8 Simple, cheap and free ideas for making a bare outside area interesting to a toddler

I’ll begin by saying my back yard is small. Probably smaller than your living room.. it is also very plain, boring and tree-free. There is no lawn, and no garden bed. Apart from a very narrow strip of dirt along the fence, the whole thing is paved. It is also a rental property, so there’s not much I can do to change it. My toddler loves the outdoors, and is at his happiest out in the fresh air, and I would love to be able to give him a large lawn area with a garden for exploring, for growing vegetables, and some trees to climb when he is older. But I have what I have, so to make my tiny space interesting for him, I have had to put my creative hat on. 

Things from nature. I wanted to bring some nature in to our bare space, for little one to feel the different textures, the different weights, uneven objects to stack and sort, the coldness of stones and the warmth of wood in the sun:

 ~ Stones. I found these stones in the local bargain shop for 75 cents per kilo (of course if you are lucky enough to live near a stream you could probably find smooth rocks for free). I placed them in a bright bucket, and when little one discovered them he proceeded to move them one by one into a plant pot, then moved them one by one back into the bucket. 
Cost: stones, $1.50, metal buckets $1 each.

 ~ Pine cones and large seed pods. I found these while we were out walking one day, brought them home and put them in another bright bucket. They get played with every day, mainly used as digging implements. Cost: free.

sorting the stones

 ~ Branches. I found some branches which I intended to cut up into tree blocks. I gave up this project after manually sawing about ten blocks.. it’s hard work! So I was left with a couple of branches which I left in the narrow dirt space along the fence, and surprise surprise, they get picked up, closely looked at and dragged around. Cost: free.

sunflowers sprouting

Things that grow. Probably the most obvious things you are likely to find in any normal garden are things that grow. Not mine though (not when I moved in anyway) so I have had to make a bit of an effort to introduce them. Not having a green thumb has made it a bit of a learning curve, but now we have lots of growing things; tomatoes, basil, capsicums, cucumbers, baby corn, lettuce, sunflowers, mint, beetroot, rosemary, strawberries, rocket, zucchini, aloe vera, and green beans. Little one loves to sit and watch the strawberry plant, as he now knows that’s where his favourite fruit comes from. Sometimes he is lucky and spots one then lets me know (by saying ooh! ooh!) so that I can pick it for him. Beans and sunflowers are particularly good for kids to grow as they grow super fast. 
Cost: about $2-3 for a packet of seeds, $3-5 for a bag of potting mix. Pots starting from $2, Styrofoam boxes for planting, free.

watching the strawberries
Styrofoam fruit boxes make excellent planters.
These are beans.

 Things that move – These two mobiles took maybe 15 minutes each and cost me absolutely nothing. I recycled some old CD’s, attached some string I found in my laundry, and made the first mobile last night. Here is a video I found of a similar one in motion. I hung it up at about 10pm last night, and little one was amazed to find it hanging up outside this morning, he kept pointing and saying ooh! I collected twigs for the other one on our walk this morning, and tied them to a length of string. The move gently in the breeze, and are out of reach of little ones hands. Cost: Free.

Recycled CD mobile
twig mobile

Things that are colourful. 

 ~ Bright orange rag rug from the discount shop, because bright colours make a space happy. Cost $4.


 ~ Colourful kids sized chair, because even little bottoms need somewhere to rest. This turns into a step, and was a great garage sale find. Cost: $3.

 ~ Floaty fabric – I found this scarf in an op shop, and bought it for the bright colours. I haven’t thought of a use for it until today. I tied a piece of string across my gate, and used it as a line to hang the scarf from using pegs. It floats in the breeze, and also provides a bit of privacy from the street. Also makes a great peek-a-boo playing spot. Cost 50 cents.

So with all of those small things, our outside area has undergone a little transformation. I’d love to hear your ideas too, of any cheap and easy ways to add a bit of interest to your garden. 

1 thought on “8 Simple, cheap and free ideas for making a bare outside area interesting to a toddler

  1. Dyani - Little Deer Creations

    Such a great post Bec! You've done some wonderful things with the small space you have and it proves that kids don't need lots of expensive plastic toys or electronic gadgets to be entertained. Your simple objects are allowing your son to explore and learn about the natural world around him and to use his imagination. Well done! 🙂


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