Can you create a magical, exciting and engaging outdoor play space for your child for a few dollars? You bet you can! You don’t need oodles of space or fancy toys and equipment to have the best backyard on the block.
My daycare hooligans will attest to the fact that it’s the simple things that kids love best! Good, old-fashioned, simple activities and play set-ups that spark the imagination, foster creativity, challenge their physical abilities and engage their minds and their senses.
Today, I’m sharing 18 simple, super-cool and FREE (or almost free) features to add to your backyard play space. All of these ideas are simple to set up, the materials are easy to come by, and I promise, if you look hard enough, you can probably create the coolest back yard around for no more than a few bucks!
** Some of these activities have click-able links that will take you to the full post with instructions and details. Others are simply photographs to inspire you.
18 super-cool, fun, free things to add to your backyard play space
Mobile Mud Pit
Want a mud-pit without sacrificing your lawn? Click here to check out our mobile mud-pit! Easy set up, easy clean up, and you can tuck it away at the end of the day.
If you know anyone who’s having a tree cut down, see if you can score some play logs! They’re one of the most versatile and popular features in our backyard. Click here to see ours in action, and to find out more about them.
Pool Noodle Abacus
A backyard “abacus” is simple to make and provides lots of fun and learning. The toddlers love this one. Click here to learn more about our pool noodle abacus.
Re-purpose an old white board
Got a white board that’s too marked up to use anymore? Move it outdoors! The hooligans got a couple of seasons of outdoor art out of this white board that was headed for the trash. Here, we’re painting with mud. *photo only/no link
Backyard Balance Beam
A few scrap pieces of wood make a perfect balance beam for a budding, young gymnast. It provides hours of pretend play and exercise and I can tuck it out of the way at the end of the day. Click here to see more of our outdoor balancing activities for toddlers and preschoolers.
A Rope and a Bucket
Without question, this is one of the absolute best things I’ve ever added to a backyard play area. The hooligans play with this contraption year round. I love that it’s not only great for strengthening little muscles, it also fosters team work, critical thinking and co-operation. See how I rigged up our Bucket Contraption here.
Homemade Water Wall
I made this water wall out of recyclables 4 years ago, and the hooligans are still playing with it. It’s provided them with hours and hours of fun and learning over the years. See how I made our water wall here.
Our tire swing is another one of the most loved features in our back yard. An old tire, hung horizontally is perfect for one or for a bunch of kids to gather on. If your vehicle is due for new tires – perfect! If not, check with a local garage or service station. They may happily donate one to your backyard project. *photo only/no link
I rigged up this simple clothesline years ago. Secured tightly so it’s not a safety concern, it’s just at the right height for the hooligans to use. Our clothesline provides lots of opportunity for pretend play, and it’s great for teaching life skills, and developing co-ordination and fine-motor skills. Read more about our clothesline activities here.
Rocks and Stones
We’ve picked up loads of rocks and stones and even pebbles at the beach over the years. The children always have access to the rocks and stones in the yard, and they play with them daily. They’re kind of our backyard version of the building block – completely open-ended, they can be whatever the hooligans want them to be. See 10 ways that we use our stones and rocks here.
Much like the water wall, our sand wall is also made entirely out of scraps and recyclables. It’s positioned in our sandbox, and it’s provided loads of entertainment over the years. Read about our sandbox and sand wall here.
Pick up a bunch of artificial flowers at the dollar store or at a thrift shop. Ours played with every single day. The kids hold “weddings”, they decorate the playhouse with them, they “plant” them in the sandbox. Not a day passes that these don’t get used in some creative manner. Check out one of my favourite artificial flower activities here.
DIY WATER TABLE/SENSORY TABLES
Water tables are awesome, but there was no way I was going to spend big money to get one when you can make your own so easily. I pull one of these together almost every day when the weather is nice. A storage bin set a top a bench or patio table or even an overturned (larger) storage container are all you need for all your water and sensory activities. If you don’t have storage containers, no worries – a child’s wagon also doubles as a water table for a group of kids to gather around. *photo only/no link
Backyard Tight Rope
Best thing ever! This is right up there with the tire swing and the rope and bucket contraption. We’ve had this in our yard for 3 years, and the hooligans use it every single day, all year long even when the snow practically buries the bottom rope. It’s just the best for co-ordination and gross-motor development. I’m not kidding when I say our tightrope has provided hundreds of hours of fun for kids from ages 1-7 over the years. Read all about it, and see how to make your own here.
Hoses and Funnels
A couple of old pool hoses (or vacuum hoses) pushed through a chain link fence provide hours of fun and learning. Pop a funnel (or the top section of a water bottle) into the top each hose, and little ones will be kept occupied and entertained for ages. Read all about our hose and funnel runs here.
Thrift Shop Coffee Table
One of the best but least expensive investments I ever made for my daycare was this thrift shop coffee table. I got it for 6 dollars, at a second-hand shop a couple of years ago, and we use it every day. In summer, it’s our backyard activity table, in winter it’s our art table in the craft room. Big enough for a crowd to gather around and water and paint spills don’t matter at all. See it in action here.
DIY Water Slide
For the price of an inexpensive camping tarp, you can give your kids a whole day of wet, water, slippy-slidey fun! ! We’ve been doing this for years here in my daycare, and the kids never tire of it. See how to make your own waterside here.
Add “running water” to your outdoor play space
And lastly, my super-inexpensive way to add a source of running water to your child’s backyard play area. A camping jug! Theyr’e in abundance at the second hand-stores around here, so if you don’t have one of your own, you can probably scoop up a used one for a couple of bucks! See some of the ways we use ours here.
And there you have it, 18 inexpensive, super-fun, super-cool things you can add to your outdoor play space this summer! Your kids (and your neighbours’ kids) will love you for it!
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