Play­houses and dens equal a happy child­hood out­doors

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Sally Coulthard

MY five-year-old has started mak­ing her list for Fa­ther Christ­mas. And blow me, if it didn’t have one sin­gle com­puter game or DVD on it. Per­haps my con­stant wit­ter­ing on about the im­por­tance of play­ing out­doors has fi­nally sunk in.

And it’s not just me. For gen­er­a­tions, par­ents have un­der­stood the im­por­tance of let­ting their chil­dren play out­side. Many a happy child­hood has been spent in a se­cret den at the bot­tom of the gar­den; a child’s con­fi­dence soars as they ex­plore new sur­round­ings and over­come ob­sta­cles. Out­door play is also very so­cia­ble – chil­dren can be nois­ier and more bois­ter­ous than they are in­doors, with­out fear of adult in­ter­ven­tion.

Most of all, out­door play re­ally fires the imag­i­na­tion. Chil­dren love to role play. Play­houses in all their forms give chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to act out dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters and sce­nar­ios.

Whether you go for a wooden Wendy house or a tree-top den, you couldn’t give a child a bet­ter gift. So, if you are think­ing of splashing out of a play­house for Christ­mas, here’s how to get the most from it:

How old is your child? Play­houses in all their forms need to be de­signed with your child’s age and abil­i­ties in mind. Play­ground equip­ment is usu­ally di­vided into two dif­fer­ent age groups: two-to five-year-olds and five-to 12-year-olds. Chil­dren in the older age cat­e­gory are much more phys­i­cally adept than pre-school­ers and can cope with more so­phis­ti­cated, larger play equip­ment. Play ar­eas for younger chil­dren are also usu­ally sep­a­rated from those for older chil­dren – this may not be re­al­is­tic for your gar­den but it’s worth bear­ing in mind that some play­houses (es­pe­cially tree­houses and Wendy houses with a bal­cony) are sim­ply too risky for very lit­tle chil­dren.

Ma­te­ri­als. Tim­ber will need to be ex­te­rior grade and treated with a child-safe preser­va­tive. All metal fix­ings should be gal­vanised to pre­vent rust and free from sharp edges. Any win­dows must be tough­ened, whether it’s safety Per­spex or tough­ened glass. Chil­dren are no­to­ri­ous for trap­ping fin­gers, so ask for safety or no-trap hinges on all open­ings, in­clud­ing doors and win­dows. You’ll also need to make sure that the sur­round­ing sur­faces are soft enough to take the im­pact of a child’s fall and min­imise in­jury. Any child-friendly sur­face also needs to ex­tend at least two me­tres past the edge of the any raised play­house.

Dec­o­ra­tion. While you may want to have a say in the ex­ter­nal dec­o­ra­tion of the play­house, your chil­dren will rel­ish the op­por­tu­nity to put their stamp on the in­side. Let them choose the wall colour for the in­side – they may even want to help you paint. Your chil­dren may want to show off their cre­ative tal­ents and paint a mu­ral or hang some of their own art­work on the walls. You can also en­cour­age their imag­i­na­tions with a few props for the play­house. Dress­ing up cos­tumes and old clothes are al­ways great fun and an easy way to start off role play ac­tiv­i­ties. Play­ing “house” is a favourite ac­tiv­ity

For Wendy houses, your lit­tle ones may love a set of plas­tic teacups and plates or a pre­tend kitchen. Torches, binoc­u­lars, and child-sized gar­den­ing tools will help chil­dren to ex­plore the gar­den.

Plant­ing. Any plants in close prox­im­ity to a play area will have to be able to with­stand the oc­ca­sional knock, so go for ro­bust species such as laven­der, thyme, oregano, sage, le­mon balm, bud­dleia or rose­mary, which are not only at­trac­tive but sweet­smelling too. Ground cover ma­te­rial such as the peri­win­kle and co­toneaster will also tol­er­ate a tram­pling and are ideal for chil­dren’s play ar­eas. Avoid any plants with thorns or spikes, such as holly or roses, and keep poi­sonous or sting­ing plants well away.

Fol­low this ad­vice and you could end up with a per­fect gift.

For more in­spir­ing out­door ideas read Shed Chic by Sally Coulthard (Jac­qui Small) £25.

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