How Growing Families Can Make the Most of a Small Backyard

A backyard garden has a small wood deck with set of steps that lead to a sunken garden area with a wooden outdoor furniture set.

A growing family and a small backyard? No problem, make the most of a small backyard with these tips from NewHomeSource!

There are lots of reasons why a young family might have a small backyard. Perhaps the home is located in an urban area where space comes at a high price. Or, maybe having a larger yard meant having a smaller house.

Whatever the reason, there are some clear benefits to having a small backyard. If you take care of the yard yourself, you’ll save so much time each month if you have a small yard. Plus, if you hire someone to do it, it will cost less. Having a small yard also means it will be easier to keep an eye on your kiddos and make sure they are staying out of trouble.

Perhaps best of all is that it is easier to make a small backyard ‘yours’ and have it serve as an outdoor extension of your home. Just because a yard is small doesn’t mean it can’t be functional, beautiful, and where you, your family, and your friends will want to spend quality time. Read on for New Home Source’s tips on making the most of a small backyard.

Identify Your Family’s Needs

Before designing your small backyard, consider what kinds of activities will take place there. As landscape designer Susan Morrison explains, “when putting together your program, understanding who will be using the space, both now and as your family expands or shrinks, will ensure that the investment you make in a new landscape today will serve your family’s needs well into the future.”

Depending on the layout, you may have the opportunity to use it as an extension of your indoor living space. You could have a sitting or lounge area, a space for cookouts, or a fire pit for roasting marshmallows. It could be a space dedicated to playing or growing food. You could install a fountain or a wading pool.

After you have figured out your vision for your small backyard, make sure all of the elements you incorporate support that vision.

Use ALL the Space

Sometimes a backyard is really just a backyard, but sometimes it is connected to the front by a side yard. A side yard doesn’t have to stand alone or be used only as a thoroughfare for the front and back yards. It can be fully incorporated into the design and function of the backyard, thus increasing the amount of space you have to work with.

You can also think vertically, in terms of vines, bamboos, and the overall landscape. If your small backyard is flat, consider adding a deck that is somewhat elevated, or a sunken pool or patio. Adding depth and dimension make a space feel bigger than it is. Whatever you do include in your small backyard, be sure it scales. Putting in a swing set or a huge smoker that takes up most of your small backyard isn’t the best way to go. A small sandbox or a mid-sized grill mean the good times can roll and you’ll still have some room for other kinds of activities for your entire family to enjoy.

Built-In Fun


We don’t know what it is about shade sails or chair hammocks that make a space feel fun and playful, but that’s exactly what they do. A small backyard with those elements feels ready for good times and relaxation.

Consider including bird feeders and a birdbath. Different kinds of feeders attract different kinds of birds, so do some research to find out which birds are found in your area. What child or adult doesn’t love to watch and listen to birds? Bird feeders are built-in fun and give parents some teachable opportunities.

We already mentioned putting in a small sandbox, and why not also consider how that space will be used in the years to come? You can easily build a small sandbox that can be converted into a raised bed for gardening down the line.

A Children’s Garden

A children’s garden is a garden designed to stimulate a young mind through interactivity and discovery. Molly Dannenmaier, author of the book ‘A Child's Garden’, describes them as "places that accommodate children's natural inclinations to poke, prod, nurture, jump, hunt, whack, climb and hide." This can be done through a combination of plants, textures, colors, and activities. A child’s garden could include kinetic sculptures, wind chimes, a small boulder to climb, a hiding space, child-size gardening tools, an area for digging and getting dirty…

There are so many possibilities, not to mention vast opportunities for child-led learning and parent-led teaching. Here are a few helpful links to get you started:

Ideas for Starting a Children’s Garden
Design Elements Important for a Children's Garden
Easy Plants for Kids to Grow
Plants Kids Love to Touch

A Word on Safety

Scrapes and bruises are a natural part of any young life. Still, safety should be a priority in any yard space that will be used by young children. An open fire pit or pool, lots of gravel or rocks, and poisonous or toxic plants can all cause harm to a young child, so be mindful of those kinds of dangers when designing your small backyard. Also consider allergies – of the air-borne and insect-related varieties.

Otherwise, have fun with it! There’s no reason why a young, growing family can’t live large in their small backyard. You may not be able to do absolutely everything, but there are still many wonderful options to create a space that your family absolutely loves and enjoys for years to come.

Sarah Ristorcelli is a freelance writer and editor for leading print and online publications. Formerly editor in chief of Garden Design, she has also written and edited for Cottage Living, Modern magazine and Orlando Arts. You can find her on Google+.

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