Horticulture Magazine

8 Child-Friendly Family Garden Ideas

childrens crayon drawing of gardening activities

Cast your mind back a few years (we won’t specify how many!) to when you were a kid.

Then think back to how magical it felt to be given free rein of a garden. All that space, yours. Free to roam – free to let your imagination run wild, where the limits of your games were only the garden walls and the eventual calls from mum or dad to let you know that dinner was ready.

kids with vegetables and a toy wheelbarrow
Kids just wanna have fun

Now think about the kids you know, and how much time they spend outdoors. Is it enough? Or do they spend too much time squirreled away behind devices with screens?

The truth is, most kids would jump at the opportunity to play outside, especially in a space that’s been lovingly designed to cater to their playful imaginations. So with that in mind, here are eight child-friendly ideas for fun family garden activities. Some of these ideas are for an afternoon, others are a little longer term. But they all share one thing in common: they’re fun.

1. Build a barrel pond

This is fun to do and continues to provide fun long after completion. If you’re not familiar, a barrel pond is a miniature pond ecosystem contained in half of an old barrel. You add water and at least four plants, all of which play different roles in maintaining the balance of oxygen and light to keep the water fresh without the need for a pump.

If you’ve got kids who love to plan and complete a project, and who’d enjoy learning about ecosystems and how nature works, this is the perfect activity.

Then, once it’s built, you can enjoy wildlife spotting as birds, newts, frogs, toads, bees, dragonflies and more come to visit your garden. You’ll get to see different steps of their lifecycles, too: what better way to learn about how the world works.

2. Make a mud kitchen

Building a mud kitchen is a way to let you and your kid’s creativity run wild. The project itself is completely open ended, and the end result can be as simple or as complicated as you like. As long as it does one thing: facilitates all manner of games involving mud.

That’s right: a mud kitchen is designed to help your kids get as dirty as possible by collecting mud, and using it in a bunch of games.

Our guide to building a mud kitchen contains tips on building sinks, pretend hobs, and all sorts of additional extras that will give your kids what they need to dream up some truly excellent games. So get building!

3. Keep chickens

This idea is a little longer term, but if you’ve got the time, energy, and space to keep chickens, they’re great fun. Not only do you get a reliable supply of eggs for your kitchen, but you also get to bond with a whole set of pets. Chickens have a huge amount of character and they’re great to have around, and like the barrel pond, they’re a great way to learn about nature up close.

a chicken behind mesh wire

4. Build a sunken trampoline

There’s nothing quite as fun as bouncing on a trampoline, whether you’re a kid or a fully grown adult. Whether it’s getting a really high bounce going, managing to land a backflip, or just sitting and chatting on an unusually bouncy surface – it’s great fun for the whole family.

A common garden project nowadays is to build a sunken trampoline: one where the elastic is level with the ground, rather than being raised on a metal frame. This makes a more seamless addition to the visual lines of your garden, which is a great consideration for the grownups reading this, but it’s also safer, as there’s less distance to fall if your kids don’t land their jump quite as gracefully as they were expecting.

Check out our guide to building a sunken trampoline to learn more.

5. Grow vegetables

If we’re asked for a child-friendly garden activity, growing vegetables is almost always our go-to. There’s so many reasons to love it: first up, you get to decide together what you’d like to grow. This involves conversations about favourite veggies, potential recipes to cook, which varieties to choose, and much more.

Then you get to buy the seeds, and as a kid it’s disproportionately exciting looking at a rack of seeds and picking out the ones you’re going to grow.

Next is the growing stage. This involves tons of fun gardening activities: digging, planting, burying, watering, and so on. If you give your kids their own child-friendly tools for this job, they’ll love it.

a child working on raised beds with vegetable plants
Give a kid a vegetable and they’ll hate it. Teach a kid to grow a vegetable and they’ll love every second.

Over the coming weeks and months you get the joy of checking the progress of your plants: first are the seedlings, then the fledgling plants, then the buds and tiny vegetables appear, and you get to watch them grow to size.

After they’re done you can pick them and either eat them raw, or incorporate them into your favourite dishes.

It’s the activity that keeps giving, and it teaches your kids about food sources, responsible growing, gardening, and plenty of other useful life lessons.

Get some inspiration for vegetables to grow here.

6. Get a bee hotel

If you like the sound of the first idea in this list (building a barrel pond), then here’s another great way to attract wildlife to your garden that requires a little less work.

Building or buying a bee hotel is a fantastic way to lure bees into your garden. And while bees sometimes spook young kids, there’s a lot of value in teaching them about the role they play in our survival, and that they won’t sting unless actively provoked.

A bee hotel is a place for bees to nest. This is a great way to see them relaxed in their natural environment, giving kids a good opportunity to watch and learn without the stress of potentially being stung.

And if you’re keen to attract even more bees and pollinators to your garden, Google “free seeds for bees” to find information about various organisations that give away seeds to help restore bee-friendly habitats.

7. Set up an excellent play area

Not all garden activities have to involve nature and creepy crawlies. Sometimes the most fun thing you can do is just play, and kids will jump at the chance to have a good game in the garden.

While kids have active imaginations and can make a game out of anything, there’s a lot to be said for having a lovingly crafted play area, complete with slides, seesaws, sandpits, and even climbing frames.

three children at the top of a garden slide
If you build it, they will play.

Involving kids in the design process is a way to extend the fun of this activity, too. Ask them what they’d like. What games can they imagine playing? Sometimes half of the magic of an exciting new play area is being involved in its creation.

8. Build a slip ‘n’ slide

Some of our fondest childhood memories involve hurtling through the garden at 30 miles an hour on a long line of bin bags with soapy water flowing all over them. The speed you can build up on such a contraption is truly mind-blowing, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a slight downhill in your garden. (And don’t worry: there’s a paddling pool at the end of the slide to catch kids, and to convert their momentum into a big splash rather than smashing full-pelt into a wall).

While some of the items in this list are admittedly a little costly, all you need for a slip ‘n’ slide is –

  • Some bin bags
  • Some washing up liquid
  • A hosepipe
  • A paddling pool

And trust us: on a hot, sunny day, kids will absolutely relish the opportunity to play on one of these bad boys. If they’re anything like us, they’ll think back fondly to the experience for the rest of their lives, too.

Let them play

Kids love being outdoors. Given the right opportunities, they’d happily spend hours out in the fresh air, whether in rain or shine. A garden is the perfect space to curate these opportunities, too: plenty of space to play, whether on slides, in mud kitchens, or even just in their stimulated imaginations.

This list includes eight child-friendly family garden ideas, although the list is almost endless. In the same way kids rely on their imagination to play, we’re going to hand over to your imaginations to dream up the very best ways to make your garden as exciting as possible for kids of all ages.

Dream big, and have fun!

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