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In our family, we’re big on creating experiences instead of having things, and we spend a lot of time outdoors. I’ve always said I hoped to be the house in the neighborhood where my kids and their friends would want to hang out. Now that my kids are getting older, this is happening and it sometimes means 20+ kids playing at our house.
I absolutely love it, and realized that as summer approaches, I need to make sure there are plenty of things that facilitate outdoor play and activity. Our backyard is a work in progress, but it has become one of the main hang-out spots in our neighborhood and is keeping the kids really active.
My four-year-old describes our yard as “epic,” so I guess we’re on the right track!
Outdoor Play Ideas for Summer
We brainstormed backyard ideas and had a few criteria:
- Activities and equipment should lead to active outdoor play and creativity
- Ideally, any activities would also be good for developing a skill like balance or strength too
- Games could be played as a family or by a group of friends
- Any purchases would provide hours of fun per dollar of what they cost
We found over a dozen backyard ideas that met these criteria and our “epic” backyard was born. It includes:
Backyard Ideas: Equipment
Some of the most fun things in life are free, but some well-chosen equipment can make a backyard even more fun. These are the pieces of backyard equipment that have created the most lasting fun at our home.
We gave our kids a trampoline for Christmas last year and it has become a central point of the backyard. I know trampolines can be controversial for safety reasons, but I’m a big fan because bouncing increases lymphatic flow and bouncing strengthens bones. (This is also why we use mini-trampolines or rebounders in the house.)
I spent half an hour jumping the other day and realized that they are also pretty good exercise!
We have this trampoline and to keep things as safe a possible, we have the net around the top and also have a net around the bottom so that kids can’t walk underneath. We also limit how many children can jump at once and keep a close eye on kids while they are jumping.
The Slackline is another backyard favorite. I love trying to master this mixture of tightrope and trampoline fun. It bounces slightly and wiggles so it helps train balance … and patience! Start with a training line to hold on to and then work up to walking without needing to hold on for stability.
A step up from the Slackline and the current favorite with the older kids. Inspired by the show American Ninja Warrior, the Ninjaline is like a Slackline mixed with monkey bars. It is a hanging rope line with various hanging challenges like rings, bars, and even rope balls to hold on to.
Full disclosure… I can’t complete this yet but my kids can.
I shared our treehouse plans before, but it has been the main focus of our backyard for years. The kids love it and I love that they spend time climbing, camping, and creating games up there. Here’s how we built it and what we included.
The treehouse also includes a climbing wall that was easy and inexpensive to build. We mounted these rock-climbing holds on boards on one side of the treehouse.
Our hanging tent was a hand-me-down to our kids. When our family outgrew the tent for actual camping, it became the portable hanging treehouse in the backyard. These are easier and faster than building a treehouse and less expensive too! They’re also great in yards where none of the trees are big enough to handle a treehouse and they can be moved to different areas.
Our kids LOVE this swing and spend hours playing on it. It will hold up to 600 lbs, so not only can all our kids (and their friends) swing on it at once, but it will hold adults who want to get in on the fun as well!
While this might be a controversial item for some, it has been our kids’ favorite and most used item in the backyard over the years. Every time we entertain it’s always the focus of attention (and lots of fun!) Our zipline is attached from the kids’ treehouse to a tree, but all you need to set one up is a slight hill, a couple of strong trees, and this easy-to-install kit.
A garden may not be the first thing you’d think of as a backyard activity for kids, but it provides hours of entertainment and learning. We’ve had several different types of gardens over the years and I’ve loved them all. We can all garden in some way, even in small yards, and this is a great way to spend time as a family and teach kids where their food comes from.
For shade and creative play, these burlap tents can’t be beat. We made ours as a family project some years ago. They’re portable so kids can move them around and they can really take a lot of abuse! Even let kids paint the burlap if you like.
Backyard Ideas: Games & Sports
Beyond the basic equipment, there are some backyard games that have been well worth the purchase over the years.
Volleyball & Badminton
Great summer activities for kids (and adults). One net works for two activities that both lead to improved coordination and exercise.
This game is really popular with my older kids. It is great for training hand-eye coordination, agility, and lateral movement… and it is so fun because it is unpredictable! Plus, there are no large nets to put up or stakes to put in the ground. It’s also portable to take to the park or the beach.
Riding my bike around our neighborhood was one of my favorite childhood memories and I love that my kids now enjoy it just as much. Our littles have Cruzee balance bikes and our then 4-year-old learned how to ride a two-wheeler in ten minutes because she’d already mastered the balance part.
Tether Ball or Swingball
Another flashback to my own childhood! Tetherball and swingball are great for hand-eye coordination and fun for hours with kids. We have this portable set that is great because we can move it around and put it away in the winter. The height is adjustable so it works for the variety of ages in the household.
Cornhole is one of those games that became popular at football tailgate parties and is enjoyed by adults and kids alike. It’s safer than horseshoe, and just as much fun. These cornhole boards can be painted with the team colors of your choice for hours of fun.
Capture the Flag
Another favorite game in our neighborhood. Go old school and play with some bandannas as flags and a rope to divide a space in half for “sides.” Here are the official rules and a few fun variations.
Our older kids love this glow-in-the-dark version that works outside after dark.
Another fun after-dark game for kids or adults. We have these laser tag guns and the kids (not to mention my husband) love running around after dark with this game. I must admit, it looks pretty fun and I’m tempted to get in on the action!
It doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment to have a great time outside. Some simple sidewalk chalk to draw hopscotch provides hours of fun! In case it’s been a few years since you tried it, here are the basic rules of hopscotch (with some fun variations).
Don’t look down the humble jump rope. It’s a classic! A simple jump rope challenges coordination, activates lymphatic flow, and strengthens muscles all in one. Bring back some memories from your childhood and teach kids some classic jump rope rhymes.
One of the oldest kids’ games that has survived the test of time, with good reason. It turns out that fort building is also an important part of childhood for brain development. Researchers found that these “special places” kids build can be indoors, outdoors, or even in their own bedrooms. Through fort building, kids learn creativity, problem-solving skills, and so much more.
As parents, we don’t usually have to do much to encourage fort building other than provide time and some basic materials like old sheets, blankets, and some scrap wood. It’s amazing what kids can come up with!
Another favorite kid game in our neighborhood. From my understanding, it is almost like reverse tag. One person starts out as “it” and chases the other kids. Once another child is tagged, he or she is also “it” and helps the first child. This continues until all children have been tagged. The last child to be tagged gets to pick who is “it” in the next round.
What Kids Really Need: Just to Play Outside!
A creative backyard is a lot of fun and the kids will definitely benefit, but no need to feel like you need to recreate Disney World. The important thing is to give kids the opportunity for unstructured time to play outdoors independently.
Also: when kids inevitably say “I’m bored,” it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong as a parent. In fact, it’s good for them. Research shows boredom is just part of the natural process of finding something new to do and actually pushes us toward the next big idea. So remind them of that and encourage them to find something new to do… outside! This is an area where we as parents can lead by example too by making time to go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride, or getting in on the laser tag.
The important thing is that kids get active time in the sunshine (and dirt). Whatever your backyard holds, kids will benefit and feel happier, more relaxed, and sleep better.
Here’s to summer!
What backyard ideas do you have to keep your kids creative and playful this summer?