Kids can have fun anywhere, but even their lively imaginations can sometimes use a boost. Here are 20 great ideas for backyard play spaces you can buy or build.
Backyard 'Wipeout' course for kids
Test your kids’ athletic ability with this backyard "Wipeout" obstacle course. A perfect opportunity to cool off and get some exercise this summer, simply combine a few different common household items that will challenge your budding triathletes. You might start with a water slide, and then add a section of giant balls sitting in automobile tires (for stability) that your kids have to leapfrog on their way to the tricycle slalom course.
DIY giant bubble
Remember how much fun you had blowing bubbles as a kid? Give your children a bigger and better experience by taking bubbles to the next level with this human-sized, giant bubble. All you need is a wading pool, a hula hoop and some homemade bubble solution. For even more fun, have one of the kids stand in the wading pool, in the center of the hula hoop, and have two others quickly raise the hula hoop over his head—to put the boy in the bubble. Have plenty of towels on hand -- this one could get messy.
DIY life-size Angry Birds game
Get your kids outdoors this summer with this fun idea for a DIY, life-sized Angry Birds game. Sure to be a backyard favorite for everyone in the family, this game can be easily put together with some bouncy balls, cardboard boxes and wood plans for the target wall.
DIY music wall
Start a little extra harmony in your backyard with this creative do-it-yourself music fence. It’s easy. Buy or build a short section of picket fencing that you can mount on a wall or between existing fence posts, and then attach to the fence a collection of things that kids can pound, pluck and use to make music. Pie pans, oven racks, wind chimes and keys from dismantled xylophones all work great for creating cool summer tunes.
DIY outdoor chalkboard
Give your kids hours of fun by creating this giant do-it-yourself backyard chalkboard in your backyard. Paint a 4x8-foot plywood sheet with a mixture of outdoor paint and sanded grout in a dark color that looks like a traditional classroom chalkboard, and then mount the finished chalkboard on a fence, the side of your garage or between two posts. Buy a box or two of sidewalk chalk in multiple colors and set your kids free to write, draw and decorate to their hearts’ content. The whole project should cost less than $100.
Backyard Twister game
Take one of your favorite indoor games into the sunshine by creating a DIY, backyard Twister board. To get started, cut a 12-inch circle in stiff paper to use as a template, and then buy cans of spray paint in red, blue, yellow and green, and paint rows of colored circles a few inches apart on your lawn. We also love that this game's cleanup is incredibly easy -- mow the lawn once or twice, and no trace of Twister will remain.
Backyard Scrabble game
Turn a section of your patio into a giant Scrabble game board that will delight your entire family. Build a 5-foot square wooden frame, and either fill it with concrete that you can score into 3 3/4-inch squares, and later paint with water-base concrete stains, or set with small ceramic tiles. Cut 100 3 1/4-inch square letter tiles from baseboard trim, add adhesive or hand-painted letters and scores, and seal with spray lacquer. Create your own racks for the letters and store all of the game pieces in a plastic bin or canvas bag.
DIY backyard sandbox
The sandbox has been a favorite backyard play area for generations of children, and building one is easy! Use low-cost lumber to build the box, the floor and some corner benches that provide extra stability as well as convenient places for your kids to sit. Paint the box in bright colors that will appeal to kids, and then buy a few bags of sand and use them to fill the box. For extra points, install short lengths of PVC pipe at each corner to serve as beach umbrella holders for those summer days when shade is a must for outdoor play.
DIY climbing space for kids
Create a backyard climbing wall by attaching handholds and toeholds to a vertical sheet of plywood, or combine pressure-treated fence posts and metal pipe to make a set of uniquely designed monkey bars.
Football passing game
Want to give your kids a head start on honing the skills that could take them to the NFL? Set up a backyard passing game that will help them learn to throw pinpoint accurate passes—and have fun doing it. Buy a water-resistant plastic tarp with grommets, measure and cut holes of different shapes and sizes in the tarp for targets, and bind the edges with colored duct tape. Use a permanent marker to indicate the number of points contestants will receive for throwing a football through each target. Then hang the tarp in your backyard and let the games begin.
Homemade slip and slide
Looking for something fun and refreshing to do with your children on a hot summer day? Consider making a quick and easy homemade water slide. Get a heavy-duty drop cloth that is long and narrow, garden stakes or something similar that you can use to hold it in place, a hose or several jugs of water, and a good-sized hill. Wetdown the tarp and send your kids slipping and sliding to the bottom, but don’t make any plans for the rest of the day. Your kids most likely won't ever want to stop.
Outdoor mud pie kitchen
Give your young sous-chef the perfect outdoor kitchen space this summer by creating a backyard mud pie station. With a tub of dirt, a pitcher of water and a washable table, your child is sure to bake up a storm with plenty of goodies found in the backyard. And, if you're hoping to make it a little extra fancy, pick up some pie or cake pans, muffin tins and other used baking tools found in the thrift shop. Fill a few cans or jars with pebbles, twigs and other mud pie decorations, and turn the kids loose to have some good clean fun while getting dirty.
Homemade water play station
Take running through the sprinkler to a whole new level with thisKiddie Car Wash, made from a frame of interlocking PVC pipe about 5 feet high, 8 feet long and 30 inches wide. Punch small holes at various angles in the PVC pipe, attach a garden hose, and then sit back and enjoy your children’s squeals of delight.
Homemade fairy garden for kids
Here’s one fairytale that can easily come true. Buy a few miniature bird houses at a crafts store or build your own, add some fairy figurines, and then use your imagination to decorate and landscape a fairy garden that children will love.
Modern backyard playhouse for kids
Say “playhouse” to many parents in past generations, and they were likely to think of a big cardboard box. Those days disappeared when architects got interested in designing playhouses for kids. Today, you can either spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a beautifully designed and crafted backyard playhouse, or use those pint-sized architectural wonders as inspiration and build your own masterpiece.
Outdoor play area
With a few basic supplies from your local home-improvement store, you can create a backyard play area for your kids that simulates a child-sized village, with brick roads, PVC tunnels, a pond made from a water heater drip pan and sandy areas where they can place brightly painted wooden buildings.
Backyard tree house for kids
If anything fires a child’s imagination more than a good tree house, we haven’t found it. Armed with one of the many excellent tree house plans available online, plus the necessary tools and lumber, you can create a tree house that will become an important part of your children’s lives. Most modern tree house plans also show you how to brace the structure without harming the tree, so a well-built tree house is environmentally responsible as well as a great place to dream.
Backyard bean teepees
Build the bean teepee of your dreams by using long poles tied together at one end to form a teepee shape that is wide at the bottom and narrow on top. Create a door on one side by leaving a wider space between two of the poles. Plant pole beans around the base of the teepee, tend your garden and watch them grow. The leafy bean vines will quickly create a shady teepee your children will love to visit, and they can help you pick the beans when it’s time for the harvest.
Homemade tire swing
A backyard tire swing is a source of endless fun for kids, and there are several different ways to make one for very little money. One of the best designs involves hanging the tire horizontally using eyebolts, steel chain, connector links and a locking swivel hook so that the tire swing can turn without twisting the chain. Sheathe parts of the chain in tubing to protect your kids’ hands and to avoid damaging the tree limb where you hang the tire.
Kid-sized garden space
Children live in a grown-up world, so imagine how much it will delight your kids if you create a child-sized garden in a corner of your yard. Actress Amy Brenneman hired landscapers to create a magical children’s garden for her kids at her home in California’s San Fernando Valley, but you don’t have to be a movie star or a landscaper to do the same for your children. Draw inspiration from Amy’s creation, throw in a few ideas of your own, and make the magic happen.