Outdoor play is healthy and can be a fun, fulfilling pastime for all members of the family. But it can get a little redundant without a proper setup in the backyard for everyone to enjoy. While children have vibrant imaginations, elevating an outdoor space with unique additions can inspire even grander adventures.
So today, we want to go over 12 of the best backyard structure ideas that are sure to keep the fun going from sunup to sundown. These ideas can grow with the family, and even after the kids are grown, you can find new ways to repurpose the structures.
Read on and discover new ideas to transform your space:
12 Fun Backyard Structures
With the influx of screen time and the seemingly-inescapable digital devices that touch nearly every aspect of our lives, a carefully-crafted backyard is key. It can encourage your kids to stay outdoors for hours; they’ll be having so much fun they won’t even miss the tablets and TVs.
1. Play House
Nothing evokes childhood nostalgia like a swing set and slide. Installing a playhouse in your backyard can help teach your kids how to socialize with other children and allow them the time they need for development stages like onlooker play and others.
While they’ve been around forever, play structures have evolved over the years, so you should be able to find an option that works for your backyard, no matter the size. Modern solutions to age-old issues (from outdated, stale structures to safety concerns) cater to magical thinking, problem-solving, and team-building.
2. Sand Pit
Bring the joy of building sandcastles at the beach home with you with a backyard sandpit. To construct your own sandpit, all you need is sawn-treated pine garden edging, garden pegs, pine sleepers, screws, pine bark mulch, fine-washed sand, and an open weekend.
As children fill buckets with sand, creating castles and other structures will boost fine-tune motor skills and provide them endless possibilities for play.
One concern when introducing sand to a yard is the threat of parasites: domestic and wild animals are drawn to sandpits as convenient porta-potties, potentially leaving behind hookworms, roundworms, or similar.
Sandbox covers can help, as can sprinkling coffee grinds, spraying vinegar solutions, or leaving behind citrus peels — all of these are natural deterrents to cats, who make up 90% of the sandpit users.
A hammock may sound more leisure than a play activity, but for a child with a vivid imagination, a hammock is the perfect place to lay outside and daydream. If a hammock doesn’t fit into your family’s more active lifestyle, try a tire swing. Just make sure the tree is suitable; experts recommend the hanging branch is at least eight inches thick.
Kids can take turns spinning each other and learning the value of sharing nicely with friends. As they get older and the tire swing sees less and less play, you can trade it out for a farmhouse swing or a hanging egg chair to give the backyard a cute refresh.
A fort or treehouse is something we all dreamed about having as kids. Some of us were lucky enough to have one of our very own, but even if you didn’t grow up with one, your kids would benefit from this outdoor classic.
These play structures encourage children to form bonds with friends and support numerous play styles, including imagination and creativity-fueled dramatic play.
When it comes to forts and treehouses, the magic is in the details. The more interactive and diverse they are, the better.
5. Chill Space
Sometimes outdoor play can be centered around thrills and non-stop laughter. Other times, children would prefer a space to calm down instead of amp up. A chill space outside can be a perfect excuse to spend a few extra minutes outside alone in your thoughts.
We all need time alone to reflect on our day or our week from time to time, and a chill space that offers fresh air is a perfect setting to do this. Teaching kids to center themselves at a young age can be very beneficial for their mental health as they get older. The ability to self-regulate is a skill that will last into adulthood and beyond.
What’s great about a chill space is the benefit it can provide to the entire family, not just the little ones. In particular, tweens and teens will enjoy a zen space where they can chat with friends, work on art projects, or read quietly.
6. Obstacle Course
For kids with extra energy, an obstacle course can be a smart use of outdoor space that will have them welcoming bedtime night after night. You can use logs and rope swings to create a wilderness course in the backyard, no matter how far away the forest may be.
Challenging physical play improves gross motor skills and develops reasoning skills while deciding how to get from one track to the next.
7. Splash Pad
A splash pad is a lot of fun, especially for families that live in hotter climates. You’ll be able to utilize the backyard without adding any permanent obstructing fixtures, as sprinklers and water spouts are small and can be hidden in the landscaping.
This is a simple way to get the kids outside running around and keep them cool on those hot days in summer — even family pets are likely to join in on the fun.
Purchasing a ready-made splash pad is a far simpler option, but it’s possible to construct permanent splash pads with extra hoses or build a structure out of PVC pipes. If you choose the DIY route, keep in mind safety hazards like potential electrical shocks. This is a very difficult process and may require permits from your local city building office.
8. Climbing Wall
Rock climbing requires physical strength, endurance, and strategy development. This is a wonderful activity for kids that love a challenge. It can be hard at first, but as they get more practiced, they will be flying up and down the wall with ease.
Rock climbing walls can be quite costly, not to mention the additional costs that are associated with auto-belay versus team-belay options, so you may need to consider alternatives. You could invest in a playset with climbing wall features or join a child-friendly gym that offers rock climbing sessions.
9. Outdoor Kitchen
Involving kids in creating meals can help encourage them to try new foods and ingredients. Help them find culinary inspiration by creating an outdoor kitchen experience.
Indoor kitchen sets are a common toy, but bringing the set outside allows children to make a big mess without worrying about clean-up or potential damage. Adults can supply the outdoor kitchen with plastic food or go without and encourage the creation of mud pies, leaf salads, and the like.
10. Zip Line
Anyone with a few trees in their yard can add a child’s zip line to the backyard pretty easily. Zip line kits will come with all the instructions and will go up in a snap. The kids will love all the adventure they’ll get from zipping back and forth, and if the backyard and trees are big enough, you can even buy a kit that’s safe for adults.
11. Inventor’s Area
For budding scientists, use your backyard space to create an inventor’s den. You can use a playhouse to build a small “office space” and fill it with the arts and craft supplies your child needs to build robots, jet packs, and time machines — powered by imagination, of course.
12. Drive-In Theater
A movie theater in the backyard is the ultimate treasure, especially come summertime. For extra fun, decorate the chairs with cardboard cutouts that mimic race cars or rocket ships. Perhaps invest in an old-school popcorn maker, complete with popcorn boxes and delicious seasonings.
While the kids might outgrow the cars on their chairs, no one is ever too old for a backyard theater. When your home is filled with teens and tweens, bean bags or even colorful blow-up chairs can be fantastic seating options.
Outdoor Play Is Crucial
Outdoor play, regardless of the structure you choose, is a key component of raising healthy children. Here are a few of the reasons to encourage an ample amount of outdoor playtime:
Benefits of Outdoor Play
Kids can improve their physical, mental, immune, and emotional strength by playing outside. Motor skills and overall mental and physical exercise are major aspects of healthy growth, and outdoor playtime puts these on the right path.
Outdoor Play vs. Tech Time
As parents, we are always looking for a good balance in life, and finding the right recipe for screen time can be a struggle. With the added backyard structures to entice your children, you won’t have to bargain or fight with them to turn off the tablets; they’ll be more excited to go outside and explore rather than stay indoors.
Other Items To Consider
We have told you all about the best backyard structures and why this outdoor time is so vital for kids, but there are still a few items to consider.
Proper Ground Covering
Depending on the type of structure you put in your backyard, make sure that the ground covering fits the choice. If you want to add something like a climbing wall or zip line, make sure to have a soft landing ready for the little ones.
No matter the structure, investing in shaded areas is important to keep the kids safe outdoors. Hot summer days are hard enough to manage on their own and will prove difficult to bear if they don’t get relief from the sun. While using sunscreen is always a must, other ways to incorporate shade in your play area are fast-growing trees, pop-up canopies, shade sails, and (partial or full) pergolas.
Ensuring shade and cool water are ready at all times will keep playtime a positive experience.
Make It Yours
These ideas are sure to have your kids outside all day long, enjoying every minute of it. The best part is how easy a little backyard redesign is and how they can cater to every family’s particular interests.
There’s something for everyone on this list, and even when you choose, the possibilities for making them your own are endless.
- What Is Motor or Physical Development | Help Me Grow MN
- The Benefits of Outdoor Play in Early Childhood Development | CMOSC
- How to make a sandpit | Better Homes and Gardens
- Parasite risks lurk in children's sandboxes | CTV News
- How to Stop Cats From Using a Sandbox as a Litter Box | The Spruce Pets
- 9 Easy Steps to Make a Safe Tire Swing | Bob Vila
- Gross motor skills: birth to 5 years | Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU
- How to Build a Splash Pad | SF Gate