Five tips to bring more nature into your outdoor environment

One of the biggest hurdles many childcare centres have struggled with under the new National Quality Standards, especially those with only rubber or synthetic surfaces throughout their playgrounds, is incorporating natural elements into their outdoor environments. Getting these areas ripped up and redone can be a very costly exercise. So if you’re looking for some ideas on how to bring nature into your outdoor environment on a low budget, here are my five top tips to help you get started.

Tip 1:   Tyre garden/veggie beds

Using tyres is a quick, easy and cheap way to set up garden beds, and they can be directly laid onto rubber or synthetic grass. All you need is the following items, most of which can be donated to the service:

  • Tyres (either car or tractor tyres if you can get them)
  • Black plastic (place this under the tyre)
  • Soil
  • Mulch
  • Plants/Seedlings

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Tip 2:   Digging patches

Children love digging in the dirt, and they also love creating things in the dirt patch like car tracks. When looking at adding digging patches on rubber or synthetic grass surfaces, you first need to look at what you could use to put the dirt in. Consider using large tyres, large plastic containers or you could use large rocks to create an area to put the dirt on—and I’d suggest placing plastic down first before you lay the dirt down if you’re working directly onto a rubber or synthetic surface.

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Tip 3:   Loose parts

Loose parts are a great way to bring more natural items into playgrounds. (For further information refer to one of my earlier blog posts on loose parts). You can add items to the outdoor environment like bricks, rocks, tree stumps, piping etc.

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Tip 4:   Hay bales

I’ve recently seen centres using hay bales in a variety of ways—they can be used as seating outside, as cubby house walls, as obstacles to climb over etc. And once they start breaking down, you can add hay to your garden beds as mulch.

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Tip 5:   Vertical gardens & hanging baskets

You can make vertical gardens from timber pallets or from old timber blinds. Other ideas are to get hanging baskets to either hang off your fence or hang down from you veranda roof. I recently bought a vertical wall garden from Bunnings and all up with soil and plants it cost just under $70.

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A great resource where you’ll find a wealth of other ideas is the Let the Children Play website: You could also check my Facebook and Pinterest pages or drop me a line on

Samantha Ahearn - smallSamantha Ahearn is the Founder and Operations Manager of Giggletree, a company providing boutique consulting, management and new centre setup support to childcare centres Australia wide. For more than 24 years, Samantha has been immersed in the child care industry, having started out as a passionate entrepreneur establishing and managing Long Day Care and Outside School Hours Care services. Samantha was instrumental in the development, support and training for QikKids, one of the most widely used software packages for child care services. She has extensive experience across all aspects of child care administration and management including payroll, accounting procedures, budgets and centre procedures and has been involved in many successful centre start-ups and the ongoing management of early educational services.