Tips for making a play area in a garden – design, materials

Having some space in the garden to turn in to a play are for your kids is one way to really make sure you get them outside more.  Over the years we’ve had various gardens with either not a lot in them for the kids and with some dedicated space and I can definitely say that with some space specifically for them it really helped more.  When speaking to friends they all agree!  But it’s not always easy to make a play area in the garden and there’s a lot to think about – here’s some thoughts that should help you if you decide you want to turn over some space to the kids!


How to make your garden fun for your kids

If we’re going to be making the effort and cost to put in a dedicated play space for our kids then we want to make sure that it’s used and when it comes to kids, that means making it fun!

Always bear in mind what your children already think is fun and what already gets them outdoors.  As a guide, to give you some ideas, here are some of the things our kids found fun in each of the age brackets and of course some things will be fun all through their childhood:


Sand and water play

small ride on toys


Age 3 – 7

larger ride on toys

cars and push along toys (large plastic ones were good)

small climbing frames


Age 7 – 10

climbing frames



nature areas

room to play with friends

ball games


Age 10+


nature areas

room to play with friends

ball games


How to design your play area

When it comes to designing your play area in your garden you’ll need to bear a few things in mind:

  • How old are the kids?  A play area for very young children will have different demands to one for older kids
  • How many children are there?  This might determine how big an area you will set aside
  • How much space do you want to give to it?  If you have a really big garden this might not be an issue, but with a small garden you might need to think more about it
  • What else do you want to do in the garden? Are adults hoping to have a chilled out area too, perhaps on a patio?  Would you like to grow vegetables or have some nice flowers?  Perhaps have a pond?  Feed the birds?
  • How much money do you have?  Budget is always going to be needed to be kept in mind when thinking about what to include or not.


Map out your area

Measure out exactly what area you are planning on using for your kids playground.  Once you know exactly you can then start to measure the big structures that you might want to get and make sure they’ll fit.  Don’t just go and buy without measuring – believe me, from one spacially challenged parent to another!

Don’t forget to take into account height space as well as the ground plan especially if you plan to have trampolines or climbing frames.  Will you need to remove or cut back trees or will you have trouble maintaining them when your play area is made?

Privacy is also something to be considered at this stage too – will your neighbours be impacted by your plans?  Now is the time to talk to them especially if your plans involve toys that will mean your kids can potentially see more into their house and garden.


Decide on the big structures

Decide what big structures you’re going to want to have and remember to think back to what ages your children are and how likely they’ll be to play on them.  Can you fit them all in or will you need to make a decision on what takes priority?  So, big structures would be trampolines, play houses, climbing frames and perhaps swings and seesaws.  Even sandpits take up some good space in a garden

After making these decisions take a look at your plan you made before – does this allow for enough space for the kids to run around in, have others over to visit and play with their other toys?

If in doubt go for less big structures – you can always add more in at a later date



Trampoline in the plan? – check out our recommendations here


    What storage solutions will you need?

    Kids toys need space, not only to be played with but also to be stored so they don’t get yucky after a few rainy days or weeks.  Make sure to remember to factor in some storage space in the form of a shed or storage locker in the garden if you don’t already have that.


    Decide on materials for the ground

    What materials are best to build a garden play area?  This depends on lots of things including your budget and what your children are likely to be doing in the garden.

    Options might be:

    • standard grass – easy, especially if you already have a lawn and good for any existing wildlife.  Does require upkeep though.
    • artificial turf – easy to maintain, soft to land on, looks so much better these days too
    • bark mulch – this is what lots of commerical playgrounds use and for good reason – it looks good, soft for falls and easily determines the actual area for playing.  Not so easy to clean and you must have some weed supressant or you’ll get grass growing through.
    • play mats – don’t look as nice in my opinion but easy to keep clean and hose down.  Would be great for kids who want to ride bikes or play ball games.
    • decking – can be slippy in wet weather so not really ideal
    • cement/patio slabs – not soft at all but easy to keep clean and good for general playing and also for multi use if adults want to spend time out in the garden too.


    If you have enough space then you might be able to combine two or more ground materials, perhaps something flat like play mats for one area and some bark mulch for under climbing frames.