Playhouses and dens equal a happy childhood outdoors
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.