Community Inspiration – Outdoor Play Environments

Planning and creating engaging outdoor play areas for children is one of my favourite things to do – another is inspiring other early years educators to get creative with their own outdoor play environments. There is no need for big budgets or fancy materials, just a little outside the box thinking and commitment to upcycling and recycling! Some projects require a few basic handyperson skills but others anyone can do with a little hard work.

Outdoor play areas that draw children in to explore, experiment and build upon are those that usually have a mix of fixed spaces as well as lots of opportunities to access loose parts and open ended materials that they can move around, rearrange and add to the spaces in different ways to extend upon their play.

In my Empowered Educator Community on Facebook we have many hard working members who regularly share their outdoor play areas and projects with us and each month here on The Empowered Educator website we feature a collection of some of the wonderful ideas that have inspired us in the community – and I hope by sharing they also inspire you to perhaps try something different in your early childhood environment or backyard.

Most of the projects and spaces I’m sharing below are fixed areas but they also provide many opportunities to add open ended materials and you will notice lots of natural and recycled materials being used. Keep in mind that everyone has a different space, skillset and budget to work with and the idea is not to feel overwhelmed with what others have created but to come away with a few basic ideas and a little inspiration to create something that might work for your play area in a different way.

So let’s take a wander through this month’s Community Inspiration Topic which  is Outdoor Environments. I can’t wait to share some of these inviting spaces and ideas with you!

Ideas for Outdoor Play Areas

Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor kitchen areas encourage role play, imagination, investigation, problem solving and group games. They can be made up of one piece of equipment or many but all invite play!

Love the many ways wood has been incorporated in this little corner of a family daycare yard. Shared by Renata…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A few concrete blocks, an old sink and recycled pallet came together to create this inviting space perfect for toddlers! Shared by Erica…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

I bet the children love using the old oven in this wonderful outdoor kitchen and how sweet is that table and chairs?! Shared by Marina..

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Now that’s a kitchen to explore, create and get messy in! Shared by Divina..

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Such a sweet little space for children to let their imaginations and role playing take over. Shared by Heidi…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Milk crates and pallets are a precious resource in an outdoor play area – this is so simple but invites so many opportunities for play! Shared by Josi…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Another simple pallet kitchen you can try – Lots of pebbles to add to the ‘cooking’! Shared by Karen…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

This space looks like it gets lots of love and play – adding a floor is a great idea to define the space and the kitchen tools help it feel like a real kitchen. Shared by Kristi…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A kitchen in the sandpit always invites lots of messy, sensory play! Shared by Jenny…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Sensory Invitations

Materials and spaces can invite children to explore, investigate and create using their senses. And the best part of these spaces being outside is that children can get as messy as they like!

A clever sensory racetrack for the cars made with a few simple materials and trays turned over. Shared by Ursula…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Sensory trays and pebbles to add to the outdoor play in different ways invite exploration and imagination. Shared by Divina…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

This sensory exploration path was created using wooden blocks lined up to form squares. Easily moved around for another day’s play! Shared by 
Renata…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A mini water wall built using an old frame and mounted at the bottom of steps – clever use of space and water play is always a favourite! Shared by Helen…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Can you see the guinea pigs in their special garden? Lots to explore with the senses and talk about here. Shared by Sally…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Water, rocks, mud, bowls and tins…so much to explore and engage the senses in this creative water wall space! Shared by Kristi…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Love this little car track made with a few pavers and lots of stones to add to the play. The outdoor mural brightens up the fence beautifully too! Shared by Natalie…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Natural materials and a large outdoor tray provide the perfect sensory space for a dinosaur land…or perhaps something different tomorrow! Shared by Tamara…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Obstacle Courses/Planks/Stumps

Add some tyres, wood offcuts, planks and stumps to your outdoor area and you have obstacle courses and building activities ready to happen! The educators below found some clever ways to create spaces that challenge fine and gross motor skills, balance, coordination, problem solving and also invite teamwork and communication. Best of all they are budget friendly!

A colourful obstacle course to explore using simple materials that can be moved each day to create new challenges! Shared by Jenny…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

The simplicity of  a few planks and tyres is encouraging play in different ways for the children in this group. Shared by Lani…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Pipes, stepstools and planks of wood provide a budget friendly obstacle course to explore, tailored to suit a multi age group! Shared by Nat…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Never underestimate the appeal of wooden offcuts and building materials in the outdoor area – children will always find a way to play with these sort of materials if they are provided! Shared by Kristina…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Wooden stumps and planks can be used so many different ways in outdoor play areas as shown by Renata who has a wonderful natural outdoor environment for children to explore. She shares a few of her ideas in the projects below…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Don’t fall in and let the crocodiles get you! Adding props and incorporating music into outdoor play can provide a new twist to balance and climbing activities. Shared by Olivia…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A wonderful climbing space to challenge, climb, crawl and hide! Shared by Peta…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Sand, Digging Areas & Loose Parts

Even if you only have a small outdoor space I encourage you to create a digging, dirt or sand area if you can and don’t forget to add some loose parts for extending the play!

Bamboo, logs and loose parts for weighing and climbing – lots to explore in this colourful outdoor space. Shared by Jenny…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Two different digging and sand spaces with lots of natural materials to get messy, build, transport and explore. Both shared by Renata…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Love the decking around this sandpit as it provides more spaces to build creations and cook up some sandy delights. Shared by Divina…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Using natural materials as open ended tools to engineer, problem solve and get creative! Shared by Kristina…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A lovely open space children can use to transport their sand to where they need it to build upon their play in different ways. Shared by Lani…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Going Up – Using Walls & Fences

Using walls, fences and gates can be a way to save space and hide climbing hazards! They also provide a different angle for children to use and explore materials.

I’d certainly want to draw in the sunshine on this huge chalkboard wall! Shared by Divina…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Water wall fun using budget friendly pool noodles and funnels – simple and quick to construct. Shared by Tennille…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Turn those plastic bottles from the recycle bin into a hanging garden for the children to look after! Shared by Divina…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Another hanging garden this time using recycled tins painted by the children and planted out with herbs. Shared by Chantelle…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Music banging wall and vertical gardens made using old pallets. Love the teepee made from sticks too! Shared by Kristi…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Lots of sustainable practice occurring along this wall – hanging planters made from plastic bottles, worm farms, tyre gardens, gumboots and old doors used as a frame. You don’t even notice the fence! Shared again by the clever Renata! 

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Simple boards on the fence are just as inviting to those wanting to draw or paint in a little corner of the yard. Shared by Lani…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Secret Spaces

Secret spaces in outdoor play areas can be large or small but are usually tucked away in areas of the yard that still allow for supervision but help children to feel safe to make up their games or take some time out without prying eyes and adults interfering in their play. You might use plants, pots, fencing, screening or trees to divide and create spaces.

Don’t you just want to explore the secret cave in this area? Shared by Jenny…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Enclosing an area like this with shrubs, tyres and stumps helps to create a magical little space to just be busy! Shared by Renata…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Also shared by Renata is this simple quiet space made with a wire arch and some bamboo screening.

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Secret spaces can be small and invite little people to just sit and create in their own little world surrounded by nature.

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

This lovely tree and its branches provide a secret swinging space in the corner of a yard to explore. Shared by Marina…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Not really a secret space for the children but I thought a clever way of screening off the space that houses the air conditioning units at this centre! Shared by Sally…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

And finally….who wouldn’t want to escape to this gorgeous little space hidden under the tree? Pallets and stumps – always a treasure in outdoor play! Shared by Teagan…

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

Feeling inspired to try something different in your own outdoor play area? Make sure you start with a small idea first and then build from there – get creative and work with what you already have available. There is no need to feel pressure to create something similar to those areas above – just take a few ideas you like and modify to suit your space, budget and abilities. The children will love whatever you create – make sure to involve them in the process as well!

If you are looking for even more outdoor play area inspiration click on the links below to read about some of my own favourite projects shared previously here on the blog.

Recycled Pallet Cubby

Build a pallet sink tutorial

Build a recycled pallet market stall

Music banging tree and stick teepee

Building a Bushrock Sandpit

Toddler Rock Quarry

How to build a hill slide 

Musical Spool Table

On Pinterest? Why not pin the image below so you always know where to find this article when you need to refer back to it later!

A huge collection of ideas for creative outdoor play areas shared by early years educators. Try them in the backyard or daycare spaces!

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