Schools are closed. Playgrounds are closed. Businesses that offer recreation to kids are closed. With the uncertainty of how long this will last, we decided to utilize our side yard and do some projects for a kid’s play area.
Planning the Area
Our side yard, where Carl’s mom had previously parked her rv before moving in with us, is approximately 30’x60′. At one time we had a small above ground pool and trampoline in this area for the grandkids, but when Pat moved into an apartment with a larger yard, we took them over to his place so the kids could enjoy them more than one day a week.
That left us with a large fenced area and not much for the kids to do outside when they are here. I wanted to put something over there that the kids could enjoy year-round.
I searched the internet for project ideas that the kids could play on independently. They also needed to be versatile enough to interest kids ages 5 – 9. We also wanted to be able to build or buy what we needed relatively cheap. Keeping these things in mind, we decided to go with the following:
- a climbing wall (no surprise there, I bet)
- a rope ladder
- a fort
- a slackline
- a balance beam
- a volleyball net
- a hop scotch grid
- a tic tac toe game board
- a super duper slingshot
Let’s start with the projects that we made:
Please note, we are not including step by step instructions on how to build each item. Many of the projects were just a picture that I saw. Carl adjusted the project to meet our needs, using a general knowledge of construction. We’ve included a general description of what we used and what we did. We also included links to any sites where we got our inspiration.
The Climbing Wall
We’re pretty lucky here. As avid climbers, Carl has made several climbing walls over the years so he didn’t need directions on how to build one (he just needed to know where I wanted it and what kind of wall I wanted).
Although the kids love to climb on our climbing wall that is attached to our garage, it’s tall enough that they must be tied into a rope and on belay in order to climb. The difficulty level is also much higher as it is our training wall. For the kid’s area, I wanted something they could climb on their own, no rope required.
Building the Wall
To begin the project, we started with the frame. I painted the 2×4’s and then Carl used them to build the frame for the climbing wall (the boards can be painted after the frame is put together but, trust me, it’s much easier to paint them first). We cut the plywood down so it would fit snuggly up against the support beams under the garage.
Using outdoor glossy paint, I painted the grass, mountains, and a sky scene on the board. Once the paint dried, Gabriel and Carl positioned, drilled holes, and attached the holds. The package of holds, which I purchased from Amazon, came with everything needed to attach them to the wall. (TUTORIAL ON HOW TO ATTACH HOLDS)
Gabriel loved placing the holds, putting in the screws and then using power tools to attach the holds. We loved that the project was kid-friendly and allowed him to help every step of the way.
Once the holds were in place, we attached the frame to the garage and then screwed the climbing wall onto the frame.
After the the wall was firmly attached to the frame, Gabriel “tested” it to make sure it was secure before calling his sister over to try it out.
If you do not have a building that you can safely attach the wall to, or your little people are much smaller than ours, you might try a self-supporting wall like this one.
To encourage the kids not to climb over the top of the wall and onto the roof of the shed, we put up a bell for them to ring when they get to the top. It serves as a signal for the end of the climb as well as disrupting the space that could be used to climb over.
- 1 8′ 4×4
- 2 sections of 2×4 or 4×4
- outdoor paint
The balance beam was the simplest item to make. It’s simply an 8 foot 4×4, painted red with two 2×4’s screwed on the ends for balance. The kids enjoy seeing how many different ways they can walk down the beam (forwards, backwards, on tip-toe, even sideways). For a taller beam, use 4×4’s for support.
Hop Scotch Grid
- 12 12×12 pavers
- spray paint
- number stencils
For the hopscotch grid, we purchased nine 12×12 pavers. We already had the large paver that I used for #10, but if you don’t have any extra pavers laying about, you’ll need to purchase 10 pavers. I pulled out all the cans of spray paint that we had in the shed and sprayed each paver (top and sides only). After the paint dried, I used a can of white spray paint and number stencils to paint the numbers on the pavers.
Super Duper Sling Shot
This is the project the kids were the most excited about. I found the plans for the slingshot on Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls . While Gabriel helped Grandpa build the frame for the slingshot, Emi helped paint the targets with craft paint (we chose monsters to shoot at as MiMi (me) doesn’t like people or animal targets).
Once the paint dried, we applied a few coats of polyurethane to protect the little critters from the sun and rain. Then we hung the boards on the fence gate and had some fun!
Although the sling shot, purchased at Amazon, comes with balloons, I didn’t like the idea of filling up or cleaning up hundreds of balloons. Instead, I found these water balls that work great and can be used over and over again.
- 6 8′ 2×4
- 3 4 1×2
- 1 9×14 cloth painters canvas
I started out trying to make a VERY simple tent, but quickly discovered the “Vail Gales” (as our winds out here are affectionately called), are way too strong for a tent made out of 1×2’s. So, we swapped over to 4×4’s, a square frame, and more height.
On a good note, the kids did get one night camping in it before we moved it to the play area and it was destroyed by the winds. I did like the design and may make smaller versions of it for the kids to use in the house. (LINK TO AFRAME TENT)
To create a stronger fort, we used six 8′ 2×4’s for the frame and 3 pieces of slightly larger than 4′ sections of 2×3’s (that I salvaged from the crumpled tent). Again, I painted all the 4×4’s first.
Once the boards were all painted, we cut them in half to create 4′ sections. We then created the frame of the fort, screwing the sections together and adding plates along the joints at the top for added strength.
For the cover, we purchased a 9×12 cloth painter’s canvas. To help keep the canvas from drooping, I ran twine across the top support beams before stapling on the tarp.
To help with wind resistance, I only stapled the canvas to the top and 2 sides. I left the back piece “free floating” to allow wind to pass through (and provide a secret exit).
Tic Tac Toe Board
- Lazy Susan or Round board
- Smooth rocks
- Craft Paint
- plastic basket
- zip ties
The kids love playing tic tac toe and I thought a game board that could go into the outdoor area would be fun.
I found this wooden Lazy Susan at a thrift store, painted a tic tac toe grid on it, then put several coats of polyurethane on it. Although I went with a Lazy Susan, any round piece of wood would do.
I had this old stool in the shed, so I painted it and then screwed the base of the Lazy Susan to the top of the stool. I zip-tied the basket that I found at a dollar store to hold the markers.
For the markers, I picked out similar size rocks from a bag of craft rocks and painted them to look like red and blue lady bugs. Although we keep this in the fort, the kids have carried it all over for a game of tic tac toe.
The chalk board is simply an extra piece of 3/4″ plywood that we had in the shed. I sanded it smooth then painted it with black chalkboard paint that can be found at most hardware stores.
The Items we bought:
We found this rope ladder on Amazon. Carl screwed 3/8 ” eye bolts into the support beams (through the front board) at the top and with used cement anchors at the bottom. We then attached the rope ladder to these bolts.
After all the work that went into the climbing wall, it almost felt like we were cheating with how fast the rope ladder went up.
Slacklining is something our family has enjoyed for yeas. We even have one in Happy that goes on camping trips with us.
Unfortunately, it can be hard for kids to learn how to slackline safely. I found this “training slackline” on Amazon that not only works for the kids, but is strong enough for us “big kids” to enjoy it too.
This training slackline comes an upper guide line and strap that allows kids to practice their balance skills while safely holding onto a support. The kids love not having to hold our hands to walk on the slackline. They can now do it all by themselves.
Adjustable Volleyball Net
We love games – especially outdoor games. A volleyball net seemed like a great addition to the play area as it would allow us to enjoy different games (volleyball, badminton, etc).
We went with the Boulder Portable Badminton Set-Net as it comes in a travel bag (so it can be taken on trips), has support legs (so no need to anchor it in the ground), and is adjustable to two heights. (The poles fold over for a shorter net).
For balls, we bought playground balls rather than volleyballs and a few beach balls (as they are much easier to learn how to return the ball).
Although the kids have a seat/storage box for most of their outdoor toys, it’s not big enough to hold all the balls, their bike helmets, and other toys. So, we created an equipment wall that keeps all their gear in one place. The ball net is actually a cargo net for a truck and works great for keeping all their balls from blowing around in the wind.
The last item added to the play area was the climbing dome. This was actually a gift from the kid’s great-grandmother, GiGi. We had a lot of fun putting it together (or rather Carl, our son Pat, and the kids had a great time), GiGi and I enjoyed watching and taking pictures.
Once built, we had a blast testing it out and discovered it would even hold up to Grandpa climbing with the kids.
Being this is Arizona and our summer temperatures get pretty hot, we covered part of the area with sun shades. In the heat of the day, they really do make a difference.
That’s it. That’s our play area. Not super fancy but a way for the kids to get some movement in and just be kids. And on the bonus side, we can also enjoy everything with the kids as all of it with hold adults too.
We have one project left for the kid’s area…. a swinging bridge, but have decided to wait for cooler weather to build it. We’ll be sure to update once we get it done.
Do you have a backyard play area with project ideas you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.
Stay active and healthy,
Be and Carl