Bucket and Rope Contraption for Backyard Play

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

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 space.

Open-ended play equipment encourages children to use their imagination, take calculated risks and play creatively.    This bucket and rope contraption is a proof that the sometimes the most basic activities are the best.

When I rigged up this bucket and rope a couple of years ago, it quickly became one of the most popular pieces of outdoor play equipment in our backyard.

bucket on a rope, filled with pool noodles

  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 tie a rope to the handle of a bucket.  Toss the rope up and over the branch of a tree, and secure 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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  1. Melodie says

    I’ve been trying to think of a way to put a pully bucket system on my tower playclimber. thanks for the very simply concept!

  2. says

    squeal! I’ve just realised I could hang a bucket on a rope from the roof of the playhouse balcony so goblin can host things up to his house. oh you are too cool.

    • happyhooligans says

      Thanks so much for featuring our humble bucket and rope, Allison! Isn’t it a crazy-simple idea?

  3. fultilt says

    Either you’re retarded or you dont have kids…not real ones at least. This would result in a sure fire trip to the er at my house

    • Sarah says

      The only way I can conceive of this contraption resulting in a trip to the ER is if a child were to purposely swing it at someone’s head. If your child were doing that, then the ER trip is the least of your worries and perhaps firmer parenting on appropriate behavior is in order.

    • says

      Perhaps happyhooligans can recommend a method to helmet and bubblewrap fultilt’s children so they can be protected from the poor parenting indicated by the obvious lack of maturity in the original comment. If fultilt’s kids can’t play with this without injuring themselves, well, perhaps the “mentally challenged” slur should be redirected.

    • Linda says

      It is nothing but “wrong” to use the word “retarded”. There by the Grace of God go I. If you don’t agree with an idea, just walk on by and don’t show your ignorance by leaving inappropriate comments.

  4. Yvonne Bentley says

    looks like fun, great motor skills. My nephew installed a flying fox in his garden. kept the kids entertained.

  5. glug says

    What do you do with the loose end of the rope? Is it tethered in some way? I can imagine my son walking off with the bucket and me forever being asked to rehang the rope over the branch….

    • happyhooligans says

      No, the loose end is secured to the base of the tree, and if they manage to get the bucket all the way up to the branch, the branch acts as a stopper – the bucket can’t go up and over the branch, so they just have to lower it back down. Essentially, it can’t come off the branch if you get what I mean, Emma.

  6. Vicky Merrifield says

    Since I have extra rope left over from our new tightrope, I’m going to set this up this weekend. My concern was the bucket going over the branch to come careening down the other side, but you’ve answered my concern. Thanks

  7. carolyn says

    I’d love to set something like this up for my daughter but we don’t have any mature trees in our yard (new build). I am trying to figure out if you could attach a pulley system to a fence and still get the same effect…. any thoughts or experience with something like that? Thanks!

    • happyhooligans says

      What about one of those sign or plant hangers that you screw to a wall, and they extend out from the building? You could mount one high up on a wooden fence?

      • carolyn says

        That’s genius! Why hadn’t I thought of that?! I just went straight to looking at pulleys and they are all small and don’t hang far enough away from the fence! Thanks for the idea! I will have to try it out!

  8. Susan says

    Sorry for the stupid question, but if you hoist the rope over a jungle gym pole top, and the kids are on top of the jungle gym, how do they get the bucket up? In other words not from floor level up. Thanks for an awesome idea!

  9. Lori says

    Thank you for sharing this! My husband bought a little pulley and we tied a bucket to each end of the rope, and our son has been experimenting with balancing the weight all afternoon. With this and your water cooler idea, our yard has become the ultimate summer fun spot. Thank you!

  10. Danielle says

    I cant believe something so simple could entertain for so long, wow! Definitely giving this one a go

    • happyhooligans says

      There isn’t an actual “pulley”, Rosemary. It’s just a simple rope system. It’s explained in a sentence or two up near the top of the post.

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