Bucket and Rope Contraption for Backyard Play

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Rig up a simple bucket and rope contraption in your backyard!  It will provide hours of open-ended play for toddlers and preschoolers!

bucket on a rope, filled with pool noodles

When it comes to outdoor activities for toddlers and preschoolers, I’m all about keeping it simple; especially when it comes to our backyard play area.  Open ended, simple play equipment like our play-logs and sandbox encourage children to use their imagination, take calculated risks and play creatively.  What’s not to love about that?  This simple bucket and rope contraption is a proof that the simplest activities are sometimes the best. When I rigged up this bucket and rope in our backyard a couple of years ago, it quickly became one of the most popular pieces of outdoor play equipment.  Two years later, it still is!

kids lined up to use our bucket and rope contraption

Despite its simplicity, this “pulley-system” has provided hundreds of hours of open-ended, imaginative play since I rigged it up. And making one couldn’t get any easier!

How to make a bucket and rope contraption for your own backyard:

Simply type a rope to the handle of a bucket.  Toss the rope up and over the branch of a tree, and tie the loose end of the rope to something at ground level.  For us it’s either the clothesline pole or the base of the tree.

2 preschoolers having fun with the bucket and rope contraption

The hooligans fill the bucket with whatever treasures they can find: pinecones, sticks, stones, mud, dirt, water, you name it; if it’s not tied down, it’s likely found itself in the bucket at one time or another.

loading up the bucket with sticks

Then they hoist the bucket as far into the air as they can get it, and they lower it down again.two kids hoist the bucket

To prevent anyone from getting bonked on the head, I encourage them to lower it slowly, which is an added exercise in co-ordination.investigating the bucket

Occasionally a single hooligan can be found playing at the bucket, experimenting with the mechanics of it all, but most often, two children will gather there, collaborating over a joint task,

bucket and rope

working together, lifting their loot high into the air.

working together to lift the bucket

It’s amazing really, the bucket doesn’t lead to anywhere, and it doesn’t do anything particularly exciting.  In fact it does the same thing every single time someone decides to operate it.   And yet, every single day,

winter play - a bucket and a rope

every single time we’re outside, summer, spring, winter or fall, they come back to that bucket time and time again.

The youngest ones raising it only a foot or two with a single pull,

toddler hoisting the bucket and rope

until they learn the hand-over-hand method necessary to lift the bucket high off the ground.


The bucket has been changed up a few times over the years, most recently to this galvanized metal bucket, which I love.


It’s bigger than our old plastic buckets, so they can really load it up, and there’s no fear of it getting brittle or cracking in the winter time.


The only thing is it’s a little heavier than the plastic buckets we’d used up until now.


I’m not sure that the children would consider that a drawback though.  They just have to put a little more muscle into their work than they did before, and that’s half the fun of it.

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Yours in play, Jackie from Happy Hooligans
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