When we take a really hard look at our space and what we are missing it mostly comes back to outdoor green space. A backyard that is safe and enclosed where the kids can run and play with little supervision. The chance of having a backyard like that in the city is very rare and most certainly out of our price range. So as I usually do, I started looking at our small space to try and maximize every inch of the space we do have, keeping in mind the main priority of the kids playing outside. I used to want our outdoor space to be a place to eat outside, and entertain adults. I've let this go. If we end up on the patio some nights with friends, great! But this is one space of our home where I don't expect the space to do everything.
I made a few small changes to make the most play area for the kids. My first goal was privacy since we are on a busy city street. I added vertical felt hanging planters onto our gate to block any views in from that street. I also added a trellis onto another 4' section of the patio and am trying to fill it in a vine on those to further block street views. Previously, I had a large planter blocking the stairs and view from the gate. I realized that removing that planter allowed the kids to play on the stairs. I lined the stairs with strawberry plants (Theo's request) and added another vine to hopefully cover the wall eventually. This small change makes the patio feel so much bigger than before! Luckily over time our apartment building's surrounding landscaping has grown and filled in to block views into our patio.
Another small change I made was to sell our cozy Ikea outdoor couch. In the case of our small patio our outdoor sofa was 26" deep and took up too much room. My fellow small space neighbour (her home tour here!) suggested these storage benches from ikea instead as they are only 13" deep and can double as bench seating. One holds our gardening accessories and the other holds the kids' outdoor toys. I stained them with semi-transparent black deck stain because I didn't like the wood they came in. While I loved having a couch to lounge on, room for the kids to play was our main priority. and this gained us over 1 foot in depth! When you only have 7' to work with this makes a big difference! We also went from 2 solair chairs, down to 1 but added the hammock chair (lucky $15 thrift store find!). The hammock adds seating and another place for the kids to hang out without taking up any valuable floor space. If we can't watch the kids in the hammock we wrap it up out of their reach. The kids have been playing outside everyday. They are safe out there and finding many ways to entertain themselves.
Things kids do on our tiny patio
- "watering" the plants with the hose and spray bottles
- DIY water table ( plastic ikea art table with a tupperware on top and plastic toys)
- Look for bugs in all the plants and planters
- Sidewalk Chalk
- Making mud
Things kids might do soon
- a friend recommended velcro-ing or zap strapping bubble holders to the wall or railing so they are spilled less often
- need to measure if a small kiddie pool will fit now with the new bench seating
- Bubble machine - we have broken 2 so far (bubble solution in the batteries), if anyone has a recommendation on one that can survive my kids please let me know!
A few more space saving patio things
- This 5-in-1 Hape Beach Toy
- Retractable hose
- These felt wall hanging planters
- Bug terrarium
- Telescoping bug nets
- This tiny plastic table
- This is my outdoor rug (on sale now!)
- I got my Solair Chair on Craigslist but here is a source
To sum it up, our little outdoor space is far from perfect but there have been moments lately where the kids are playing outside and I'm inside making dinner and I can see them but I can't hear them and I almost start to cry (tears of happiness). It definitely doesn't replace running freely at the park but it is one more play space in our small space and one that can be extra messy. Speaking of messy... our patio entrance is off our living room so the mud and dirt that gets tracked in the house now is crazy. We try to have a shoes on outside, and shoes off inside rule. Or I try to wipe down kids' feet when they come inside. All this makes me feel like an uptight crazy lady so I am looking for another solution. I asked a few friends with backyards how they manage this and they said they have a mud room or garage to contain the mess (haha, not really an option for us!). I guess the upside is it only take a few minutes to vacuum and mop down the small floor space inside.
Hope sharing this small outdoor space and how we make it work helps you with your small patio or garden! Love to hear any other ways you entertain small kids in tiny outdoor spaces!