Rig up a simple bucket and rope “pulley” contraption in your backyard play space. It’s an easy, inexpensive DIY 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 area.
When I rigged up this bucket and rope a couple of years ago, my intention was to simply provide the children with a pulley system that they could play and experiment with. I had no idea it would quickly become one of the most popular pieces of outdoor play equipment in our backyard.
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.
Years later, it still is!
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 be any easier!
How to Make a Bucket/Rope Pulley System for Kids
- Tie the rope to the handle of your 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. (We tie ours to the base of the tree itself or to the base of the nearby clothesline pole.)
Learning through play
The hooligans fill the bucket with whatever treasures they can find. Think pinecones, sticks, stones, mud, dirt, water etc. Basically, if it’s not tied down, it’s likely found itself in the bucket at one time or another.
Then the kids hoist the bucket up as high as they can, and they lower it down again.
To prevent anyone from getting bonked on the head, I encourage them to lower it slowly, which is an added exercise in co-ordination.
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,
working together, lifting their loot high into the air.
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…
in summer, spring, winter or fall, the kids come back to that bucket time and time again.
The youngest children can only raise it a foot or two with a single pull,
but they soon figure out the hand-over-hand method that lifts the bucket high off the ground.
I’ve switched our bucket out a number of times over the years. At one time, it was a simple plastic beach pail. Most recently, we’ve switched to this galvanized metal bucket, which we love.
It’s bigger than our old plastic buckets, so the kids can really load it up. Plus, there’s no fear of it getting brittle or cracking in the winter time.
It is a little heavier than the plastic buckets we’ve used in the past, but the children don’t consider that a drawback.
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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Jackie is a mom, wife, home daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind Happy Hooligans. She specializes in kids’ crafts and activities, easy recipes, and parenting. She began blogging in 2011, and today, Happy Hooligans inspires more than 2 million parents, caregivers and Early Years Professionals all over the globe.
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!
Vandana M Khemka
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.
Oh, I am so doing that too! My kids always ask me to carry the pail full of cars/toys up into their playhouse. This would be much more fun for them!
Emj @ whattodowiththechildren.com
My son used to love this activity when he was the same age 🙂 thank you as it has brought back good memories 🙂
Amazing how sometimes the simplest things are the most entertaining for kids! Love this idea!
Oh the learning going on here is endless Jackie! My tree out front would serve as a great simple machine assistant.
so simple and fun! will try, thank you!
I LOVE this. Such a simple yet fantastic addition to a play space. I need to hunt down some rope and bucket. I featured this on The Sunday Showcase: http://www.learnplayimagine.com/2013/06/fun-in-sun-sunday-showcase.html
Thanks so much for featuring our humble bucket and rope, Allison! Isn’t it a crazy-simple idea?
This is definitely going on my to do list for the garden. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Kierna Corr (@CiarnaC)
Love the new bucket & bet they feel it is more real too! Thanks for joining in the Outdoor Play party too.
That looks like such a simple but amazing idea, I may have to try it.
Heather, Mmm... is for Mommy
If C had one of those running up to her playhouse, they would be using it all day long 🙂 Now to do it…
thank you so much for the idea, tried and tested and was really loved by my boy
So glad he loved it, Fay! Sometimes the simple stuff really is the best!
Do you rig the bucket to hang or do you leave the rope long and have it sit on the ground?
Ours hangs about a foot off the ground, Teresa.
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
Really, Fultilt? Do you think I staged the photos with artificial children?
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.
Well said sarah
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.
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.
Theres Just One Mommy
Sometimes simple really is best! We may need to add a bucket and pulley to our stepping logs area!
Fabulous projects for little ones and their grandmothers to do as well!
looks like fun, great motor skills. My nephew installed a flying fox in his garden. kept the kids entertained.
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….
It’s tied around the tree so no-one can walk off with it.
But don’t they pull it of the branch constantly?
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.
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
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!
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?
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!
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!
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!
I cant believe something so simple could entertain for so long, wow! Definitely giving this one a go
Your pattern doesn’t show the pulley and how to put it up!!!!!!
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.