Here are 18 ways to build or add on to your kids’ at-home playground in a way that will entice them to move from the couch in front of the TV to the great outdoors where they can exercise and socialize.
- Add the unexpected, like rock walls, rope ladders and tunnels.
- Go a little high-tech. Trick out a play set with everything from an intercom to solar panels to a telescopes.
- Give them shelter. A structure with a roof or canvas awning allows kids to play outside even during a light rainfall. Stock the shelter with chalkboards and games so there’s plenty to do. Add solar-powered lighting, and the play house will be usable in the evenings, too.
- Cover up. Likewise, placing an awning or a shade sail over the swing set and jungle gym will protect your children from sunburn. Even a big umbrella offers kids a place to cool off and get out of the sun for a while.
- Revise the slide. Look for sliding boards with waves, scoops and spirals for an updated take on the original.
- Consider the age of the children who will use your homemade playground. Toddlers love slides, while older kids like more challenging equipment, like monkey bars. Avoid equipment with openings that are just big enough for your child to squeeze through but might be difficult to escape, or with moving parts that could catch a child’s little fingers.
- Mix it up. Including a variety of equipment, from slides to see-saws to ladders to open spaces for ball games, will keep kids engaged as they get older.
- Don’t skimp on cost. The cheapest playground equipment probably won’t be the most durable or the safest. Play sets made from lightweight materials, smaller bolts and cheap accessories won’t endure constant use or the added weight your kids naturally put on as they get older.
- Consider chemical-free. Redwood, for example, naturally resists insects and rot.
- Insist on a soft landing. Cover the ground of the play area with a resilient safety surface like wood or rubber mulch designed specifically for playgrounds. Other options: rubber or synthetic turf over a foam pad. The ground covering should extend about six feet beyond the equipment in every direction.
- Check age and weight restrictions before buying any play equipment that your kids might outgrow too quickly.
- Keep the swings. They’re low-tech and old-fashioned, and both kids and adults love them. Manufacturers say swings are still more popular than any other playground item.
- Replace equipment that wears out. Most should last at least seven to 10 years if you maintain it well.
- Go natural. Kids love to climb rocks, play in the sand and roll down hills. Plus, child development pros say playing with mud, sticks and other nature-made “toys” helps develop a child’s creativity and resourcefulness.
- Choose a location for your backyard playground that’s within earshot of the house so adults can hear a call for help and kids can hear their parents’ warnings.
- Encourage breaks. You want your kids to burn off their excess energy and keep fit, but they’ll tire out eventually. Sling a hammock between two trees and add a bench to the play area for rest breaks.
- Choose durable landscaping. Fragile flowers won’t survive the inevitable stomping they’ll suffer if you plant them too close to a play area. Limit your planting to areas that are out of the way of the play, and choose low-maintenance plants that can endure the occasional trampling.
- Keep it simple. Remember: You’re building the playground for your kids, not for yourself. Your elaborate plans won’t impress a 6-year-old who just wants to run and skip and slide. In fact, including your children in the playground planning could result in unparalleled outdoor fun.