Spring and Summer are right around the corner and we can FINALLY head outside and release those stir crazy kids who have been cooped up and are (literally) bouncing off the walls. I don’t know about you, but I am so (so, so, so) ready to stop refereeing nightly wrestling sessions. But first, I need to get our backyard ready for them!
What I love about the warmer weather is outdoor playtime. Opening the back door and letting the kids run around and wear themselves out until it gets too dark to play IS THE BEST. The fresh air, dirt, and chance to play with their friends, not to mention they fall asleep in about 30 seconds flat when they’re completely worn out is what summertime is all about.
Over the years, I’ve pretty much turned our backyard into a sensory experience so that our kids can never tell me they’re bored or that there is nothing to do. We love to BBQ and have people over in the summer so not only does this entertain our troupe, but everyone who visits as well. Here are some fantastic ideas you can easily and inexpensively implement in your backyard to keep your kids busy for hours.
Kids gravitate towards the messiest, dirtiest activities and having a sandbox can keep their imaginations active for hours (literally, hours!)
We built our own 4’x4′ sandbox with simple corner posts and 1” x 4” x 4′ pieces though we’ll probably be making something bigger and sturdier at our new house so three kids have more space and aren’t just dumping sand on each other. Not wanting to build your own? Shop craigslist or scan garage sales for a sandbox, Little Tykes Turtle or Crab (with a lid) or use a tent so the sandbox stays shaded and you can zip it closed. I’ve even thought that those build your own flower or garden box kits they sell at Home Depot or Lowes would well work as a small sandbox.
For sand, you can usually find sand free on craigslist or you go to a gravel yard (make sure you plan to line your car so it doesn’t get everywhere) for a large load. If you buy the individual 5lb bags from a giant box store, note that Home Depot carries the super soft sand but Lowes is grittier and not at all soft.
Tip – a sandbox that has a lid or can be sealed off by a tarp is best. Cats tend to think of sandboxes as litter boxes and so do critters like squirrels, bunnies and mice. Something that can close and keep unwanted pests out is best. Plus, your sand will stay cleaner and it keeps all the elements out.
Add buckets, shovels, trucks and toys and you’ve just set up yourself up for an afternoon that may just involve sitting down with a magazine or book.
Chalkboard paint makes adding chalkboards to any space quick indoors or outdoors super simple. Shop the plywood section of your home store and buy the largest piece of plywood you can fit in your car. Paint it with a couple coats of chalkboard paint (you’ll need at least two) and then screw into a wall or fence in your yard. Add a bucket of chalk and let them draw away!
Our water table was a birthday gift but I’ve seen them at thrift stores, consignment stores, on craigslist, at garage sales and even on the curb. Just like dirt, kids LOVE splashing in water (including our 80lb Lab who jumps in to cool his paws off too.) Bring out some floaty toys and you’re set.
I was SUPER hesitant to have a mud pit in our backyard. I envisioned the La Brea Tar Pits and mud in ever crevice and even in mouths. Finally I caved one afternoon and it was a discrete space in our yard that clearly wasn’t growing any grass. I had to set some ground rules like no eating mud or throwing it in faces but once again, letting them dig in the mud, bury their toys in the mud, roll around in the mud and dance in it seemed like a little slice of heaven to two little three year olds – and I have the pictures to prove it.
I did have to strip and hose them off before they could even approach the house but on a really hot day, cold hose water was not a problem.
Rain Gutter River
I just saw this on Pinterest and it’ll be a new addition to our backyard this year because it looks AWESOME. Mount a long piece of rain gutter material (I’m planning on a 10 – 12′ piece) to a wall or fence. Make sure you cap off the end pieces because you don’t want to let the water flow out either end. Fill with a hose and you have a river of sorts for kids to float boats or toys in. I’m planning on adding hinges so I can tip the water out and keep the gutter clean because I can guarantee all sorts of dirt, grass and sticks are bound to make their way in there.
Play + Climbing Structures
Little Tykes, Fisher Price and Step2 have a TON of plastic play structures but they’re outrageously priced if you buy them new. And why would you do that anyways? They’re all over craigslist and I know that if I buy something off craigslist, I have about a 100% chance of reselling it back when we’ve outgrown it.
Not only are giant plastic play structures easy to find, but I know neighbors that have found giant dome climbing structures (remember those old school domes from the school yard?) and our two monkeys live on theirs.
Pool, Sprinklers, Slip & Slide
It would be great to have a huge pool in our backyard but alas, totally not reasonable in Colorado.
Grab an inflatable or hard shell pool (you can find both in pretty large sizes for less than $20 which is worth the price of entertainment) and have a blast. Also a hit – sprinklers and slide & slides. When my kids were four last year was probably the first time we tried the slip & slide but it had to be a really hot day for them to enjoy it. Those sprinklers can be chilly if there is any type of breeze or shady spots!
Grab some old sheets and string them up, unpack a tent, track down x-large refrigerator boxes or build your own teepee in the backyard. Forts let children’s imaginations run wild and there is nothing better than watching kids playing together and teaming up to fight off pirates or wild animals!
Other Things to Keep on Hand I buy these when I see them on sale mostly because my kids have this great little knack for breaking things after one use. I have a special box that I collect stuff and save for a surprise/reward or even if I just need
a little something to break up the day:
- Squirt Guns
- Water Balloons
- Balls of all kinds – soccer balls, squishy water balls, bouncy balls, bounce on balls w/ handles, any type of ball is usually entertaining!
- Add a soccer net and encourage your kids to see who can get to 5 goals first
- Pool Noodles