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15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

These are the ways that we have transformed our backyard into a super fun and engaging backyard haven for our five young children. We have about an acre of fenced in land behind our house, and with everything we have created, built, and purchased, we are very content to just stay home and enjoy ourselves. This works out especially well right now seeing as how we have a newborn this summer!

I believe that children should be free and have autonomy to choose their own activities and be independently entertained. I also believe in giving kids as many natural settings and experiences as I can to help them develop their creative and imaginative minds. By incorporating these things into our yard over the past three years, I think we have done just that.

Here’s a video of our yard as we gear up for summer.

1. Sandbox

When we moved into our house three years ago, building a sandbox was the first thing we did, and our children LOVE it! They play in it every single time we are outside.

Our Sandbox

Our Sandbox

2. Stock Tank Swimming Pool

We wanted a durable swimming pool that all of us could fit in that wouldn’t break the bank, and this stock tank swimming pool has been perfect! Learn how we made stock tank pool here.

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

3. Garden

Our kids love every aspect of gardening from preparing the soil, to planting the seeds, to harvesting the garden. It’s a lot of work to put it in, but I love maintaining it and reaping the benefits. Read about the benefits of gardening with kids as well as to see the gardening tips and tricks I have here.

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

4. Obstacle Course

Our kids love challenging themselves with this simple obstacle course put together with nothing more than some old tires, boards, and a few screws.

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

5. Teepee

I got the idea for this teepee from the one my mom made in their field and from the one at Blanford Nature Center in their natural play area. Every year we add more sticks, stalks, old vines, etc. to it, and the kids love using it for imaginative play.

Our Backyard Teepee

Our Backyard Teepee

6. Stepping Stumps

This was another idea I got from Blanford Nature Center. Whenever we see someone chopping down a tree, my husband races over with his pick up truck to collect the stumps. The kids love walking back and forth on them and jumping into the sand that is piled below.

How to Make Stepping Stumps

How to Make Stepping Stumps

7. Hills

The first hill we made was unplanned. As we were digging up the sod for our sandbox, we decided to pile it up making a little hill. We were surprised at how much our little ones loved running up and down it, so we got some dirt and added a few more. This slide has also been a really fun touch.

Our Big Hill

Our Big Hill

8. Tent

I love setting up an outdoor tent in the spring, summer, and fall as both a holding tank for blankets, toys, and books, as well as a retreat for anyone wanting to duck away from the wind, cold, sun, or people.

Our Backyard Tent

Our Backyard Tent

9. Sports Equipment

I love having a basket with a variety of sports equipment that the kids can use freely. We have soccer balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, frisbees, baseball bats and balls, rubber kick balls, and more.

Sports Equipment

Sports Equipment

10. Swing Set

We initially got a swing set like this at our local shopping market, but we always wanted a big wooden structure like this. As luck would have it, we knew someone getting rid of one for free! It took three guys seven hours to take apart and put back together, but it has been perfect for our older children.

Swing Set

Swing Set


Wooden Play Structure

Wooden Play Structure

11. Electric Cars

For a brief time in my childhood I remember having electric cars, and my brother and I LOVED them! We now have an electric dune buggy, jeep, and mini four wheeler for our kids, and they get used every time we go outside. This is the 3rd summer we’ve had them, and with the exception of some new rechargeable batteries, they have held up very well.

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

12. Water Pouring Station

In the winter, I have been brave enough to bring this inside, but in the summer, it is so nice to have the mess outside! My little ones play with this water table every day. I like having some kind of table (like this tool bench) nearby to hold the cups, teapots, buckets, and other pouring supplies. I also love having it near the sandbox so they can incorporate sand into their water play.

Water Pouring Station

Water Pouring Station

13. Playhouse

Having a playhouse encourages all kinds of imaginative play. The kids love this one especially because of the little seats, windows that open and shut, and small door. We usually pick a spot for the house to stay for the season because it kills the grass underneath, but you could always move it around.

Playhouse

Playhouse

14. Mini Kitchen

With the mini kitchen, we also have a kids sized picnic table, mini grill, and baskets of play food and plastic dishes. The kids love preparing pretend meals and feeding us hungry adults.

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

15. Basketball Hoop

Our daughter Ophelia has particularly enjoyed this basketball hoop. She stands on a little stepping stool and the balls are collected in this little wagon. And of course we have an adult sized hoop as well. We debated laying some concrete, but have enjoyed simply having the ability to shoot baskets.

Basketball Hoops

Basketball Hoops

In Conclusion

Occasionally, we do like to go places, but mostly we just enjoy staying home. Between the 26 learning stations we have inside and the fun we’ve created outside, our kids are never bored and neither are we.

Here’s a video of us getting our yard ready for summer last year. You can really see how much things have changed!

Embracing Motherhood How to Build a Sandbox

How to Build a Sandbox

It’s that time of year when the kids are out of school and all of the possibilities that they ever dreamed of are at their fingertips, and yet what do you hear when you unleash them into the wilderness of your yard, “I’M BORED!” Well, thankfully, we haven’t really ever heard our kids say that over the summer, and having this sandbox is part of the reason why. Between this and our stock tank pool, we are all set.

Neither my husband or I are really very “handy” people and this was really one of the first building projects we ever took on together. But overall, it was a fairly simple and straightforward process that has yielded a tremendous amount of fun for the children. If you have even a bit of land, I would highly recommend building a sandbox for your little ones. Not only will it provide endless hours of fun, but it will also provide them an opportunity to play barefoot in the earth which is an excellent source of antioxidants.

Materials

  • Wood
    • Four 4″ x 4″ Posts – 12 inches long, for the corners
    • Four 2″ x 10″ Boards – for the edges
  • Wood Screws – a whole bunch
  • Power Drill – cordless is best
  • Weed Blocker – absolutely essential for keeping weeds out
  • River Sand (100 cubic feet for a 10′ x 10′ sandbox) – We got ours delivered from Bill Whaling Excavating in Reed City, MI for $100.

Material Notes

  • Pressure Treated Wood: By 2013 all CCA (chromated copper arsenate) was phased out of use in pressure treated wood and replaced with AC (alkaline copper) and ACQ (quaternary ammonium compounds). These pesticides (which are meant to prevent rotting from insects and fungus) still pose some health risks, but are not the cancer causing hazard of CCA. The 4′ x 4’s we purchased were pressure treated, but the rest of the wood we got was not. If you purchased some wood and you’re concerned about the risks, you can always just paint over it with a sealer, which I recommend doing anyways.
  • Safe Sand: Look out for sand made with crystalline silica because it is a carcinogen that can cause damage to the lungs when breathed in (something your little ones will be doing a lot of in the sandbox). Much of the play sand found in stores today is not natural sand, but derived from quarried quartz rocks. The state of CA actually requires a warning label to be put on this sand to warn of the dangers. Some people have opted for using pea gravel or other substances instead of sand, but we just contacted a local gravel company and purchased some river bed sand.

Directions

  1. Location: Find a place that has shade (something we didn’t do that I wish we had), good drainage (not at the bottom of a hill), and is in a good location for you to see while you putz around.
  2. Measure and Mark: Measure out how big you want your sandbox and mark your corners. We made ours 10′ x 10′, and I feel like it is the perfect size. You’ll want to dig a few inches outside of where you want the sandbox. Better to dig too much than not enough!
  3. Dig the Corners: Take your time to make sure the corners line up and everything makes a nice looking square. You’ll want your  corners to be a few inches deeper than the rest of the sandbox for your posts to go in.
    Digging the Corners for Our Sandbox

    Digging the Corners for Our Sandbox

  4. Dig the Sod: The toughest part of all of this was digging up the sod. We have a lot of rocks in our yard, and that made it extra tough. Plus, it was barely spring and the ground was still frozen when we started. (Yes, we were itchin’ for warmer weather!)
    digging sod for sandbox

    Digging Out the Sod for Our Sandbox

  5. Use That Sod: We actually used all of the sod and dirt we dug up to make a little hill in our yard. Over time, the sod pieces all came together, and now we have a nice little grassy hill that our kids (our toddler especially) love climbing on.
  6. Dig Down (if you want): Our ground was too rocky and still slightly frozen, so we did not. But if you could, I think it would be good to dig down another 6 to 12 inches to allow more room for the sand.
  7. Level the Ground: Try to get the ground as level as you can. You can just eyeball it or use a rake to really even it out.
  8. Weed Blocker: We went to our local lumber store and got something like this. I like it because it prevents the weeds from growing through the sand, but it also allows for drainage (which you will need if your kids want to make castles with moats and flood the sandbox as ours frequently do). I know that some people lay down plastic and poke holes in it, but I’m not sure that would provide enough drainage.
    laying the weed blocker for the sandbox

    Laying Out the Weed Blocker for Our Sandbox

  9. Stain the Wood: We stained our wood with an exterior stain like this. These saw horses came in really handy for laying out the wood. We were worried about the rain, so we wanted to keep the wood under our overhang, but to this day (one year later) we still have drips of stain on our concrete. For this reason, I wish we would have done it in the grass.
    staining wood for sandbox

    Scott Staining the Wood for Our Sandbox

  10. Make the Sandbox Frame: We are not really handy people and this was the first thing we ever really built together. We made a few mistakes, but overall, it was still a pretty simple procedure that turned out rather well. First, we cut the four posts to be 12′ long using a circular saw. Next, we used our power drill and some wood screws to attach the 10″ planks to the posts. We made the mistake of not attaching the planks to the posts in an even pattern all the way around. Scott drew a quick little sketch to show the wrong way and the right way. 🙂
    Wrong Way

    Wrong Way

    Right Way

    Right Way

    sandbox frame

    Sandbox Frame

  11. Put the Frame in Place: When you lay the frame down, you want it to lay over the weed blocker. There should be a small gap inbetween the frame and the dirt that you will fill in later with loose dirt. Step on all of the posts to push them into the ground as much as you can. Then, fill in all around the frame with dirt until it is secure.
    Laying Down the Sandbox Frame

    Laying Down the Sandbox Frame

  12. Fill with Sand: When we moved into this house, we knew that we wanted a sandbox and a fence to be put in. We were smart to put the sandbox in before the fence because I’m not sure that this truck would have fit through our gate! Anyways, we just contacted a local gravel company and had our sandbox filled for $100. He said he was fine giving us as much as we wanted for that $100, so I told him “when” when I thought we had quite enough sand!
    truck with sand for sandbox

    Getting Ready to Dump the Sand for Our Sandbox

    sand delivery

    Sand Delivery for Our Sandbox

  13. Extra Sand: We loaded up the wheelbarrow and put one load of extra sand where we wanted to put our stock tank pool and another extra load where we wanted to create a mini sandbox.
    extra sand for stock tank pool

    Extra Sand for Our Stock Tank Pool

    extra sand by tree for small sandbox

    Extra Sand for a Mini Sandbox Under the Tree

    grandpa helps with the sandbox chairs

    Grandpa Helped Us Build Some Sandbox Chairs

  14. Make a Cover (Optional): Every blog that I read about building a sandbox included directions for making a cover. We researched many different options and decided to attach a cover that folded out. We had every intention of actually attaching our cover in order to keep out our cats and any other critters, but it just never worked out and we never did attach the darn thing. I didn’t like how we would have had to take out all of our sandbox toys in order to close the cover. Plus, I didn’t want to kill the grass on either side if the cover were to be left open. We just keep an eye on our cats to keep them from using it as a litter box, and even though, yes, we find a turd in there from time to time, I’m glad we didn’t go with the cover.
    playing in the sandbox with a cover

    Optional Cover for Our Sandbox

Time to Play: We have had our sandbox for over a year now, and our kids have played in it every single time we have gone outside. It provides endless hours of imaginative play, and the kids absolutely love it!

playing in the sandbox

Our First Week Playing in Our New Sandbox

Playing in our Sandbox One Year Later

Playing in our Sandbox One Year Later

Building a Volcano with a Moat in a sandbox

Building a Volcano with a Moat in Our Sandbox

Tips and Tricks: Here are a few things that have helped us to enjoy our sandbox even more.

  • No Throwing Sand: Right away, we made a rule about not throwing the sand out of the sandbox, and that is why one year later we still have plenty of sand. We have never been super strict about this rule and encourage the children to dump globs of sand into our little pools if they so desire, but we also encourage them to not go overboard with it.
  • Play with Them: At first, we played with them in the sandbox a lot to help give them ideas for how to use it. We showed them how to make sandcastles, how to bury treasures and find them, how to play imagination games, how to dig moats and make rivers, and how to play with the sandbox toys. We still get in there and play with them from time to time because, hey, it’s fun!
  • Sand and Water: If you want to take your sandbox fun to the next level, just introduce a hose into the mix. You can show kids how to carve out moats and rivers or just let them bury the nozzle of the hose and watch the water bubble out. We also like putting our mini pools near the sandbox so the kids always have access to some sort of water.

In Conclusion

If you could only add one thing to your yard to entertain young children, I would say make it a sandbox! Every time we play outdoors, the kids spend time playing in the sandbox. It entertains them for hours and hours, and they absolutely love it. If you’re looking for another fun summer project, I would also highly recommend making a stock tank swimming pool. Between this and the sandbox, our kids are very entertained. They also enjoy our stepping stumps, teepee, and backyard obstacle course. The summer is such a fun time to do outdoor projects that encourage kids to have fun and play outside, so make the most of it!