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These days, with so many children glued to iPhones, tablets, computers and TV screens, it can be a daunting task to try and get children away from technology and outside into the fresh air, so when you can peel them away, it is nice to be able to let them enjoy the garden without having to hover over them and worry about what they are doing all the time. Gardens can be notorious for hidden hazards, many of which do not even cross our mind until the inevitable happens, so here, we look at a few ways to make it safer and more enjoyable for young children.
1. Risk assess your garden.
This sounds pretty extreme, but it is always a good idea to get down on your child’s level and see the potential dangers from their point of view. Look around you and make a note of anything that could be potentially dangerous – loose bricks in walls, rough edges, ponds without some sort of protective cover, missing fence panels.
2. Check how secure it is
This should be part of your overall risk assessment, but it is essential to make sure that your garden is secure and has clear boundaries. Do you share a garden with your next door neighbour, or is there any potential for members of the general public to access your garden? Fix any fences or gates, make sure they are locked when your children are out there and keep an eye on them to make sure they are well maintained and stable, particularly after periods of bad weather. If you have pets, make sure their toilet area is not accessible to children, or at the very least is cleared up immediately.
3. Consider the plants
Before you plant something, check whether it is poisonous. Little kids are curious and often put everything they see in their mouths. Make sure the plants are all safe, and that anything that is thorny is located in a place where they are unlikely to scratch the children. Lily-of-the-Valley and Philodendron should be avoided, as beautiful as they are, they can cause irritation to the skin and eyes and are poisonous, especially to a curious toddler. Traditional favourites such as sunflowers and lavender are always a good call – and they attract insects which can be fascinating to watch. If you choose to use weedkiller, pesticides or other chemicals in your garden, make sure it is done when your children and pets are safely inside.
4. Think about fake grass
Real grass is all well and good until it rains. Then, it can run the risk of turning into one big muddy, slippery mess, which is no fun for children. Artificial grass is a great choice because it can be easily cleaned, it’s durable and robust and can be played on in all weathers. Plus, as a bonus, you won’t be dealing with all those pesky grass stains!
5. Get rid of the pond or cover it up
Ponds can be sources of entertainment and fascination, but they are also the scene of many tragic accidents. If you have a pond in the garden and have young children, you may want to consider filling it in, or at the very least covering it up until they are much older. Grids and netting can be effective and still allows them to peer in with supervision to see any fish and wildlife living in there while keeping them safe.
6. Lock up the tools
Dangerous garden tools and machinery, such as rakes, spades, forks and lawnmowers can be objects of wonder and amazement to curious little people. Make sure they are locked away securely in a shed or an outdoor garden box, well out of their reach. There are plenty of child-appropriate tools out there for them to use if they want to be involved with the gardening.
7. Create a fun kids area
Attach a child-safe mirror to the fence, or paint a wall in outdoor chalkboard paint. Create a safe obstacle course using things like railway sleepers, tree stumps, and stepping stones. All children love a bit of safe water play, so attach some guttering and pipes to the fence or a wall for them to pour water down. Sandpits and climbing frames are a hit with children of all ages. Use paint on concrete to create a road or track for bikes and push along cars, or a cosy reading corner with bean bags and bunting. The only thing limiting you here is your imagination!
8. Get the kids involved
Kids love getting their hands dirty so why not get them involved in creating a space for them? You could get them planting fruit and vegetables. Not only does it save you money in the longer term, but it may encourage them to eat and help to prepare their own meals. Courgettes, strawberries, and tomatoes are not too labour intensive and are relatively easy to grow even for the most novice of gardeners.
9. Create an area for the whole family
While it is essential to create a garden that the children can run free in and enjoy, you may also want to consider how the whole family can enjoy it. Create an area for the adults and older members of the family to enjoy, perhaps on the decking or patio area, if you have one. A bistro table and chairs make the perfect spot for a quiet morning coffee or an evening gin and tonic in the sunshine. An outdoor dining area and barbecue create an additional living space that can be enjoyed by everyone in the summer months.
Your garden should be a space for everyone to enjoy, have fun in and be safe. Take some of these simple tips on board, and you will all enjoy it for many years to come.