Gardens can be a great place for children to play and learn, but gardens can present hazards to children if they are poorly designed.
Good or Bad Gardens
Home gardens and backyards should be an important part of every child’s development.
The backyard is where children use up excess energy, and develop skills in social and imaginative play. As they play, they take risks – an essential part of learning to recognise and deal with dangerous situations.
Without the opportunity to experience the challenges of outdoor activities, children take longer to develop and simply won’t learn to deal with and conquer danger. The solution is a childproof garden that is safe but not to the extent that the kids are over protected.
Hazards in the garden include:
Water – ponds, swimming pools
Abrasive or sharp surfaces – mulch, gravel, thorny plants, protruding nails
Hard surfaces – concrete and paving
Steep or slippery surfaces – steep slopes, mossy rocks and paths
Broken or worn play equipment
Animals not adequately supervised or caged
Snakes, spiders and other dangerous animals/insects
Tools, machinery and garden chemicals left lying around
Empty plastic compost or building sacks
THE GOOD AND BAD OF CHILDREN
Children are a delight to watch at play in the garden but they can also cause considerable damage…breaking a prized flower, picking an apple before it is ripe, turning a lush area of lawn into a bare or muddy patch or trampling and breaking irrigation spikes whilst playing.
Children and gardens may seem incompatible but a well planned garden and a properly supervised child can complement each other.
Protecting the Garden from Children
Space permitting; create separate areas for play and gardening. Make sure the children are aware of their designated area.
Put low barriers around garden beds.
Put stepping stones through garden beds so that they’re less likely to trample plants.
Put paths in areas that get lots of use to reduce wear on the lawn.
Include a paved area for riding skate boards and bikes.
Don’t leave trowels, spades or secateurs lying around – if they have access to tools, they can be tempted to start digging and cutting into plants when you’re not looking (and could potentially hurt themselves).
Put away ladders and try and prevent them from climbing trees and walls by blocking them off with pots, plants, and so on.
Children are more likely to be injured themselves, or cause damage in a garden if they become bored. They then look for “out of the ordinary” ways of using and perhaps abusing things in the garden. This is when the likelihood of accidents will also increase.
Don’t let Children get bored in the Garden
If you keep children interested in outdoor play and gardening, they’re much less likely to cause deliberate damage to garden plants. Make their play area as interesting as possible – as well as the usual play equipment (sandpit, swing set, cubby, and wading pool) look for other ways to keep kids interested in playing outdoors. For example, build a bike track, obstacle course or cemented area for basketball/hopscotch.
When they outgrow outdoor toys and equipment, don’t leave them lying around to rust or decay – find something better suited to their age group and interest (eg. basketball hoop, trampoline, fitness course.
By getting kids involved in gardening from a young age, they will learn to respect the garden and share your interest in plants. Take them on trips to the nursery, let them choose plants and help them to put them in the ground. Show them when it’s OK to pick plants (eg. show them when fruit or vegies are ripe, or which flowers you’re happy for them to cut and bring inside), and give them clear instructions on which plants you don’t want them to touch.
Give kids their own garden area – even one square metre will keep them busy. Buy child-size garden tools and encourage them to plant colourful annuals and vegies so they get quick results.
Be prepared to compromise – don’t be too strict. Just remember, a few damaged flowers from exuberant play is better than having young children play out on the street or spend hours inside watching TV.
Child proof fencing is a legal requirement for all new pools in many places, and protects children from entering a dangerous area
Provide the kids with a safe play area that will keep them amused. Most damage to plants occurs if children are bored.
Ceramic tiles or pavers can become very slippery with only a little water on them. Choose a non slip surface for a children’s area.
Grooved decking offers better traction when it becomes wet: great for kids running around after they’ve been in the wading pool.
Steps can be a hazard for young children. If you have them, install a grab rail so that they have something to hold onto when they use them. You can also install a gate at the base of them to prevent them from being used when you are not around.
An unfenced pool, and unattended gas barbecue – don’t let kids into areas like this. Design your garden to be safe for kids.