for kids

“You will not succeed in making wise men if

you do not first make little imps of mischief”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

Here are some of the ideas we’ve put into the garden for our two boys. Some of these are inspired by Katie’s study of outdoor play. All are cheap and easy to do!

Tree Climbing

All kids should get the opportunity to climb. When the elder tree died, we decided to leave it as a climbing frame, with a few ropes and bits added. Great for kids, but also for insects and animals that are supported by dead wood:

Listening Hose

Adapted from those ones you see at some playgrounds, like the marvellous Beacon Country Park It’s just a hosepipe running through the shrubbery with some funnels attached to the end. The boys enjoy talking and listening to each other through it.

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           One end of the listening hose

Discovery Path

Perhaps the simplest of the ideas in the garden. The path runs up the side of the house, and we’ve just left logs and rocks down one side and let the bed grow over. The boys love searching for bugs, looking at the fungus and stacking the rocks and logs in other areas of the garden.


                            ‘Discovery’ path

‘Pirate Ship’

Katie’s dad made this for the boys and we added the decking at the front, the rigging and a platform to the side (made from old pallets). We’ve gradually added more and more ‘rooms’ as we’ve found more wood. It’s a simple structure to make, and we’ve added a swing, a coffee sack, a bell, a map (photocopied wrapping paper first, then some transfers from ebay) hooks and chains etc. The boys make up their own games that go with it all. We added a green roof a couple of years ago which is starting to take hold – it’s only a few centimetres deep but the sedum seem to manage.

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       The original ‘pirate ship’ structure, and adding the rigging (bought from ebay)

2015-06-20 14.55.33 Green roof plan

                          The rigging and new platform, and green roof plans

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                                      Green roof after a few weeks

Various dens have been added – a crow’s nest, a dungeon, a spy hole…

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As the boys grow, so do the uses – the pirate ship is still called that, but they’re too cool to be pirates now, it’s all about archaeology and metal detecting. It became a museum of rocks and old metal. The dungeon’s become a football store.

 Pretty soon the boys said they wanted their own den away from the ‘adults’ – kids only. They drew some designs and after some structural repairs it looked like this:

The Fence

The fence arrived like this:

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The plan was to make it ‘hit and miss’, which would let light through, give the boys something to climb and allow things to be hooked on. Keeping it horizontal makes the garden look bigger too (the same reason I don’t wear shirts with horizontal stripes) Here it is with the football goal (just three posts painted white with hooks on the back):

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                                Finished fence with footie goal and climbing wall

Mud Kitchen

We had a new sink fitted last year, so rather than throw the old one away we made a mud kitchen. It was edged with scaffold boards (these are available cheaply second hand and are good for construction where you’re not bothered about a smooth finish). The boys loved making concoctions like mud soup, ‘perfume’ and snail pie. I planned to connect a hosepipe to the tap so they can have running water, though they like filling up from the water butts.

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After a visit to my old friend Matt Harrison’s house in Eastbourne we upgraded the design a bit. Matt’s brother in law had made a brilliant, gravity fed sink with old pallets. I thought we could make ours into a playing/cooking prep area, and god place to walk veg and hands. So now it looks like this:

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There are two plant troughs (still to be covered) at the top, which both connect to the tap. If you’re making one, make sure you get the right bar tap – a1 or 2 should do it. The water comes out underneath to be used for watering, or to put back in the trough.

Drawing Slates

Again a really simple idea, just some slates with holes drilled in the corners, attached to a log. We draw things on them for the boys, or they draw their own things. We’ve used blackboard paint in the pirate den if you can’t get hold of slate.

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                                             Drawing slates with the boys’ drawings of frogs

Willow Fort

This has been the hardest thing to make, but it’s taking shape now. We got some cuttings from Katie’s dad, and found a design we liked from a gallery online. There are some really nice examples at Cedar Farm too All you do is cut the willow, poke a hole in the ground, put the willow in, water it and tie them together. Willow is very high in rooting hormones so takes very easily. We added some paths in and around the fort, then watered and waited. Here’s the basic frame and entrance:

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Some took, some didn’t, but with regular maintenance and pruning, plus refreshing some of the cuttings, it’s starting to take shape:

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It’s just maintenance now, tying in new growth, or using it to replace dead bits. This year I added a drainpipe entrance, which Charlie loves to sit in:

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There’s a bivouac opposite too, which is also good way of using cuttings. The plan was to train the philadelphus through it, though I was (rightly) overruled and it’s now the fire pit area where we cook.

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Really simple to do – an old log placed on the ground. This one’s from a Laburnum tree that dad had felled as it was diseased. So far it’s been a car, a horse and a rocket.

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Climbing Wall

I saw one of these in a playground at Bents and thought I’d have a go at making one that hooks to the fence at varying angles to make it easier/harder to climb. We attached the planks, then the boys helped sand it down and chose where they wanted the holds (from ebay). It was then just  a case of screwing them on. That easy!

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                     Raw materials – planks, baton and climbing holds from ebay; Harry trying it out


Kids love tyres! They use them for balancing, bouncing, growing things in and lifting, amongst others. We got ours from a colleague at work, who offered to etch the boys’ names in too! Apparently they have to pay to get rid of them, so they were more than happy to donate some to us and some to my wife’s nursery (they’re using them as planters – though don’t grow veg in them because of the chemicals leeching out).

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                                               Our tyre, with the boys’s names etched in

The tyre had various uses, and is now planted with wildflowers:

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                                   The raw materials, and Harry testing a try seat at the Eden Project


2 thoughts on “for kids

    Christopher Barr said:
    July 21, 2015 at 9:29 am

    These ideas are great! Just waiting for your price list so you can come and make some of this stuff for my garden!! =D


      pclay119 responded:
      July 21, 2015 at 9:53 am

      Haha labour’s free if you can get the materials 🙂


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