This post is part of a series on Playspace Design.   Other posts in the series include:
Our Playroom
DIY Outdoor Sound Wall
Dinosaur Garden

This is my favorite, favorite part of our yard.  It makes me happy just being here.  There's the dappled sunlight through the overhanging trees, the gentle rustling of the native grasses - and somehow it all combines to just be perfection.  It's so hard to do a place like this justice through photos...which is why there are SO many in this post.  I really felt like it was the only way to possibly get a feel for it.

When we first looked at our house a year and a half ago, I could see so much potential inside - but the backyard was a big bummer for me.  It was sloped and had three tiers where each flat level was overgrown grass and each slope between was full of vinca or ivy.  If you were a bird looking down on the property the flat areas would make a giant overgrown grass E, if that makes sense.  Anyway, it just didn't feel very fun.  You couldn't move between the levels and the yard was just not that inviting for young children.  My mom had the vision, though.  She assured me that we could make some amazing playspaces in the yard and create ways to move between the areas of the yard more easily.  This area you see here is located at the far bottom right of the "E".  There were two beautiful boulders at the top of the lowest stretch of overgrown grass and I remember telling my mom maybe we could add some rocks here, building off those two boulders, so that the kids could climb between the flat levels?  Well --- this is what my mom created.  A magical playspace modeled after a natural dry stream bed.

S is obsessed with collecting sticks.  Every time we go on a nature walk she's carrying and collecting an assortment the whole way.  So my mom designed four of these stick holders as a sculptural element to the playspace.  S likes to bring the sticks home from all over and place/arrange them in these black PVC pipes that we've buried in the ground.

There is also a water works element to the playspace.  We have this giant metal bucket that we fill with fresh water each time we come out to play and S can use it in either of her sand pits to "cook" the food she's always busy making here, or she can pour it down her hidden pipe.  

In between two rocks there's a slotted opening that leads to a flexible underground pipe we buried when we were making the dry stream bed.  It runs from one side diagonally to the opposite side of the dry stream bed.  If you're quiet, you can hear the water as it travels under the play area.

The pipe is laid at a gradual slope, so S can walk down the path and catch the water coming out of the flexible pipe at the other end.  We have a purple Tubtrug there to catch the water as it comes out.  If S is wanting to cook at the lower sand pit, she'll often send a large quantity of water through the pipes to fill this lower bucket for easier access.

Here's another view of the main water bucket.  S is prepping some muffin tins for the sand batter.  :)  We found all the cooking supplies at our local Goodwill.

Here you can see S's lower sand pit.  We dug a very deep (around 3 feet deep) pit in the dirt and encircled it with stone pavers.  We added several 50 pound bags of play sand to fill it and we keep a garbage can lid over it when not in use to keep wild animals from using it (ew!).  You can see S's array of cooking utensils here near the lower sand pit.  On either side of S are the two orignal beautiful boulders that inspired this whole amazing space.

Here's a finished cake that S has made for the dinosaurs from our Dinosaur Garden.  Doesn't it look delicious?  :)

A view up the dry stream bed.  Once we cleared the area of all the grass and vinca, we laid/buried the pipe, rough cut out the stairs, and dug and filled the sand pits.  We then laid the largest boulders that made the steps and framed the planters.  Next we brought in large river rock and placed them sporadically, finally we filled in the remaining spaces with smaller rocks and pea gravel.  We chose native grasses of varying heights for each of five planters - the largest grasses exist on the perimeters and will grow to about 5 feet in height at maturity, eventually creating an even more private area.

A closer look at the upper sand pit from behind the upper grasses.

My mom also found this long rectangular flagstone and earmarked it for a bench/oven.  S can sit on it to eat her fantastic baked goods, or she can place the muffin tin and some of the smaller pots and pans underneath to cook them in the "oven".

Going back up the path to fetch another bowl.

The sand pits are so much fun.  We'd considered mud, but ultimately decided that sand would be easier for S to work with as mud can sometimes get a bit difficult to dig through when it's dry.

My little chef hard at work in her little sanctuary.

Well, I hope I've managed to capture a little bit of the perfection and peace that exists in our amazing dry stream bed play space.  We are so thankful to my mom who had this incredible vision and brought it to life!  I still can't believe this used to be a snarl of grass and vinca...

Sometime next week I will try to post the remaining elements of our backyard so you can see how everything works together!

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All activities here are activities I feel are safe for my own children.  As your child's parents/guardians, you will need to decide what you feel is safe for your family.  I always encourage contacting your child's pediatrician for guidance if you are not sure about the safety/age appropriateness of an activity. All activities on this blog are intended to be performed with adult supervision.  Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when activities call for the use of materials that could potentially be harmful, such as scissors, or items that could present a choking risk (small items), or a drowning risk (water activities), and with introducing a new food/ingredient to a child (allergies).  Observe caution and safety at all times.  The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any of these activities on this blog.


  1. Wow! Such a fantastic natural play space..You made your tiered backyard to work in your favor.. cool

    1. Thank you, Suja! Yes! My mom is a genius. :)

  2. Wow!! I have just spent over an hour lost on your blog, ogling your amazing playspaces - and am inspired to bring a little bit of you to my place! Starting small (with the discovery bottles!!) but hopefully in the future, we will be in a position to implement a few more of these ideas. thanks for letting me waste an afternoon in awe (and yes, envy that my mum was not as cool as you!!) :)

    1. Awwww, thank you so much for the sweet comment, Jenny! That totally makes my night!!!! :) :) :)

  3. I'm just loving your site! What a great resource your mom must be! I'm going to have to get over my fear of running across snakes in our backyard and enjoy it with my boys!

    1. Yipes! Hopefully not poisonous snakes! We are soooo lucky around here all the snakes are super harmless, so my kids love to chase them, hahahah poor snakes. And thank you! She is!!!


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