13 awe inspiring things to play with in the garden that aren’t toys

I am sure many parents will join me in nostalgically looking back and wishing they could give their children more freedom to roam. Holidays and days out afford children more outdoor playtime, but busy roads mean their roaming areas are nowhere near what their parents or grandparents had. But never fear, if you are confined to the back garden at times, stretch their imaginations with some more creative ideas for things to play with in the garden.

It’s not the same as running wild in the woods, but after years of having a lawn strewn with bits of plastic, our suburban garden seems to have come alive as a place to play since we cleared away the toys and let in things that aren’t toys. This list was inspired by watching some of the amazing things my son’s school incorporated into their playground, by trips to the beach and the fabulous outdoor play area at The National Trust’s Belton House.

Things to play with in the garden


There is nothing more satisfying than a cunning system of pullies!  This one pulls snacks up the tree my two like to climb into, or gets filled with water too. The old sandpit has been a flower bed and is now a pirate boat once more.


We brought a great stack of this back from Wales and had so much fun with it, it becomes little wigwams for toys, signs, weapons, pirate walk the plank…We also combined it with rope to weave our favourite treasures into wall hangings for the garden.


Most of the time ours is a boat, but it is also the base for a den under the trees.


Are great to combine with bricks or palettes to make walkways to balance on.


Are great for building platforms, tables, mud kitchens, as long as they are sensible enough not to drop them on anyone’s toe!


If you have a tree these are great rope swings, but they are also fun to sit in, stack, roll, grow potatoes in, or jump in and out of. We loved making a rope swing at Loch Ness Camping and Caravanning site.

Flower pots

My kids are always borrowing flowerpots to make homes for things in the garden, or miniature gardens. Flowerpots make cool castles or toy towns too.


Be wary of sharp ends around eyes, but canes make amazing wigwams for kids or for toys, propped on buckets or bricks they also make great pretend horse jumping courses.

Wood offcuts

Building woodland towers at Belton House was fun, smooth wooden offcuts as building blocks have endless possibilities and can be used to create all sorts of play ideas for small toys – farms, castles, towns.

Mud Kitchen

These can be as simple as a plank supported with bricks and some old pans, bowls and spoons. Or find some exciting brass or plastic ‘potion jars’ in the recycling or a charity shop.


Water play never loses its appeal. Collecting new receptacles, raiding the recycling, adding food colouring, bubbles and glitter all adds to the fun.

Take it a stage further and construct a water run by collecting together funnels, bottles and offcuts of tubing attached to a trellis with garden wire.


Drink and bread crates are ideal for stacking, tying together with rope and turning into all kinds of imaginary creations. When I pick my son up from after school club, he is normally in the playground making something out of crates.


Cover a picnic table, a wig wam, a washing line, a branch in a blanket or groundsheet and you have a den.

I didn’t even get started on gardening or investigating nature, more to follow on that. Do you have any tried and tested ideas for things to play with in the garden to share?

Things to Play with in the garden that aren't toys

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    Love these ideas! While Olive was horse riding the other day I spotted some long thin sticks which I’ve ear marked to bring home and try and build a den.

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