We know that unstructured outdoor play leads to happier, healthier and smarter children! Last summer, Leave No Child Inside ? Greater Cincinnati sponsored a Child-Friendly Backyard Contest as a fun way to encourage parents to allocate space in their yards for safe, unstructured play. On Wednesday, October 15, 2008, the contest winners were announced and received recognition at the Cincinnati Horticultural Society’s Amateur Gardener’s Awards Ceremony.
Since the key words for a Child-Friendly Backyard are “creative” and “unstructured”, the contest guidelines were minimal! The ultimate measure of success for a Child-Friendly Backyard is that it is a place where children want to spend time playing, imagining and learning. The contest was judged based upon creative use of space, not the size of the yard. Some other considerations were:
- The involvement of children in the design process;
- A safe place that also allows for free, undefined and imaginative play;
- Utilization of natural materials and space, making the most of available and accessible resources;
- Evidence that other creatures and other children were also attracted to the space.
Two families were chosen as winners of the contest: The Harrison Family of Wyoming and the Mays Family of Loveland. The judges also identified three families deserving of Honorable Mention (listed in alphabetical order): The Dustman Family of Clifton, the McNett/Eicher Family of Loveland and the Miller Family of New Richmond.
Our judges, Corina Bullock of the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati, Roberta Paolo of Granny’s Garden School in Loveland and Susan Vonderhaar, coordinator of the Carson/Dater Montessori Nature Center, agreed that they enjoyed seeing the various child friendly backyards and said that the families truly enjoyed showing off their efforts! They commended them all on making the outdoors a priority in their family’s lives.
Their advice to other families interested in creating a Child-Friendly Backyard is to not let size or resources inhibit you from seeing the potential that lies in your space. Use resources you can find to create an open ended play area that has no clearly defined purpose, but where imaginations can take hold – like a fallen log and ornamental grasses. Create nooks and special places in your garden using plantings like a climbing tree or theme gardens. Their best advice: Include children in the dreaming process and you won’t be short of ideas!
The Harrison Family Yard
The Harrisons of Wyoming did a wonderful job in the integration of areas for adults and children. Their more adult focused outdoor space featured nooks and crannies that, with the power of imagination, a child could turn into a magical place. In their garden design, they incorporated wildlife with a “bird store”, a “butterfly beach” and a garden for their pet rabbit. With children older than most of other applicants, they also exhibited creative uses of raw materials through garden arts and crafts.
The Mays Family Yard
Even though the Mays Family had been in their Main St. house in Loveland for 2 months, their yard is a magnetic place for their children and for children from the neighborhood. They demonstrated optimal use of a small area by using plantings, such as ornamental grasses, to create the illusion of separation and space. The yard highlighted various gardens, grassy areas for play and special places in which children had ownership, all while being visible for subtle parental supervision. Evidence of the children’s involvement and the communal nature of the Mays’ yard is their 10 year old daughter’s comment, “It takes a family to have a fun backyard”.
The judges also identified three families deserving of Honorable Mention (listed in alphabetical order):
The Dustman Family
The Dustman Family of Clifton put great thought into promoting creativity through their playhouse structure. In easy viewing distance from the patio area, the children have ownership of that space. The judges all agreed that the hardscape of stone walls and steps was a subtle natural play area and a great asset to the yard.
The McNett/Eicher Family
The McNett/Eicher Family of Loveland maintained the integrity of the natural landscape and the neighborhood environment. They were able to keep the front as a manicured lawn and dedicated the back to enhancing their children’s play. They did a good job of balancing a defined sand play area and fountain with natural wooded paths, food producing gardens and wild flower gardens.
The Miller Family
The Miller Family of New Richmond was working with a large amount of space and took full use of it! While staying true to the natural landscape of the wooded sloping hillside, the Millers designed various defined spaces – fire pit, picnic area, swing set, sand pit, etc. The judges appreciated their use of natural building materials ranging from wooden railings to stone enforced pond.
Leave No Child Inside-Greater Cincinnati is a collaborative of individuals and organizations educating the community that time spent in nature is essential for the physical, mental and emotional health of all children. The collaborative includes: