Natural Backyard Playgrounds (Complete Guide, Equipment and Ideas)

  • By: CarlBroadbent
  • Time to read: 9 min.
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Looking for some natural playground backyard ideas? You’ve come to the right place.

There are heaps of benefits of a natural backyard playground and they’re becoming more and more popular among parents.

Natural backyard playgrounds plan
Natural backyard playgrounds

Creating a natural playground in your backyard can be really fun and there are ideas for every budget and skill.

One of the great things about creating a backyard like this is that your kids can help – they’re often much more creative than us at thinking up these ideas.

What is a natural backyard playground?

For anyone new to the concept of natural playgrounds, the idea is simple.

Build natural backyard playground tips
Build natural backyard playground

A natural backyard playground is one that is created from natural resources like:

  • earth
  • wood
  • water
  • stones
  • and rope

There’s very little (or no) use of metal or plastic and they’re really sustainable.

Any non-natural resources used are recycled materials.

Let’s take a look at some of the countless natural playground backyard ideas out there.

Stumps

Tree stumps make perfect additions to any natural backyard playground.

If you’ve got an old tree stump in the ground, you don’t need to dig it up to use it – it can be so useful as it is.

Encompass it in an obstacle course, turn it into a seat, or craft it into a fairy house. The possibilities are endless!

If you have removed a tree stump and want to create something from it, there are lots of ways to do so.

Tree stump
Tree stump

You could cut it into large circle pieces (around six inches thick or less) and place them on the ground to create a path or a game of hopscotch.

Thicker stumps (12 inches) would be great for seating to create a picnic space or an area around a fire pit, for example.

Using stumps of varying heights can create an impressive, natural climbing structure.

Putting larger ones in the middle and creating a pyramid shape is one idea but use your imagination for something your kids would love to play on.

Finally – Stumps are a great addition to any sort of obstacle course. You can even put notches in taller ones for hand or footholds to encourage creative climbing and use.

Logs

Since we’ve talked about stumps, it makes sense to talk next about logs.

Logs are almost as versatile as stumps!

You might want to smooth them out a little so they’re not as rough, but this depends on what you intend to use them for.

Logs are great for seating, but if you want to do something more fun with them, they make excellent balance beams.

Kids having fun logs backyard
Kids having fun

What’s great about logs is that you can put them anywhere and kids will just use their imagination.

One minute it’ll be a train, the next they’ll be walking the plank off a pirate ship.

If you’re really up for a challenge, why not see if you can create a seesaw out of a log?

Hollow logs

If you happen across a large log that’s been hollowed out, this makes a great play tunnel for kids.

If it’s not big enough to climb inside, you can be creative with it to make a shoot for pinecones to roll down or pebbles.

Rocks

Rocks should definitely be included in all natural backyard playgrounds. They’re so much fun.

Position very large rocks in an obstacle course or on their own for climbing and jumping.

Alternatively, use smaller, smooth rocks in a construction area.

Buy large garden rocks guide
Large garden rocks

Add a couple of buckets or a wagon and encourage your youngsters to bring out their inner engineer.

How about a rope pulley system to really get them thinking?

Or an outdoor balance to play around with weight.

Using the landscape 

If your backyard isn’t flat and has some natural ups and downs, this should definitely be taken advantage of!

When you’re creating your own natural backyard, the natural landscape should be harnessed to make the playground unique and original.

Turn the mounds into forts or climbing spaces and the troughs into a watercourse, for example.

If you’ve got a large hill, secure a rope to the top so children can scale up it.

Trees

We’ve mentioned tree stumps and logs already but another thing you should definitely make use of are any established living trees in your yard.

Simple Platform Treehouse With No Sides
Platform treehouse

If they’re 1.5 to 2 feet wide, they will make an ideal climbing structure.

If their branches don’t naturally make them climbable, attach:

  • a rope ladder
  • climbing ropes
  • a rope swing
  • or hammock

Create a creative zone

If you’ve read any research about how to harness developing children’s brains, you’ll know why this type of activity is so good.

Dedicate a space in your backyard that is devoted to creating, engineering, and general tinkering with things.

Simply provide resources like acorns, leaves, twigs, pinecones, bark, vines, dried bamboo, or whatever else you have to hand, and let your children get creative.

Build a mud kitchen

There’s something about mud that most children just love, and a mud kitchen is an ideal place for children to develop their creativity and roleplay skills.

There are loads of wonderful designs for mud kitchens on Pinterest, for example, but all you really need is:

  • a child-sized bench
  • some wooden bowls
  • and wooden utensils

When winter comes, a mud kitchen is really easy to convert into a snow kitchen too!

A sandbox

A small girl is having fun in a sandbox
A girl is having fun in a sandbox

There are loads of ways you can add a sandbox into a natural backyard playground, and you can be creative in how these fits into the backyard.

You don’t need to go down the traditional-looking sandbox route.

There are some creative ideas online with some people even filling old wooden boats with play sand to create a desert island feel.

One thing’s for sure, no matter how you add the sand box or sand pit, your kids will want tools to rake, dig and move the sand.

A space to swing

Is a playground really a playground without something that swings?

There are tons of ideas for natural playground swings.

The simplest is a knotted rope hanging from a sturdy tree branch.

material under a swing set

Or you could use rope and a wooden plank to create a standard swing seat.

If you have space (and are creative enough!), you could create an entire swing bridge by connecting lots of wooden planks with chains or ropes.

Create a mark-making area

Mark-making is so important for growing kids.

It’s great to get paints out every now and then but sometimes you want something a little less messy.

In a natural playground, there are so many options.

You could create a mark-making wall with framed areas for ‘painting’ with brushes and water.

You could even incorporate chalkboard paint inside some of the frames and give them different ways to make pictures.

Water – good clean fun

Water play is so easy to create, and kids just love it.

Kids love water fun home
Kids love water fun

You don’t need expensive water features or playground toys, often a trough and some leaves and sticks will keep them building boats for hours!

Here are some ideas for using water creatively in the garden:

  • Mount gutters on a wall or fence for them to pour water and float boats down. This can also be used for balls and marbles too!
  • Use recycled bottles to make a water wall
  • Use halved, hollowed-out logs to make a watercourse
  • Use cement creatively to create shallow natural pools that fill up when it rains

Create a construction area

Often, when given the right resources, kids come up with the best ideas!

A natural playground construction area is a great place for kids to develop their engineering skills.

Simply provide them with building materials like wood planks, blocks, stones, and bricks and let them decide what they build themselves.

All kids needs is a few moveable objects and their imagination. These areas are also great for teaching children about risk too.

Create a sensory garden

A natural backyard playground should still be a living garden with plants and flowers.

One way to incorporate plants into your natural playground is to create a sensory garden.

Fun things to do outside
Fun things to do in your backyard with your family

This is a garden area that offers differing sensory experiences.

It will stimulate the senses either individually or in combination.

Here are some ideas of what a sensory garden could contain:

  • A water feature to see, hear, and touch
  • Natural, textured surfaces to touch
  • Natural musical instruments like hollowed wood and hammers or chimes
  • Plants with vivid colors
  • Herbs and fragrant plants for smelling
  • Things to taste
  • A barefoot walkway

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Water features for sensory gardens

Water features are a great addition to a sensory garden and natural backyard playground.

A still pool that ripples to the touch or a smooth flowing water feature are both excellent ways of proving a sense of calm and relaxation.

They’re great for touching and listening to too.

Natural, textured surfaces

Kids love to touch things and a sensory garden is an ideal place to encourage them to do so.

Create a kid-friendly sensory wall with natural textures.

You could use bark, bamboo canes, pebbles, sand, pinecones, grass, or any other natural materials you can think of.

Another idea is to grow bamboo and ornamental grasses that rustle when you touch them.

Natural musical instruments

There are some fantastic outdoor musical instruments available to buy online for natural playground backyards.

However, you don’t need to buy anything at all.

Some hanging sticks, slides of tree trunk, and a mallet will still make great sounds!

Plants with vivid colors

When talking about sensory gardens, it’s often easy to forget the visuals and concentrate on the other senses!

An area with bright flowers (reds, yellows, and oranges) will bring energy and draw the eye.

These are a great idea for areas where you want to encourage activity.

Cool colors like blues and purples, on the other hand, are ideal for a quiet reflection area.

Reds, oranges, and yellows

Do Marigolds Attract Bees into My Backyard
Marigolds

Here are some ideas for bright, warm plants:

Blues and purples

  • Irises
  • Lavender
  • Clematis
  • Foxgloves
  • Dwarf purple rhododendrons
  • Lily of the valley

Herbs and fragrant plants

Cut the Plants at the Right Places
Basil in a pot

Here are some great ideas for a full sensory experience in your backyard playground:

  • Basil – this is easy to grow and just touching the leaves will release their delicious scent.
  • Sage – pluck a couple of leaves and crush them to release their scent.
  • Curry plant – unlike many herbs which are sweet, the curry plant leaves smell like curry spices!
  • Mints – there are lots of different varieties of mint and it’s such a delicious scent.
  • Scented geraniums
  • Lavender
  • Chocolate cosmos – gives off a delightfully sweet chocolate aroma

Things to taste

Depending on the season and where you live, you can create a great space where kids can taste things!

Blueberries in hydroponics growing faster
Blueberries

Here are some ideas for things to grow:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber (bush varieties are best as they can grow on a trellis)
  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Edible flowers (marigolds, nasturtiums)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cherries

A barefoot walkway

A barefoot trail is a great way of getting kids to experience different textures underfoot.

Can I Play an Outdoor Volleyball Game Barefoot?

It’s a good idea to mix up a range of fixed and loose surfaces.

Here are some things you could add in your trail:

  • Smooth, large pebbles
  • Pea gravel
  • Bark
  • Cement
  • Bare earth
  • Wood
  • Grass

Other natural playground backyard ideas

There are so many other ideas we’ve got that it’s impossible to share them all!

If you haven’t already got enough ideas, here are some more to get you thinking:

  • A garden archway
  • A willow den
  • A concrete waterway
  • A pea gravel and digger pit
  • A tree house and pulley basket
  • A bean tepee
  • A meadow garden.

Final thoughts on natural backyard playgrounds

You don’t need a huge backyard to have great a natural playground – and you don’t need to be very creative or skillful at DIY either.

Most kids, when provided with the right equipment, will make their own fun!

Create your natural backyard playground in such a way that there are endless learning and play opportunities for your kids.

All you need are some things to build and create with. The rest is up to them!

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