outdoor spaces and open-ended play for toddlers

I can nearly taste it. Spring is coming. Now, I love all of our seasons here in Montana, but by the end of each, I am ready for the next. And right now, I am getting giddy for spring! Mind buzzing, heart thumping, fingers flying…seriously people, I am ready 🙂

I am especially excited for this spring, because I feel like this is our year to finally make something wild and spectacular of our backyard. It has been on the to-do list for years, but now with a super-mobile toddler around the motivation is very high.

I have been dreaming of a natural playscape kind of backyard since the fall, and with two days in a row of above 40 degree weather, I am itching to get started. So, I have ordered seed catalogues, hit up our local reclaimed goods shop, and have scoured the internet for inspiration.

I have drawn up plans, and my hope is that it will be one-part magical children’s garden and one-part adventurous natural playscape. We already have a small play structure with a slide, ladder, and swing that is in need of some TLC (maybe a rock wall to get to the slide???), and we added a small DIY sandbox last year.

Now, I want to add to our existing spaces a small play den, a small garden that is all for my little guy, stumps galore, some pathways for walking/traveling in time and space, tons of loose parts, and lots of plantings to create secret hideaways.

Here is what I have gathered so far that I am getting excited about:


  1. Wooden cable spools: this can be pushed and rolled, it can become a table, climbing structure, stool, oven, car racetrack…the ideas are limitless (and I found 2!)
  2. Stumps/branches: (for free from an acquaintance) these might be used for creating an outdoor fairy/gnome treehouse, also can be used for constructing, carrying, and some maybe sunk into the ground for climbing and jumping off of
  3. bamboo poles, plastic tubing: great loose parts for the sandbox in particular, they can be used for building, dumping objects/sand, etc.
  4. small terra-cotta pots galore: I found this box of over 40 pots for $3 and can’t wait to paint them, plant in them, set out a few out and see what the little guy imagines for them!
  5. a basket: a sort of hideous basket that they threw in for free because they “didn’t want to see it around anymore” will be a great for collecting eggs, or gathering natural treasure like pinecones, rocks, sticks (which he is very into right now)
  6. an old car mirror: for attaching to a stump, along with a steering wheel to make a vehicle for imganiation
  7. an old busted fishing pole with yarn attached: for “fishing” in our irrigation canal along our property, or anywhere for that matter, today we fished in the living room! My ultimate hope is to create a simple bridge across the canal to sit on/walk across!
  8. a giant vinyl clipboard/giant role of old computer paper: for anywhere art!

I want our little man to be able to build, destroy, imagine, eat, smell, feel, and simply get lost in our backyard. I love gardening and sitting still in the outdoors, drinking in the beauty, and I am so excited to transform our space, find a perch, and watch my little one discover it all! Now, if only the two feet of snow in our backyard would hurry up and melt…


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