Money. Minimalism. Motherhood.
Savvy tips to help you save money, declutter your home, spend time outdoors and thrive in your season.

Creating A Yard That Your Children Will Love

Having a yard that our children will love and use has always been important to me. As parents, getting our children off the screens and into the outdoors can be a struggle. Most love being outside once they are there but motivating them to do so is the hardest part.

We all know that we’re better off spending more time outside. Going on adventures together is a fun way to create wonderful memories. Staying home can be really good for us too. It’s important to make time for the mundane and make our own fun.

The global pandemic changed our lives in so many ways. The events of 2020 and beyond showed us that having a yard can be life-giving. I know that ours kept us sane when we had so many lockdowns and restrictions.

Now that we are through the worst of Covid, the value of our backyard hasn’t diminished. Having a space that our children want to play in and growing our food is as important as ever.

Here are 16 tips for creating a yard that your children will love:

1. Be Intentional

I find that when we go out for a walk, bike ride to the playground or hike, when we come back home our boys are stimulated and tired, and often more happy to play at home.

I like to put up the roller door when we get home from school and kindy. They can head through to the backyard while I unpack the car, organise a quick snack and join them out that back. I find that if we go inside, they get distracted by the inside toys. Going straight outside has become part of our daily routine. Little intentional choices can really make a difference and help us reach 1000 Hours Outside.

Consider slowing down and reducing your children’s extracurricular activities. When we make a conscious effort to slow down our lives, we have more free time to simply play. Children can make their own fun. They can get bored. They have more time to interact with their siblings and learn to get along.

We can find joy in the ordinary by adding on nature to the everyday.

Our backyard

2. Reduce The Clutter In Your Yard

I’ve realised that if we want our children to spend more time outside, we need to be intentional about how we set up our space. Many early childhood educators and decluttering experts encourage us to remove the excess toys, opt for predominantly open-ended ones and rotate them to keep children engaged.

These methods can reduce the tendency to dump the toys out on the floor without really playing or moving from one toy to the next. When the play space is cluttered with too many toys or not the right toys, children either don’t want to spend time in the space or aren’t able to delve into imaginative play.

We often think about decluttering in terms of inside our house. I believe that it’s important to have a decluttered yard too. It’s easy to let them become messy and overrun with clutter. If you can, try to declutter regularly. Keep only what you love and what they will use. Let your children get involved with figuring out what to keep and what to move on.

Many councils offer free hard waste pick-up services. We are entitled to two free bookings a year. If we don’t have enough gear to warrant a full booking, we ask our neighbours if they have any excess they’d like to get rid of too.

3. Model Going Outside Yourself

This is easier said than done. Even though I love spending time outside, there are always jobs to do inside. Sometimes I just want my boys to run outside without me so that I can put on a load of washing, load the dishwasher and vacuum the floor. It’s easier when they’re not underfoot.

Our children just want to be near us. It doesn’t really matter what we are doing, as long as they can see us and feel like they are helping (especially toddlers). When we put aside the time frame on our to-lists and expect interruptions, it can change the whole experience. I’ve been trying lately to head outside when my boys do. I might water the plants or be hanging the washing, but they like that I’m nearby.

If I head outside without them, it rarely takes them long to notice and follow me out. I’m learning to share the chores better, even if it takes far longer or won’t be done as well. I spent time weeding last week and my toddler was only too happy to help. He couldn’t help but sing to himself as we worked. “Good job weeding mamma,” he encouraged.

When we model our love for the outdoors, it starts to rub off on our children. They watch what we eat and if we exercise and how often we look down at our phones. Actions truly speak louder than words.

4. Put Limits Around Screen Time

I recently implemented a ban on screen time in my house. I found that it was often a go-to option for my children to ask for when they were bored or didn’t know what to do with themselves. It was difficult getting them to stop watching their shows, especially on streaming services when there’s always more to watch. I know that adults struggle with this too.

Now that we have very set limits, our boys don’t ask for screens as much. They have seemed to accept it. They prefer to be outside in the sunshine rather than playing with indoor toys. It’s increased their imagination and time spent engaging in an activity. It’s improved their relationship with siblings too.

I have had to be careful of my own screen use. It’s so easy to check my phone for notifications or emails. It’s not fair if I expect one thing from my children but don’t model the same. This is an area of growth for me but I strive to be more present.

5. Ask Your Children For Input

One way to help encourage your children to spend more time outside is by asking them for input. Ask them what they would like to have in their yard. Take note of what they like when they visit friends’ houses for playdates and family for get togethers.

Search on Pinterest together about what ideas they like. Ask them to draw their ideal backyard. Go shopping together or search on local Buy Nothing pages or Facebook Marketplace. Ask them to create a wish list of items they would love to have.

Ask if there are toys or items that they don’t use anymore. Chat about what you could do with these. Perhaps you give them to someone or sell to fund a new item.

6. Have An Organisational System

Just like inside the house, outdoor spaces need organisation. Consider buying a bench seat that doubles as a storage bench. This could keep sports equipment, sandpit toys or mud kitchen utensils. This was purchased cheaply from a friend who was moving overseas. I love that it keeps our sports equipment tidy whilst providing a place to sit.

If you have a shed or garage, do your best to organise it. Buy solid shelving to place your items and store them in a logical way. When we moved into our place, we had two small garden sheds and a woodshed. As we began to renovate our yard, we demolished and sold these (to fund my hubby’s trip to the AFL Grand Final) and saved up for one big shed.

Admittedly it’s got too much stuff right now. We’re going through and selling what we don’t need. I do like that everything has got a place though and it’s not sprawled out in the open.

7. Plant A Herb Or Veggie Garden

Even if you don’t consider yourself a green thumb, you can create some green space in your yard to attract bees and butterflies. A few years back, I was motivated to have a garden but it all felt too hard. I had a baby, toddler and preschooler. We were barely sleeping and life was hard. We had endless projects in our backyard, a house undergoing renovations and a caravan needing work. I could barely manage the cooking and washing, let alone think about starting a garden.

I remember someone kindly saying to me that I didn’t have to do it all at once. I really needed that reminder. I was given a pot of mint. I loved how it smelt. I loved that I could leave it out by the front door and it just seemed to grow (unlike my poor indoor plants). I loved being able to use it for cooking. Within a week or so, I bought some coriander and parsley. After that I bought two types of basil and then sort of didn’t stop. It was addictive.

It felt successful because I kept it simple. I gave myself permission to start small and had nothing to prove. After a few months, I had so many pots lined up on our front path that it was starting to look a tad ridiculous. It was time to start putting them in the ground.

One Saturday, I spent a good morning removing a section of our lawn. I knew that raised garden beds would look nicer and be easier to tend to but I just wanted it done. I spent the afternoon carrying pots and planting them into my first real garden. It was fun.

Start small. Start with pots and see where it goes. If you want to make an impact long-term, plant trees. We are so grateful we are that the previous owners decided to plant trees for us. We have a gorgeous oak in the backyard and a Liquidambar and Jacarandas in the front. We are so blessed that they planted trees that now provide shade and are home to many species of wildlife including birds, bees, possums and bats.

We have planted new bushes and shrubs along our fence line. It is nice to look at and they have helped to cool our yard. I’d recommend planting as many things as you can as soon as you move into a house because they do take a while to grow.

Make the most of the small unused spaces. I was gifted some plants from kind neighbours, bought some and relocated the rest from other areas in our yard. It’s a mini garden with lavender, Mexican Sage, olive tree, avocado trees, daisy busy, citronella, milkweed (to help encourage monarch butterflies), coriander, basil, parsley, rockmelon, rosemary and native bulbs.

I like giving things a go and trying them out. It’s a work in progress but provides shade to our window on warm afternoons. On rainy mornings, we enjoy watching the slugs crawling up window. Our boys like watching them race up and naming each of them. My youngest said recently, “where are the sluggies gone?” We have a friendly garden orb spider that lives in the lavender, creating beautiful webs that sparkle in the dewy mornings.

My husband calls me the accidental gardener. He laughs at the randomness of my planting. How the coriander seeds that I saved from last year and then scattered everywhere somehow all took and grew. How I have parsley growing out of bricks and in between pavers, olive trees and basil under the trampoline, mint and strawberries in our front yard. I’d rather start small than never start at all.

8. Create A Mud Kitchen

Our mud kitchen is very rustic and we tend to move it around. Here it was out the front, near the big pit and dirt pile. There was endless dirt and mud to use and kept our boys occupied while we shovelled.

Our mud kitchen is simple but provides endless fun in our yard. It’s always a hit when friends and family come over to play. Theres nothing wrong with rustic. It doesn’t have to be social media sharable. You can utilise what you already have around your house and shed, create something or buy one ready-made. The most important thing is that you have a place for your children to play with equipment, utensils and access to sand, dirt and water.

We upgraded from a toddler water play table to a larger one. It holds plenty of water and is easy to tip out and move around the yard. I bought a sink on Gumtree which my dad kindly attached legs too. It was good for a season but we realised that our boys didn’t need any more spaces to hold water. What they needed was a bench top. Hubby removed the sink (which I was able to resell for the same price I bought it for originally) and replaced it with a piece of timber. It was a fairly simple change but has enabled more imaginative play.

You can source accessories from op shops, things like metal jugs and trays, wooden spoons, cookie cutters, bowls, rolling pins, serving platters and a mortal and pester. I’ve noticed that our boys treat these items with more care when they look special. I’m also sure that some of the old ladies who used to own these items would roll in their graves if they saw what they were being used for now.

If you’re looking for inspiration on all things play, particularly backyard play, I’d highly recommend checking out Casey Patch from Little Lifelong Learners. She has fabulous ideas for mud kitchens and likes to keep it simple too.

9. Source A Sandpit

I remember early on in my parenting journey. We had a shell sandpit and cover that doubled as a wading pool. It did the job but within a year it had cracked. The sand that I purchased in bags from Bunnings was expensive.

After a couple years, we bought a large wooden octagonal sandpit. This was a little more pricey (around $180) but was good quality and large enough for a number of children to play in (or more realistically, fight over the same toy or area they want to claim as their own). It was well worth the money. Hubby went to our local store and bought a trailer or two of play sand. This was far more economical. We borrowed a trailer from a family member but many stores offer free trailer hire with purchases.

We only stopped using this when we bought our cubby and created a sandpit underneath. Hubby bought some new posts to go into the ground and made sure it was slightly higher to create a big space for sandpit play. When visiting friends on playdates, some had similar cubbies but were lower to the ground. This seemed to put off children from playing underneath in the sandpit because they couldn’t easily stand up and move around. It enticed animals to seek shelter and urinate in. Height is important so if you are able to, I’d encourage you to build more upwards if possible.

10. Consider A Cubby

We love our cubby and our boys do too. Even had our local member for parliament do an official ribbon cutting ceremony for us!

I wish we had bought one earlier. It’s been such a wonderful addition to our backyard. My eldest really wanted a treehouse in our backyard. I loved this idea. We have a gorgeous oak tree and thought it would be a perfect spot for a treehouse. I looked into paying someone to build one but even a basic platform with stairs, we were quoted $6000. It seemed expensive and we just couldn’t justify the cost. We decided to forget the treehouse idea for a while and wait until our youngest was a few years older.

A friend suggested we look on Marketplace to find a cubby. I hadn’t even considered this because I’d been so fixated on the idea of a treehouse. I found one that looked pretty good, was on stilts, was close by and only up for $100.

We arranged for some help to dismantle it from kind friends and family. As we took it down, I noticed that it was an Aarons Outdoor Cubby. These are super expensive. This one new would have cost over $6000. We brought it back to our yard in pieces. Over the next few days, hubby and I sanded, painted, repaired and replaced parts of it to make it look as good as new.

We no longer needed our sandpit. Whilst it wasn’t very old, it had deteriorated in the sun and wasn’t able to be sold. Our kind neighbours who had helped us paint suggested that it would be good as a raised garden bed. They were over the moon to be able to repurpose this in their backyard. We loved that this kept it out of landfill.

11. Create A Cosy Atmosphere

When we are intentional about our spaces, we are more likely to spend time enjoying them. Take a step back and consider how you could make your yard more cosy and enticing.

There is a wide range of outdoor lighting that can create a wonderful atmosphere. These can be wrapped around large trees, used as a spotlight, put along retaining walls to highlight plants and strung between trees or posts. Solar is a good option for the environment and to reduce cables.

We’ve just bought some solar lights for the cubby. It’s added a fun vibe and enables our boys to play in there longer. We want to add solar lights along our back retaining wall to highlight the bushy trees, some looking up at the oak tree. This all helps to add a cosy atmosphere to our yard, especially in the evenings.

Having a space for a fire pit or portable backyard bonfire is a great way to bring people together. We don’t have a set area for this yet but have both an OzPig and an old washing machine drum. We store them in the shed and simply bring them out when we want to use them. We have a ferro rod, kindling and firewood on hand.

Whilst Nicole’s new yard feature is still a work in progress, I love that it encourages her boys to come together to create new memories around the fire. Can’t wait to see cute lights hung overhead!

One of my beautiful friend’s Nicole has recently transformed her backyard. When her boys were little, they loved playing in the sandpit and cubby house. Now that they are older, she began to think differently about the space. They removed these, levelled the ground and added gravel. This has now become a firepit space. It has created a cozy atmosphere for spending cold days and evenings, snuggled up by the fire toasting marshmallows. She hopes to add string lighting soon.

I love that Nicole fully embraces each season that she is in. She has a wonderful knack for acknowledging the various challenges that each stage brings yet knows it won’t be forever, makes the most of the time and when it passes, does so with excitement for the next. What an example for us as parents, to be present in the moment and yet able to transition with our children as they grow.

Perhaps you still have babies and toddlers so a firepit is not an important element for you. Embrace the play equipment and Little Tikes cars and swing sets.

Maybe you have kindy or school aged children. They might love a treehouse or raised platform, water pump into a mini creek, backyard chickens or a mud kitchen.

Perhaps you have teenagers. They might enjoy a dart board, table tennis or pool table to play on or a Bali Hut to relax in with friends.

12. Be A Little Savvy

As you work to transform your yard, know that you don’t have to spend lots of money. You might be surprised about how much you can get for only a few dollars or even for free. Many people can’t be bothered getting rid of large, bulky items and will be only too happy to give it to you if you dismantle and take it away.

On the day that I got the keys to our home, I noticed a swing set on the nature strip of our street. Though I presumed it was free, I knocked on the door to check. With permission granted, I asked a friend to help me walk it back to my new house. I couldn’t figure out how to fit it under our carport roof so we left it in our front yard.

We didn’t yet have children but I hoped some day we would. Although aged, it was a Hills brand swing set which are made to last. Funnily enough, when guests came over to visit, some drove past thinking, that can’t be Mel’s place. She doesn’t have kids. Fast forward eight years and I’m so glad I picked it up. It gets used every day. Other than replacing a few bolts, it is still in great condition.

There are many bargains to be found on Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree. You can also source free items from these sites too. It’s amazing what people want to give away. It can be helpful to set up alerts so you are notified when items are listed in your area.

This tip probably seems strange but not if you know me well. You can always try to win them. I have been lucky enough to win a Springfree Trampoline (worth $3000), an Ozpig fire and accessories (worth $1500), a custom-made Farmers Union Iced Coffee pool table (worth $5000) and two Pottery Barn outdoor umbrellas and bases (worth $1000). I’m so grateful for these. They have helped us create the yard that we always wanted.

13. Purchase The Practical

Sometimes we need to purchase the practical to encourage more outdoor play. My youngest often gets covered in mosquito bites. I recently bought an insect zapper (paid extra for one that charges with solar). As much as I appreciate that insects play an important role in the ecosystem and food web and encourage other wildlife into the backyard, it’s awful seeing dozens of red marks over our sons arms and legs. It keeps him awake at night which disturbs all of our sleep.

I decided that the citronella candles and plants weren’t enough so I wanted to try something else. I used the $80 voucher from doing market research one night (a handy side hustle to sign up for). I figured that my hubby put the boys to bed that night and finished tidying up so I could do this, so wanted to use the voucher to benefit the family. In hindsight, I wish I’d opted for one that had a greater reach rather than solar powered so it would be more effective. I might go back and buy another type just to see if it’s any better.

Consider adding paths to some of your outdoor space for your children to ride their bikes and scooters on. We weren’t able to do this until our eldest was six. Until then, we had plenty of dirt and mud puddles for them to play in. It’s not always possible but children do love having an area to ride.

One simple thing you can do to help with sun protection is to have plenty of hats available. We have a bunch of hooks in our storage room. Our boys know that they need to grab a hat before going outside. Having them there as a reminder helps.

14. Projects Are Good For You

I love a project. Recently I started digging out part of our front yard. Originally we were going to have it levelled out (by someone with equipment who knows what they are doing) and pave. Now we think some grass might be a nice alternative. We plan to hang fairy lights overhead for some nice ambience.

I like working in our yard. I like modelling to our boys that girls can do hard things too. They don’t blink twice at their mum mowing the lawn or pruning the trees or digging out dirt. Our boys went to fetch their shovels and wheelbarrow to help.

Having a project that the family can work on together is good bonding time (most of the time anyway!). Hard work is good for us. I think that striving to make our homes and yards more beautiful brings joy.

15. Making The Most Of Small Spaces

Although yard size is important, you can still create a wonderful space that your kids will love using what you have. Maybe you don’t have a big yard. Maybe you are restricted with what you can do with limited (or no) side access, are renting or don’t even have a yard.

Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have. Make the most of what you’ve got. Search Pinterest for inspiration on tiny backyards. Add fairy lights for a cozy atmosphere. Plant a little garden (or even just pots). Buy a little table and chair set to enjoy a cuppa, and a children-size one for them if you have room.

I remember seeing some of Captain Fi’s posts about his garden. Granted, he doesn’t have children, but he also just made the most of the space he had. Whilst living in a city apartment block, he started a rooftop garden. This was no ordinary garden. It was incredible. Captain Fi didn’t let the lack of a yard stop him from creating something amazing. He even had beehives.

Captain Fi’s rooftop garden. Seriously, how impressive is it?

You might be lacking space but perhaps there is a way you can think outside of the box. Maybe there is a community garden you can be a part of and rent a garden bed. Maybe you could create a vertical garden. Maybe you could get to know your neighbours and ask if you could help them with their garden. Maybe herbs on the windowsill are all you can do right now.

Do what you can, with what you have. Often we are surprised with what the little things can lead to.

16. Give Outdoor Toys For Christmas

If you want to encourage your children to spend more time inside, it may be helpful to ask for some outdoor toys for Christmas or birthdays. This can be a wishlist that you create together. It can be for Santa to bring, parents or ideas to give family members.

Some can be purchased by themselves and others could be bought as a group (or give money towards a bigger purchase).

Ideas For Smaller Gifts:

  • Sports equipment (soccer ball, basketball, footy, tennis balls, vortex, etc)
  • Chalk
  • Totum tennis
  • Hammock or hammock swing
  • Mud kitchen accessories
  • Little Tikes cars and wagons(toddlers)
  • Bike accessories (helmet, bell, basket, kickstand, lights)
  • Rollerskates or rollerblades (knee guards etc)
  • Children’s sized wheelbarrow
  • Children’s sized lawnmower
  • Gardening gloves
  • Shovel and trowel
  • Soccer goals
  • Cones
  • Accessories for a cubby house (steering wheel, ships wheel, binoculours, letter box, bell, telephone, play kitchen, pulley system, curtains, fairy lights)
  • Walkie Talkies

Ideas For Larger Gifts

  • Picnic table and chairs
  • Basketball ring / netball ring
  • Bikes (we read reviews on good bikes and sourced them second hand. We found Cruzee made great balance bikes and BYK were light children’s push bikes)
  • Scooters
  • Slippery dip
  • Sandpit
  • Mud kitchen
  • Trampoline
  • Swing set (often listen for free on Markeplace or Gumtree)
  • Cubby house, platform or treehouse
  • Table tennis table
  • Pool table

Unlimited Ideas

There are endless ways to improve the space in our yard. These ideas are just the beginning.

We have so many ideas for our block of land. Over the next few months, we hope to finish our alfresco area and hang pretty lights. We plan to add outdoor lights to different areas of our garden. I want to add more native plants to our front garden and more fruit trees along our fence. We hope to install a water pump and create a little creek for our boys to play in.

My husband and I aren’t really pet people but we would like to change this in the near future. Our boys would like the company of a dog and I wouldn’t mind taking it for walks. I’d love to have chickens to eat our kitchen scraps and have eggs to collect in the morning. I look forward to sharing photos about our journey introducing animals to our lives once we have enjoyed a few more nights of sleep.

It’s often the small tweaks we make that can change things for the better. I wonder if there’s a simple change or two that you could make to help create a yard that your children will love?

I’d love to hear about your yard. Comment below or connect over on Instagram or Facebook.

Melanie Wegener