Do you dream of having your kids and their friends play for hours in the yard, while you read your summer novel and drink iced tea? To help you realize this summer fantasy, we asked readers for their favorite outdoor play strategies.
"When they were younger we bought them online, but now they are into DYI and it's great!"
"Made water bombs out of dollar-store sponges and zip ties! Has saved us tons of money and clean up on water balloons!"
Tunnel of vines
"Cattle panel garden arbor. I grow peas and beans and it becomes a tunnel of vines. My kids also climb on it occasionally."
Count to tent
"Our son is 12 now, but when he was younger what was super fun outside was one of those small shade tents people use on the beach. We set one of those pop-up ones up in our backyard for the whole summer. It was his secret, shaded place to read books, collect rocks on there and stay cool."
"The instant water balloons at Costco! They keep my boys (ages 2 and 4) entertained for so long! The oldest can fill them up by himself, and then after they throw all of them, they have a clean-up game."
"When my kids were younger, we made a giant slip-and-slide out of an old tarp. It didn't 'slip' as we hoped so we added a bar of soap - the kids soaped themselves up and slid away! No need for a bath that night!"
"Trampoline! Our kids are ages 15 months to 5 years! ALL play on it and find new ways to do so together and separately!! Springfree Trampoline is the way to go!"
"We have a bug house made at the Home Depot Build Event. We keep it in the back yard and as we catch the garden frog, we put it in it. At night, we let the frog go, then start the catch and let go fun all over again."
Hammock it up
"The FatBoy Hammock — we've had it for years (we store it inside during the winters) and it has been a pirate ship, the Titanic, and a great place to read together with kids as it holds a few people at once!"
"A simple water sprinkler does the trick. Throw in some buckets and you are all set. Even better, our older kids have used the sprinkler to spray our play structure slide and turned it into a water slide."
"Fill a bucket with small toys and water. Freeze it. Have the kids chip away at it to 'free' their toys. Make homemade juice Popsicles to enjoy afterward."
"A children's basketball hoop set up in (or just outside of) the kiddie pool. My kids loved making baskets and splashes at the same time!"
"Whenever we prune our trees, we pile all the branches in a corner of the yard for our 5-year-old daughter to play with. She's made a huge life-size nest for herself, ridden her stick ponies, created a barn, and just generally found hours and hours of use for those branches."
"Our tent! While we go camping at least once every summer, I find that a tent in our backyard provides days of fun for our kids. They turn it into a fort, a castle, a hideout, a 'base.' A place to read and create art or picnic. At night we will let them sleep outside in it and they will take flashlights and glow sticks and tell stories. They love the independence of being "out of the house alone" and my husband and I always hear them laugh and laugh."
"Old pots for mud and grass. Mud pies are fun longer than you might think!"
"My daughter loves to make running and jumping courses for herself in the yard. She'll use whatever toys, buckets and random items she can find and run and jump over them. She's 11, and she's been doing this for years."
"We have a homemade bug house that sits in the backyard. When we catch a frog, a butterfly or a dragonfly in the backyard, we would put them it for the day and then let them go at night."
Cooking up fun
"My kids are 3.5 years old and 1.5 years old. The best outdoor play feature are a few plastic dish buckets and kitchen utensils and some balls, cars and play dishes and they have sand/dirt in one, water in another, and the third to hold leaves, toys, etc and the possibilities are endless: playing house with mud pies and washing dishes, pretending, making mud, washing cars, etc..."
Setting the sensory table
"I made a sand, water and rice table for my son last year that was a big hit. See these instructions."
Shoot 'em up
"Army men and a squirt gun for my 5-year-old: Line them up, knock them down. For less military-industrial complex-centric, could do plastic animals and water balloons."