on the play on the swing or slide unless I play with him, same with the kitchen. Still loved to dig. Had fun building garages for his cars out of bricks, and thwacking things with sticks. And throwing rocks. Generally loved breaking things. Loved to use my cultivator-how. Loved playing with the hose and would help water the garden.
  • Age 4: Pretty much the same as age three, but doesn't use his wheel barrow a lot. He now can use the Bond mini-shovel really well and loves to dig with it. Finally is into riding his bicycles, and rides them a lot. Enjoys jumping from log to log.


  • Daughter:
  • Age 1: Loves to attempt to dig with her shovels. Loves picking and eating chives (son always has, too). Wants to ride ALL the wheeled things, but can't do so on her own and always wants us to pull/push her on them. Loves to climb. LOVES digging through loose rocks and picking them up, putting them in things, and dumping them. Stacking bricks. Walking around on logs (needs assistance) and digging in the dirt. Also loves splashing in water. Loves to climb and hang on things, and actually plays on the playset. Loves scribbling with chalk on everything.



  • Thinking about that, the main things I'd have in a play area would be:
  • Some place to dig
  • Some sort of water tray for them to splash and drop things in
  • Something to build with, like bricks or wooden blocks
  • Cars and trucks to push around
  • Tricycles/cars for them to ride in, preferably with handles so you can easily push them. Some sort of smooth-ish surface is necessary for this, though, as they really can't peddle in grass. Prefferably make the smooth area in a circle so they can go around and around
  • Something to climb and jump off of, like logs
  • Sticks and rocks, and safe things for them to hit with them
  • Shovels/hand trowels. Neither kid really uses the rake
  • Child-size wheel barrow. They don't even put things in it, usually, but they LOVE pushing it around.
  • Chalk--great for coloring on wood, slides, rocks, toys, you name it!
  • Easy-to-reach, non-thorny food for them to munch on:
        ~ Chives
        ~ Sheep sorrel/french sorrel
        ~ Raspberries (they usually pick blackberries and salmonberries, too, but have a harder time due to the thorns. Until this year, my son would make me pick them. Now he loves picking them)
        ~ Strawberries
        ~ Blueberries/huckleberries
        ~ Carrots
        ~ Pansies
        ~ Chocolate mint
        ~ Cherry tomatoes


  • Things that seem necessary, but really weren't with my kids: Watering cans (they would steal mine, not use their own), Slide (not used nearly as much as I'd think), Swing (I use it more than they do, but it was really great for when I had a sleeping baby strapped on me, and maybe they'll enjoy it more when they get bigger). Balls (they just don't play with them much, even though my daughter loves balls)
     
    gardener
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    Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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    One thing that you could do in the sandbox is add a few large rocks, and some sturdy but blunt sticks, and then show him how hard it is to move a rock, then show him how easy it is to use a lever to move it, particularly if one uses another rock as a fulcrum.  Kids love to gain leverage and make them feel stronger and smarter. 
     
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    Love your sandbox.
    We were able to find online swings, rope ladders, trapeze, etc. that we've installed on some of the sturdy old trees in our yard. The kids love them and just climbing the trees. Our kids are few years older than your little one appears, but it is a thought for later.
    They love having fruit around the yard they can pick themselves for a healthy snack whenever they feel like it.
    Also, when your little one is older, he might like a designated area of garden that he can care for himself.
    Just a word of caution about willow sticks. They sometimes sprout and grow roots when put into sand, soil, water, etc. Our winter was harsh this year and brought down a number of maple limbs. The kids love playing and building with some of the smaller pieces I've cut into 12 inch lengths. They also have the advantage of not sprouting... Oh, and collecting sap from the dripping from the wounded maple tree was super fun this year. We might have to set up proper collection methods for next year.
    Good luck with this project. It looks amazing and I look forward to seeing more pictures as the work progresses.
     
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