DIY Natural Playground Ideas



Photo of a lush natural playground with children balancing on arranged logs and tree stumps. The backdrop showcases tall trees and shrubs, and a child carefully crosses a log bridge over a small stream, capturing the essence of nature play.

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Ever gazed at a stretch of your backyard or local park and envisioned it transformed into a nature-infused playground, fostering both play and a deep connection with the environment? If so, you’re not alone. The shift towards natural playgrounds has garnered momentum, with parents and communities recognizing their multifaceted benefits.

Fortunately, creating a natural playground isn’t just about large budgets or expansive spaces; it’s about harnessing nature’s beauty and integrating play elements seamlessly.

As an advocate for sustainable play environments and child-nature interactions, I’ve collated a plethora of natural playground ideas that range from the simple to the sublime.

Let’s explore these eco-friendly play havens, assisting you in crafting a space where children can frolic, discover, and deepen their bond with the natural world.

Key Takeaways

Natural playgrounds prioritize the use of organic materials and the existing landscape to create play areas that blend with the environment and stimulate children’s connection to nature.

Log Balance BeamsUse large logs or fallen trees to create balance beams for children to walk or jump across.
Boulder Climbing AreasIncorporate large boulders or rock formations as natural climbing areas.
Sand and Water Play AreaCombine sand pits with flowing water (using a pump or hose) for sensory play.
Willow Tunnels and DomesPlant willow in patterns that will grow into natural tunnels or domes for children to explore.
Nature Art StationSet up an area with clay, twigs, leaves, stones, and other natural materials for kids to create nature-based art.
Hill SlidesBuild slides into natural hills or mounds. This can be done with smooth rocks, polished wood, or metal slides integrated into a hillside.
Natural MazesUse tall grasses, bushes, or crops like corn to create mazes for children to navigate.
Tree Stump Stepping StonesArrange tree stumps of varying heights and sizes for kids to step or jump from one to another.
Rope and Vine SwingsAttach swings to strong tree branches. These can be traditional swings or circular disc swings.
Mud KitchensDesignate an area with soil, water, and various containers and utensils where kids can “cook” with mud.
Butterfly or Sensory GardensPlant a garden with various plants that attract butterflies or have interesting textures and scents for sensory exploration.
Natural Musical InstrumentsCreate instruments from nature, such as wind chimes made of shells or bamboo, or drumming areas with different sized and toned logs.
Wooden Forts or TreehousesUse wood to construct small forts, shelters, or treehouses nestled within the environment.
Tepee or Yurt Reading AreasSet up tepees or yurts filled with cushions and books for a natural reading nook.
Pond or Stream Exploration ZoneIf safety permits, designate an area for kids to explore pond life or play in a gentle stream. Equip with nets and containers for catching and observing creatures.

Planning Your DIY Natural Playground

Creating a natural playground in your backyard can be a fun and rewarding project that will provide your children with a safe and stimulating play environment. However, before you start building, there are a few things you need to consider.

Location and Space

The first thing to consider when planning your DIY natural playground is the location. You will need to choose a spot in your own backyard that is large enough to accommodate the free play area, trees, and other plants. It is also important to consider the terrain of your yard and choose a spot that is relatively level for the natural playscape.

Once you have chosen a location, you will need to measure the space to ensure that it is large enough to accommodate the play equipment you want to build. Keep in mind that you will also need to leave room for pathways, seating areas, and other features.

Design and Materials

When it comes to designing your natural playground, there are many different options to choose from. You can build everything from treehouses and swings to sandboxes and climbing walls. The key is to choose activities that will appeal to your children and provide them with opportunities for imaginative and physical play.

One popular material for DIY natural playgrounds is landscape timbers. These sturdy, treated wood beams are perfect for building raised garden beds, sandbox frames, and other structures. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to work with.

Choosing Natural Materials

When creating a natural playground, choosing the right materials is crucial. Natural materials not only provide a more authentic and organic feel to your playground, but they also offer a range of benefits for children’s development and safety. Here are some natural materials to consider:

Wood is a popular natural material for playgrounds due to its durability and versatility. When selecting wood, consider using untreated or naturally treated wood to avoid harmful chemicals. Cedar, redwood, and cypress are great options as they are naturally resistant to decay and insects. You can use wood for creating structures, such as climbing frames, treehouses, and balance beams.

Rocks and boulders can add an exciting element to your natural playground. They can be used for climbing, balancing, and even as seating. When choosing rocks, select those that are flat and smooth to avoid injuries. You can also consider using rocks as borders for sandboxes or digging areas.

Logs and sticks are perfect for creating obstacle courses, balance beams, and even small structures. They are also great for encouraging imaginative play and creativity. When using logs and sticks, make sure they are sturdy and free of sharp edges.

Leaves, mulch, and other natural features can be used to create sensory and exploration areas in your playground. You can use them to create a nature trail, a sensory garden, or even a small animal habitat. When using leaves and mulch, make sure they are free of any harmful chemicals or toxins.

Bark, pine needles, acorns, and pinecones can be used as loose materials for creating soft and natural ground cover. They can also be used for sensory play and exploration. When using these materials, make sure they are free of any sharp edges or toxins.

Branches can be used for creating teepees, forts, and other small structures. They can also be used for creating natural boundaries and dividers. When using branches, make sure they are sturdy and free of sharp edges.

Creating Play Structures

When it comes to designing and building play structures, safety should always be your top priority. Make sure to use sturdy, high-quality materials that can withstand the wear and tear of active play. If you’re not confident in your DIY skills, consider hiring a professional to help you with the construction process.


Forts are a classic play structure that can be built in a variety of ways. You can use natural materials like branches, logs, and rocks to create a rustic fort, or you can build a more elaborate structure using lumber and other building materials. Consider adding features like a roof, windows, and a door to make the fort feel like a real hideaway.


If you have a sturdy tree in your backyard, consider building a treehouse for your kids to play in. You can use a combination of natural and man-made materials to create a treehouse that blends in with its surroundings. Make sure to use a secure ladder or staircase to access the treehouse, and consider adding safety features like railings and netting.


Playsets are a versatile play structure that can include a variety of features like swings, slides, and climbing walls. You can purchase a pre-made playset or build one from scratch using lumber and other materials. Make sure to choose a playset that is appropriate for your children’s age and skill level, and always supervise them while they’re playing.

Photo of a small backyard that features a designated sand play area. The sandy spot is bordered by wooden beams and surrounded by a few plants. One child is engrossed in building a sandcastle, while another uses tools to dig and sculpt. Nearby, a bucket, spade, and other sand tools are scattered, capturing the essence of immersive sand play in a compact outdoor setting.

Swing Sets

Swing sets are a classic play structure that can provide hours of fun for kids of all ages. You can purchase a pre-made swing set or build one from scratch using lumber and other materials. Consider adding features like a tire swing or a rope ladder to make the swing set even more exciting.

Obstacle Courses

Obstacle courses are a great way to challenge your kids’ physical abilities and encourage them to be active. You can create an obstacle course using natural materials like logs and rocks, or you can purchase pre-made obstacles like balance beams and climbing walls. Make sure to set up the obstacle course in a safe area and supervise your children while they’re playing. Ensure to include areas for your outside toys.

Climbing Walls

Climbing walls are a fun and challenging play structure that can help build strength and coordination. You can purchase pre-made climbing walls or build one from scratch using lumber and other materials. Make sure to choose a climbing wall that is appropriate for your children’s age and skill level, and always supervise them while they’re climbing.

Incorporating Water Features

Water play is always a hit with children. You can create a simple water table by using a large plastic bin or container, filling it with water, and adding various toys and tools for children to play with. You can also incorporate a hand pump or spray nozzle for added fun.

Water Features

There are many different types of water features you can incorporate into your natural playground. Here are a few ideas:

  • Waterfall: You can create a small waterfall by stacking rocks and allowing water to flow over them. This provides a calming sound and a beautiful visual element to your playground.

  • Splash Pad: A splash pad is a flat area with water jets that spray water up from the ground. This is a great option for younger children who may not be able to swim yet.

  • Pond: If you have the space, you can create a small pond in your natural playground. This provides a habitat for aquatic plants and animals, and can also be used for fishing or observing wildlife.

Remember to always supervise children when they are playing in or around water features, and ensure that the water is clean and safe for them to play in.

Incorporating Natural Elements for Imaginative Play

If you’re looking to create a natural playground for your kids, you’ll want to incorporate elements that encourage imaginative play. Natural elements like rocks, logs, and plants can provide endless opportunities for kids to use their imaginations and engage in unstructured play.

One fun way to encourage imaginative play is by creating fairy houses. You can use natural materials like sticks, leaves, and flowers to build tiny houses for fairies and other magical creatures. Kids can use their imaginations to create stories and scenarios for their fairy friends.

Another great way to encourage imaginative play is by setting up a treasure hunt. Hide small treasures like painted rocks or seashells around the play area and give kids clues to help them find the hidden treasures. This activity encourages problem-solving skills and gets kids moving and exploring.

If you’re looking for a messy activity that kids will love, consider setting up a mud kitchen. A mud kitchen is a designated area where kids can mix up mud pies and other messy concoctions. You can set up a simple mud kitchen with a table, some old pots and pans, and a hose for water. Kids will love getting their hands dirty and experimenting with different ingredients.

bird watching station for kids

Using Recycled Materials

If you’re looking to create a natural playground at home, using recycled materials is a great way to reduce waste and save money. There are many materials that can be repurposed for your playground, including old tires, metal, burlap, fabric, and tarps.

Old tires are a popular choice for playgrounds because they are durable and can be used in a variety of ways. You can stack them to create climbing structures, or lay them flat to create a soft surface for children to play on. Be sure to clean the tires thoroughly before using them to remove any dirt or debris.

Metal can also be repurposed for your playground. Old pipes can be used to create a maze or obstacle course, while metal drums can be turned into musical instruments. Just be sure to sand down any sharp edges and paint the metal to prevent rust.

Burlap and fabric can be used to create sensory play areas. You can fill burlap sacks with different textures, such as rice or sand, and let children explore them with their hands. Old fabric can be used to create a cozy reading nook or a puppet theater.

Tarps can be used to create a shaded area for children to play in. You can attach the tarp to trees or poles to create a covered area, or use it as a surface for messy play activities like painting or mud play.

Frequently Asked Questions on Natural Play Spaces

What are some natural elements that can be used in a DIY playground or nature play spaces?

There are many natural elements that can be used in your own natural playground, such as logs, rocks, sand, and dirt. You can also incorporate plants and trees to add a natural feel to the natural play areas. You can use natural materials like bamboo, willow, and straw to create structures like teepees, forts, and tunnels. – just let your imagination run wild.

How can I design a natural playground for preschoolers?

When designing a natural play area for preschoolers, it’s important to keep safety in mind. You can use soft surfaces like sand or mulch to cushion falls as children play, and avoid using materials like metal or hard plastic.

You can include elements like a small hill for climbing, a mud kitchen for sensory play, and a water feature for exploration. Don’t forget to also include shaded areas in your natural environment for rest and hydration after kids play.

What are some creative ideas for using tree stumps in a playground?

Tree stumps and other other natural materials can be used in many creative ways in a playground. You can use them as stepping stones, balance beams, or even as seating or anything you can fine in conventional playgrounds. You can also carve designs or shapes into the stumps to add a fun and unique element to the playground.

What are some safety considerations when building a natural playground?

When building a natural playground, safety should be a top priority. Make sure to use materials that are non-toxic and won’t splinter or break easily. You should also create a soft surface like sand or mulch to cushion falls, and avoid placing structures too close together to prevent collisions. Finally, make sure to supervise children at all times and teach them proper playground safety rules.

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