Play Structures

Do you want to make your play yard more interesting and functional for your kiddos?  Spring is a great time to put new effort into your yard, to remind the kids (and yourself) that the yard is an interesting place to be, not just a place to look at through the window.  And play structures are a great way to do that.  Of course, structures area big commitment and can feel intimidating.  You want something that is age-appropriate, but that will retain interest as your children grow.  It has to fit your budget, whether big or small.  What types of structures are worth it?

Good play structures stimulate both physical activity and imaginative play.  Let’s take a look:

Play Houses to Foster Imaginationagaf painting 2

Play-houses are great for promoting imaginative play, whether your child is a young toddler or a kindergartener.  In order to stimulate imaginative play in older toddlers and preschoolers, you don’t need to (and actually don’t want to) get too detailed of a structure.  The reason for this is that the more detailed the structure, the less versatile it becomes.  A thin slice of a tree stump can be a plate or a frisbee or a stepping stone through hot lava, but a toy teapot has a hard time being anything other than a teapot.  The same with play structures: a generic playhouse can be a home or a school or a market stall, while a detailed market stall setup with a sign and awning and toy fruit in baskets has a hard time being anything other than a market stall.  Here to the right, some of our Rainbow Bridge kids are helping my dad repaint our play-house.

trellis houseYou can get a pretty decent wood play-house at Costco for a couple hundred bucks, but even if you’re on a shoestring budget, you can make something great for kids.  This picture to the left is a little “house” I made from two plastic trellises ($15 at Home Depot).  I cut one in half and zip-tied them together.  I straightened the vertical side with some stakes, and then trained a grape vine over the whole thing.  Voila!

Or of course you can grow your own play house, for just a couple of bucks!  Here’s my famous bean teepee below.  Just have a sunny spot where deer won’t eat it.  I used bamboo poles tied together at the top, and these are Scarlet Runner beans:

in the bean tipi 4





Bridges to Foster Activity

While I was living in London, almost every park had a low-slung climbing structure of some sort, many looking like bridges.  These are really great, because kids can climb and swing and really challenge themselves, without us having to worry about long falls.  Take a look at these fun climbing bridges I saw at Victoria Park in east London:

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Imagination and Activity Together

Finally, I want to share a fabulous play structure that I saw during a visit to the University of East London Children’s Garden.  This play structure is really just a platform with a funky railing, and lots of different ways to get up and down: a slide, a ramp, some steps, a climbing net.  It looks like a castle, a pirate ship, a house, anything!  Take a look:




On one side there’s  long, gentle ramp leading up, with a gorgeous archway at the end:









Here’s the back side, where kids can climb up:







And finally, there’s great play-space underneath, with hidey-space and a tunnel under the slide:





Here it is from farther away:







Feeling inspired?  How can you make your outdoor space better for engaging your children’s bodies and imaginations?


  1. […] Teepee at Joyful Toddlers – combine the love of gardening and imaginative play by training runner beans up a play […]

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