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 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.