Backyard Ideas to Keep Kids Playing Outside All Summer

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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:

  1. Activities and equipment should lead to active outdoor play and creativity
  2. Ideally, any activities would also be good for developing a skill like balance or strength too
  3. Games could be played as a family or by a group of friends
  4. 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.

Climbing Wall

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.

Hanging Tent

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.

Spider Swing

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.

Burlap Tent

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.

Fairy Garden

Like an outdoor dollhouse (one you won’t trip over!) that kids can create themselves from a few simple, reusable materials. Let the imagination run wild! Here’s what you need.

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.

Spike Ball

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.

Laser Tag

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).

Jump Rope

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.

Fort Building

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?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


13 responses to “Backyard Ideas to Keep Kids Playing Outside All Summer”

  1. Katie Avatar

    Love this article!! What did this all look like for you when you had just one or two (young) kids? We have a 4 year old and a 10 month old. We live on a farm at the end of a road… so plenty of space, no “stranger danger.” But I feel like if I send my 4 year old out alone, she has no one to watch her back (like if she falls and gets hurt, there’s no sibling to run back to the house to get me). Do I just embrace this season of keeping an eye on her from a distance?

  2. Mel Avatar

    I built a large ceder wood sandbox for my 20 month old son in our backyard but now I am unsure if it’s healthy for him. Do you have any suggestions for what I can fill it with besides the store bought sand I have in it now that might be a healthier option?

  3. Ana Avatar

    I never ever ever comment on blog posts but this article is by far my favorite of all time. I put every item you suggested on my wish list, so whenever budget allows…

  4. Angie Avatar

    I give great-granddaughter (4) a container of water and paintbrushes, and she “paints” stuff outside: sidewalk, walls, gate, rocks, etc… She loves doing it, and last time, ended up pouring the water over her head!! (it was hot and sunny).

  5. Kristen Avatar

    What an inspiring article and so many practical suggestions, thank you.
    My daughter is 10yrs, going on 14! I feel I missed out on giving her the tree house childhood so what would you recommend most for backyard activities to capture her imagination at this age? We have a small garden but it does have a little plunge pool that we love.
    Thanks Kristen

  6. Kirsten Avatar

    With 20+ kids playing at your house I’m curious how you handle two issues.

    1) inappropriate images/videos being shown to your kids from neighbor kids handheld devices.

    2) liability from injury due to neighbor kids possible accidents/misuse of yard activities.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      1- Thankfully, there aren’t many handheld devices in our neighborhood yet and they almost always are left at home because they are too much trouble to keep up with for the kids while playing. Even if they are there, the kids usually leave them on my counter while they are out playing and the kids are never on them. That said, I talk to my kids about technology and the fact that there are negative and inappropriate images, videos, etc and explain how those can harm their brain and affect the way their brains make important chemicals. In today’s world, it isn’t realistic to think I can keep them away from technology and all that it brings, and talking to them about this and making sure there are open lines of communication is a top priority for sure. 2- We have insurance and while this is something that has certainly crossed my mind, it isn’t something I can completely prevent and it isn’t worth it to me to keep kids from playing together.

  7. Vince Avatar

    This is such a cool set of ideas. We often say that kids should be outside playing more but little thought goes into how we can encourage this behavior. Your options all sound great and it seems like they’d certainly be effective.

  8. MARIA Avatar


  9. Lauren Avatar

    This is such a great post!!! Thank you! I’ve been trying to think of ideas for my children and will be referring to this list.

  10. Catherine Avatar

    Great article! Last Christmas, I bought the grandchildren a couple of gifts that were all about playing outdoors and they loved them.

    Activities are really important for children, wether indoor or outdoor. Indoor activities can be mentally stimulating and outdoor activities keep their bodies healthy.

    But a bit of a word about “things.” There is nothing wrong with things. It takes people to invent, design and manufacture things. These people earn their living with things. Many of these things actually give us more time to spend outdoors and with other activities we enjoy. Creating things are a way that many people express their ingenuity, talent and artistic abilities. When we acquire these things, we give other people an income and also the opportunity to develop and express their unique skills. Any “thing” from a hammer to a wooden chair to a scented candle to an iPhone to a car or even a beautiful piece of art or music is a gift. These take the hard work of many, many people and all of these things began with an idea.

    1. Falynn Avatar

      Great response!! My son loves his slackline as much as he loves his iPad. Both inspire great amounts of creativity!

      I appreciate that you point out that all things start with an idea and are created by a group of people and their work. These things all make the world a better place!

      Great article Katie, thanks!

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