I’m on a mission to pimp our balcony. I have a point to prove that my son is as lucky as any other child. Especially the ones who live in big houses with massive gardens. I want my son to have an area to play in that is so amazingly cool that all his little friends wish their own garden was even nearly as cool. Because of this, I have spent hours of my life looking on Pinterest for small space outdoor play ideas. Turns out a lot of the apparently “small spaces” are enormous. Despite this there are plenty of good ideas we have been able to use.
Our balcony is concrete with metal railings along 3 sides, it is long and narrow (approximately 1m x 5m). When we started to toddler-proof the balcony, we relocated the climbing rose bush to a friend’s garden, as we didn’t want our son hurting himself on thorns. We removed most of the other pots that were taking up potential playing space and left just the balcony trough planters attached to the railings and a big pot of mud (for future mud kitchen or gardening activities) and the bay tree.
We bought some garden netting and attached that along the front railing with plastic coated garden wire to prevent toys etc. being dropped through the railings onto the ground below. If he stretches up he can drop things down, but generally he doesn’t bother.
After a few months of scouring the internet, garden centres, freecycle, skips and bins, amazingly we found an artificial grass offcut large enough to cover our entire balcony that somebody had chucked away. The grass has made a real difference to the space- the depressing grey concrete has disappeared and it is now comfortable to sit or kneel on the ground. Artificial grass is expensive, but you can easily buy offcuts for about half the price.
To add a bit of sensory stimulation, we hung windchimes, a few pound shop ornaments that spin in the wind and stuck a windmill in the pot of mud. If we can ever manage to keep any plants alive it, or even grow any in the first place it would be nice to have some herbs and flowers that look, smell and taste good too.
We wanted somewhere to sit and drink a well earned bottle of vodka. After lots of shopping around, we eventually opted for a small round folding bistro table and folding textilene chairs. Because they fold, if we need to create some more space on the balcony, for example, to put a paddling pool out there we will be able to do this easily. The table does not take up much space and the chairs are very comfy.
We already had a plastic toy kitchen we had found on the street (this happens a lot where we live) and I figured that combined with mud, old bits of kitchen equipment and some leaves, sticks, pine cones, stones etc it could make a perfectly serviceable mud kitchen. We also got him a water carrier from eBay so he has a source of running water. For loads of info and ideas for mud kitchens click here.
Most commercially available childrens’ sand pits are pretty bulky and seem expensive for what is essentially a box with a lid. We decided instead to buy a box with a lid. We got some large plastic underbed storage boxes for £7 each from Family Bargains. Not only are they cheap, they are just the right height for ease of play, they have proved to be pretty weatherproof so far, they are stackable and because they are long and thin they don’t take up too much space on the balcony. Then we got some cheap sand toys from Tiger and Poundstretcher.
We got some dinosaurs from Argos too, along with some little pieces of artificial grass and other props he can create small worlds for a bit of imaginative play. For inspiration for “small worlds” click here.
We bought another storage box to fill with pea shingle (£2.50 for a big heavy bag from Wickes) and some toy diggers. We found a plank of wood that can be used used as a ramp for the diggers and are keeping our eyes open for other bits and bobs.
We got a couple of smaller boxes as well for toy storage and for water play. We just fill up a box with water and our son has some cheap little plastic boats from eBay that he likes playing with, as well as household items such as jugs, colanders, plastic bottles etc.
We also decided to make a water wall. This is still a work in progress. So far all we have done is collect plastic bottles. Here are some other people have made.
He also has some little gardening tools and some plant pots for attempting to grow things or just for pretend play.
And finally, we collected and painted some pebbles to make story stones. More information about story stones here.
I may not have achieved my goal of making this the best play space ever, but it seems to keep my son and his friends happily occupied.
Done any cool stuff with your tiny bit of outdoor space (if you have any?) Got any tips for people without outdoor space at all? Comment below or take part in our Facebook group forum here.
Our small play space