Backyard Play ideas

11 Cheap Ideas to Revolutionize Backyard Play

Backyard play ideas - little girl on tire swing

It’s no secret that more and more of our kids are spending less time outdoors and more time in front of a screen on any given day. The sad news is, so are adults, and we should know better.

People are busy, there is more homework, and parents are afraid to let their kids roam around the neighborhood by themselves.

Why not kill two birds with one stone and create a dream space for the kids. Maybe when you are done, you will want to be out there more, too, and invite the neighbors over while you’re at it!

I know what my dream backyard space is: a stone patio, pergola covered with climbing roses and strung with bistro lights, outdoor kitchen complete with stone pizza oven, and an in-ground hot tub in a private nook.

However, all that comes at a high price, right? Not to mention back-breaking labor if you’re doing it all yourself.

Thankfully, what kids want out of a backyard is simpler and considerably cheaper to build. All of these ideas can be made using recycled material and they are simple enough to let kids use their imaginations as well as their bodies for endless variations.

Backyard Play Using Recycled Material

Living Structures

These magical structures can be as simple as making a sturdy teepee of long branches or 2x4s, winding around with twine or string, and planting climbing plants at the base. You could also use wattle construction, which is weaving thin and pliable branches together to form a wall. Garden teepees can be covered in pretty fabric or tarp, but it’s especially magical when your walls are live plants. You’ve instantly created shade (or potential shade), a spot to store some precious outdoor toys, and a special world just for your kids to read in, dream in, or go to on a beautiful Summer day.

In Ground Trampoline

Of course, buying a trampoline is not necessarily cheap. However, if you happen to already have one, what better way to make it safer and more accessible to kids than by digging a hole to sink it into the ground?


What backyard would be complete as a kids’ haven without a treehouse? Even a small cubby, not far off the ground, made from recycled wood would be a treasured hideaway for any boy. You can get as crazy as you want to get: connect two tree houses together with a rope bridge, or create a zipline down to the ground.

Let them get up using a rope ladder which they can pull up when they are inside. Or, attach a slide and let them climb up and slide down to their heart’s content. Just make sure not to nail or screw directly into the tree, as that can damage it, and consult with an engineer to make sure it’s safe and you’re good to go!

Hobbit Hole

If a tree house just isn’t your thing, maybe you can wow all the neighborhood kids by building your kids a hobbit hole. Are you familiar with hobbit holes? No? Go watch the 2001 epic The Fellowship Of The Ring based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings fantasy book series.

Even if your kids don’t know hobbits, they will adore having their own playhouse straight from a fairy tale. Build a little room right into a hill and attach a small door, or go bigger and build them a little cob playhouse right next to yours.

Building with cob will ensure you can make round windows and doors very easily and it very likely won’t fall down anytime soon. Imagine the endless hours of games of pretend that could go on in that space!

Outdoor Play Kitchen

If a playhouse – cob, hobbit or otherwise – is outside the budget or space constraints, consider building a simple outdoor play kitchen from recycled wood pallets.

It’s small size and relatively simple dimensions make it an ideal beginner carpentry project. In addition, if you mess up, the kids are probably relatively forgiving. Supply it with outdoor-happy pots and utensils and your kids could be busy making mud pies and leaf dishes for hours this summer

Homemade Stream

When my child was a toddler, we spent hours and hours every week at the local arboretum. Not just for the beautiful trees and lush landscaping, but because it had a children’s garden with a man-made stream.

This stream was full of satisfying smooth rocks for little boys to stack and throw. They could make dams and tear them down. They could wade, get completely wet, float boats, leaves and sticks and just generally have a grand time. The children never wanted to leave.

Of course, building something to that scale would require a lot of work and a lot of money. But, a little flowing stream with some smaller rocks is much more easily accomplished. PVC pipes cut in half, a slight incline, and a water-feature pump is all it would require other than some space, some planning, and some digging.

Just make sure your water meets the requirements that make it safe for all kinds of water play, as it will be recycled by the pump.

Turf Hill

This one is genius. One of our local parks has a hill – relatively small – covered in Astroturf. That’s it. That’s the whole attraction the kids come for. Add a piece of cardboard and kids are happy for hours sliding down that turf hill over and over.

I realize not all families have space for even a small hill in their backyard. However, if you have one and you can invest in a bit of Astroturf, you might just be thanking your lucky stars that you read this post.

Tire Swing

Everybody knows the fun of a tire swing. But with a little ingenuity, a tire swing can become a tire see-saw or a tire snowboard.

Climbing Wall

These are becoming more and more popular in playgrounds as climbing takes on popularity as a sport for big people and small people alike. Creating a kids climbing wall with recycled wood is relatively cheap and easy. Don’t put it over concrete, and don’t make it too high!

Wooden Jungle Gym

You can get as creative as you have sturdy branches to add. A wooden climbing structure can be free-form – just add branches and secure with twine or screws. As long as you make it sturdy enough for kids, they’ll have endless fun finding ways to climb around on it.


Wooden stumps make great play structures. Why take them to the local indoor mall to re-create what is available in nature? Add a couple of 2x4s to chain a few stumps together as a balance beam, or mass them all together at different heights to create a low climbing structure for smaller kids.


There are endless ways to create interest and fun for your kids right in your own backyard. I hope this inspires you to get outside, use your skills, and have some honest fun with those you love.


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