ByMadeleine Somerville

Aug 11, 2015

The standard image of domestic bliss used to be a house in the suburbs, 2.3 children, a good-natured golden retriever, and a white picket fence surrounding an immaculately manicured lawn that got mowed every Sunday.

Well folks, times they are a’ changin’! Families no longer look like they used to — we’ve learned that parental love isn’t restricted to a certain gender pairing and parenthood is a function of our actions rather than our biology. Minds are expanding and as we’ve had the courage to explore the assumptions of the world around us, our environments are beginning to reflect this shift — or, perhaps, inspire it.

White picket fence
Image courtesy of Phil Warren.

One trend that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon (and it’s a good thing, too) is families who choose to think beyond that lush green lawn and the white picket fence, and embrace a more natural landscape for their children to romp in instead.

There is a growing movement to turn lawns into something useful instead of just another Sisyphean task on the to-do list such as;

  • Families are skipping the wide expanses of turf in favor of xeriscaping — landscaping with rocks, and plants indigenous to the region which require less water and maintenance — or
  • Planting small-scale vegetable gardens and installing backyard chicken coops.
  • Installing compost bins and rain barrels

In other words, there are countless ways to make your backyard give back to the environment, rather than sucking resources from it.

Reviewing resources

Turning this space that used to be purely ornamental into a functional, useful, or bountiful part of the family home is an incredible lesson for children to learn about how and what we devote resources to, and why. It’s far more gratifying to explain that we use our space for growing our own food, or minimizing our impact on the environment, rather than explaining that we have a lawn simply “because everyone else does”.

Boy on tree swing
Image courtesy of marty hadding.

Of course for families, one of the biggest benefits of having a backyard is that kids can play outdoors at home. Choosing natural landscapes certainly doesn’t mean you have to transform every inch of your property into a garden — but you may want to rethink that swingset. Many families are choosing to forgo the some-assembly-required playground equipment in order to provide dynamic natural outdoor play spaces that evolve with the child and offer endless opportunities for imagination. A swing, after all, is just a swing. But a stick? A stick can be anything.

Filling the backyard with trees creates a magical forest feel while creating a pathway out of stumps of varying heights and sizes provides a challenge for kids’ balance and motor skills. Creating a living teepee out of beans or peas means your kids can hang out in an edible fort all summer long — munching veggies fresh from the source while hiding out in the type of cozy space that all children crave.

Image courtesy of Jessica Lucia.
Image courtesy of Jessica Lucia.

Skipping the meticulously planned and curated backyard also means more opportunities for getting messy — water tables, sand pits, or even a small mud pie kitchen!

Let the Children Play is an incredible resource for anyone hoping to transform their backyard into a more natural, child- and environmentally-friendly space (with some fantastic pictures to boot). I dare anyone to look at these pictures of kids up to their elbows in dirt with smiles from ear to ear and not desperately want to recreate that experience in their own backyard!

There are so many great places for quiet, and orderly beauty in this world — but a kid’s play space isn’t one of them! Let them play. Let them see the natural world and immerse themselves in it, let them get dirty and skin their knees and have splinters, allow them the opportunity to deconstruct one world to create another.

Embrace imperfection in your natural landscapes — and in your kids. They’ll thank you for it one day.

Feature image courtesy of nick chapman

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.