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Is Your Backyard Baby-Friendly? (Plus, a Video!)

Taylor Newman

Going outside with Kaspar has, from the time he was just a few weeks old, been a key part of our parenting routine. Aaron takes him down to Town Lake, here in Austin, most mornings, where they watch dogs chase tennis balls into the water, practice walking (Kaspar is ready for lift-off) and hang out at a nearby park that offers killer downtown views and a big grassy expanse for Kaspar to explore. I take him our for walks in his stroller most afternoons—it’s the only way I can get him to nap--  and loop around our surrounding neighborhoods, peering at other people’s cool houses and lawns (the stroller makes me look a lot less manacing in this hobby than I’d otherwise appear). I swing by a nearby playground once Kaspar wakes up, or we go to the local botanical gardens, or spend time with friends whose backyards feature swings, slides or even chicken coops. As Kaspar becomes increasingly mobile, he’s also becoming more bold in exploring—and interacting with— the great outdoors (here's a video of him chasing a rabbit, from a few months ago). I know instinctively that the fresh air and big skies are good for him. It’s good for me, too, to forego my to-do lists and take him out walking; I get thinking time in that I wouldn’t allow myself if it weren’t semi-enforced. (My friend Nicole Basham recently wrote a great article on the benefits of outdoor time for kids and moms alike-- worth a read).

With all of this public outdoor space nearby, and having focused much of our home-front attention on setting up our indoor environment over these last several months (come on in for a tour of Kaspar’s room), we’ve only recently turned our gaze to our own little backyard. It’s small—about eleven by twenty feet—but it has potential; it extends off of our window-walled home office, and is surrounded by a tall fence, so it feels like an additional room with plenty of privacy and an extra awesome ceiling (sunsets, anyone?). At the moment, it’s basically a Rectangle-O-Dirt, with some patchy grass poking through. But Kaspar’s insisted on playing out there a lot lately, and I’ve been having visions… of a garden, a breakfast table, a clothesline. Maybe even compost. Definitely some fun stuff for the little man. Like bunnies! Okay, bunnies are a step too far. No bunnies. But the rest I think I can do. And the babyman part— well, that’s where you come in.

I should mention that the only thing I’ve ever grown successfully is the baby himself. I’ve killed too many herb plants to count. I killed some housewarming fauna that its original owner swore would never die… in a week. But, I have a yard now, damnit, and I’m gonna grow me, um… something. The thing is, since Kaspar’s so into our little yard, and I want to encourage his appreciation of time spent outdoors, I want our yard to be fun, safe and even magical for him, too. Constantly interrupting him with “Don’t eat that! Don’t step there!” admonitions every five seconds, when he’s busy doing his wilderbeast-baby thing, would be a drag. My big backyard plans need to account for him—maximizing space, and playtime potential-- from the start.

I’m just beginning to brainstorm on this, but a friend of mine built a “salad table,” which is raised on three-foot legs, and thus provides ‘floor’ space, if you will, beneath her garden of greens, in addition to keeping her toddler out of the plants. She’s offered to help me build one. Score. Here's a photo of her's-- pretty swanky, right? (Thanks for the rad photo, Brooke Roeder!)

Garden table

I think I can rig up (*cough*-have-Aaron-create)  some kind of retractable clothesline, which would also help keep the yard more open when we’re not drying our laundry. If I find a small breakfast table, too, I think there’ll be room for one of those climb-and-slide scenarios (like this) for Kaspar. He loves those things. I initially thought I’d throw down grass seed and make our plot properly green, but then we’d have to mow it. I might just see what grows, or doesn’t, and leave it at that. I’m not sure what to picture when it comes to composting, though. I’m so, so not cool with cockroaches or rats… I’ll have to look into that a little further (feel free to share your ideas, of course, and I’ll likewise let you know what I come up with).

Other than a little playscape, though, are there any other cool outside toys or contraptions that would be fun for a one-year-old, who’s rapidly turning into a toddler? I’m a big believer in the value of just hitting stuff with sticks and using one’s imagination, but I bet you all have some cool ways of fostering outdoor creative play that I could mooch off of. What’s in your backyard? A sandbox? A swing? Toys or balls or what? What do your kids like to do when they’re outside? And what about you? Do you grow things, read in the sun? Spring is upon us—help me rock out our yard! I’ll integrate your ideas and show you the results in a few weeks from now.