Creating an Outdoor Play Space (Daycare#1)

When opening a home daycare, it’s important to think about both the indoor space and the outdoor space. Many times providers tend to focus on the indoor space and the outdoor space lacks functionality and creativity. It’s important to work within the amount of space you have, and to cater to the specific needs of your space.

Basic Guidelines for ALL Outdoor Spaces

  • Ensure that there is enough space for the children to run freely. Children need to run, and allowing them that free space without hazards encourages them to move. If your play space is smaller, think about reducing or rotating the amount of toys in your space to allow more open space to play.
  • Have a fenced area if your home is located somewhere that poses a safety issue. Busy roads could mean high auto traffic or high pedestrian traffic. Ponds, pools and rivers pose the threat of drowning, so it’s important to make sure they are not accessible.
  • Ensure your play space has some soft ground material. This could be grass, cedar chips, recycled rubber – as long as there is some sort of soft material that provides a cushion to climbers and other structures.
  • Have age appropriate structures and toys. Pinterest is great for ideas, but some of those ideas can pose as danger in disguise. Always make sure your yard is friendly to all ages of children within your care!

Outdoor Play Yard Must Haves

When I first began designing my outdoor play space, I wanted to make sure that I was inclusive of all the children within my care. At the time I cared for two children under the age of two, and two three year old children. The climbing equipment needed to be carefully placed and well supervised, and there needed to be a variety of activities for the younger children to do.

In my yard I have one large wooden play structure with a swing attachment, a plastic little tikes climbing cube, an infant sized little tikes playhouse, a small sandbox, an assortment of pedal cars and bikes, Tonka trucks, a water sensory table, bug catching equipment, picnic tables and natural play equipment.

1. The sandbox helps build fine motor and cognitive skills. Children learn cause and effect, the concepts of measurement, the motion of scooping and problem solving skills. It’s a sensory space that is essential to any outdoor play space.

2. A play structure allows for gross motor development. It allows children to develop their balance, coordination, climbing skills and imagination. Who remembers playing lava monster when they were younger? I do!

3. Children sized furniture is important to allow them to have a space to rest, to have a drink of water, to gather and have a snack or to engage in creative activities. Having arts and crafts outdoors saves on clean up efforts inside (glitter bombs anyone?) and it encourages more creativity with incorporating nature into their visual arts and sensory activities. This is also a great place for goop and other messy activities.

4. Having ride on toys allows children to develop their gross motor, problem solving, coordination, language and fine motor skills. These toys challenge children to use multiple skills at the same which broadens their range of thought and encourages creative play. Make sure you have multiple toys so there are no fights!

5. Smaller cars, such as the construction equipment above, allow children to play creative role playing games outdoors. It also promotes language skills, fine motor finger manipulation, gross motor and problem solving. There is no limit to the amount of creative ways these toys can be used outdoors!

6. A sensory bin/water table is essential to any outdoor play space. It allows the children to explore with messy sensory activities that you generally wouldn’t be comfortable doing in the house. Children are very hands on and by giving them the freedom to explore the activity on their terms, they will feel more comfortable and seek out more learning opportunities. We use our sensory bin for both messy wet activities (goop, water play, mud) as well as dry activities (bird seed as seen above, twigs and dirt). It is always a hit with the kids.

7. A playhouse allows for dramatic play to occur. Children can practice what they’ve witnessed and observed their parents, caregivers and older peers doing in an environment geared to their physical needs. A playhouse builds imagination, language skills, attention and self regulation as well as problem solving skills. There are so many things children learn while playing in a playhouse.

8. A creative space. This could be anything from a few patio stones to do chalk creations or a cedar chip garden for imaginative play or a music center using palettes and old metal pots and pans. Having a space for the children to express their creativity outdoors allows for them to explore messier art mediums or make extreme amounts of noise in an atmosphere designed for that kind of play.

9. Free space encourages running, imaginative games, sports, chasing butterflies – whatever the children want to do. It gives them the free range to just RUN.

I hope this list has given you a few ideas on how to design your outdoor play space. It takes a bit of effort, a little money and a bit of creativity in order to have a comfortable space and a lot of happy kids.

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