Children love to be outside and a backyard can offer endless entertainment - anything from watching bugs creep around to admiring flowers, doing backflips on a trampoline to building a snowman. At the same time, however, backyards can present some inherent dangers for children, so keeping it safe and enjoyable for kids requires careful thought and planning.
Here are some tips to make your backyard as child-friendly as possible.
Put yourself in their shoes
One of the simplest and most fun ways for adults to see the potential threats in the backyard is to pretend to be a child. Try walking around the garden on your knees to see if there are any sharp corners, thorny plants, nails jutting out of wood structures or hazardous holes that you may not notice as a fully grown adult. You can baby-proof your backyard much as you would indoors by putting rubber edges on sharp corners, using baby gates and removing objects that could cause injury.
Check for poisonous plants
Every region in North America has different plants so contact a local garden centre to make sure you aren’t growing anything poisonous within reach of a curious child.
The first step is identifying which plants or shrubs are growing in your backyard and if you can’t figure it out, contact people with expertise. Furthermore, learn the symptoms of poisoning for common plants in your area so you can be quick to react just in case they venture away from your backyard.
“My personal philosophy is that potentially any plant can be dangerous, so it should be important to make sure that children have a bit of education too,” says Denis Flanagan, landscape designer at Landscape Ontario.
So, if they are old enough, teach them about what they can and cannot eat. You don’t want to instill a fear of eating things like raspberries but should teach them not to eat anything unknown.
Designing for safety
Making your backyard safe for children does not mean you have to sacrifice design.
A great tip is to put a play area for children in a visible location. Even better is if the space is easily seen from inside so you can glance out the window to check for injuries without seeming over-protective.
Denis says there are also a number of child safe decorations such as “pondless waterfalls.” These water features make it possible to still have the relaxing sound and look of a fountain without having potentially dangerous open water.
Make sure equipment is safe
Some of the most common injuries can come from backyard equipment like trampolines, swing sets and pools.
Make sure your pool, or any pool where you child will be swimming, is up to code. There are usually by-laws in place regarding fencing, chemicals, gates and accessibility. If you move into an older house with a pool, make sure everything is as safe as possible and always keep an eye on young children in or around a swimming pool.
With trampolines and playgrounds it is also important to ensure everything is up-to-date and safe. Also, around trampolines, try to remove any potential hazards around it because it is not uncommon for kids to fly off. Or, even better, you can put safety nets around the trampoline to avoid this completely.
Consider a natural playground
A recent and exciting development in safe garden design for children is the emergence of natural playgrounds.
Flanagan said that instead of using equipment like swing-sets, you can keep children entertained using interesting landscaping. He said things like spiral pathways or fascinating logs can hold children’s attention and at the same time infuse them with a love for nature.
The Canada Blooms Flower and Garden Festival, which takes place in Toronto from March 14-23, will feature examples of natural playgrounds.
“March is a fabulous time to start planning, so taking the time to go to a home and garden show to get all your questions answered could save you a lot of money and give great tips on how to make your backyard not only safe for children, but also inspiring for them,” says Denis.
By Alyssa McMurtry