A boy climbs up a rope ladder into a tree in his backyard. He smiles at the camera.

How to make your backyard into an active play space

The typical suburban yard is a small or medium patch of grass—and not much else. But even in small yards, you can create a space that invites kids to move their bodies, get active, and keep busy all season long. Try these suggestions to turn a boring yard into an inviting, active play space.

Add loose parts

Tree stumps and a couple of boards can make for endless creative play for kids. They may choose to jump from stump to stump or build their own teeter-totter or balance beam. For my kids, the big deal is sticks. They build mini shelters with them, have “sword fights” (do this at your own discretion!), and try to balance on them. While not the most aesthetically pleasing option, loose parts leave room for something very important: change. Unlike a static play area that never changes, loose parts ensure that kids can come up with endless activity ideas using only a few basic items. Bonus: You can also stash them away! Here’s a little more on using loose parts for self-directed play at home.

Try a ninja line

It might just be my kids, but structured or static things get old for them pretty fast. If they can use things in new ways, that’s when they really get started with or engage in active free play. A ninja line is like a slackline you can use in your yard that offers a variety of movement opportunities for a fraction of the cost of a swing set (and takes up barely any permanent space). With options for rings, swings, monkey bars, etc., a ninja line is extremely versatile. You can string it up between two trees, or cement some supporting posts in opposite corners of the yard to keep it sturdy. Put it up whenever your little ninjas need to move and take it down whenever you want a blank slate.

Plant a tree

If you’re in your space for the long haul and your kids are still young, this one will not only benefit the planet, it will also provide a built-in climbing structure for your kids. On my son’s first birthday, we planted a tiny maple tree in the corner of our yard. Now, at age eight, it’s often his go-to option for swinging, climbing and exploring. From a tiny one-year-old crawling around on the grass to an eight-year-old who makes DIY swings and climbs trees, it’s really special to watch a tree grow (and your kids grow alongside it). As you can see from the photo below, we also built a treehouse, which does also get used—but the tree has honestly provided just as much play value as the playhouse!

A little boy climbs a tree in his suburban backyard.
Photo: Katharine Watts

Add water (and friends!)

Whether it’s with a sprinkler, water squirter, a splash pool, or my kids’ favourite (letting them play with the hose!) adding water brings kids to the yard—and often gets them running and laughing and moving their bodies in a no-pressure, fun way. This is especially true when they have friends over for water spraying battles. They end up soaked and thrilled. If you need some ideas on what to do, try these sprinkler games for some cool summer fun. And if you have young children, a water table can keep them entertained for hours!

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