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20 Brilliant Backyard Play Ideas From Readers

You’ll never hear ‘I’m bored’ with these ingenious yard toys and DIY games

Author Elisa Murray

Published on: April 29, 2022

sprinkler boy

Do you dream of having your kids and their friends play for hours in the backyard 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. 


1. Stomp rockets

“When they were younger, we bought them online, but now they are into DIY and it's great!”



2. Sponge bombs

“Made water bombs out of dollar-store sponges and zip ties! Has saved us tons of money and cleanup on water balloons!”

3. 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.”

4. Count to tent

“When our son 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 in there and stay cool.”


5. Ballooning around

“We discovered instant water balloons at Costco! They kept my boys entertained for so long! The oldest could fill them up by himself, and then after they threw all of them, they had a clean-up game.” Editor's note: While these are not currently available at Costco, they can be purchased here

6. DIY slip and slide

“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!”

Springfree Trampoline

7. Bounce away

“Trampoline! Our kids all play on it and find new ways to do so together and separately!! Springfree Trampoline is the way to go!”

8. Bug studies

“We have a bug house made at the Home Depot Build Event. We keep it in the backyard 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.” Editor's note: While a build event might not be offered in your area, Home Depot has many kits and instructional DIY videos for kids. With a variety of skill levels and time commitments, there is a project for everyone!

9. Hammock it up

“The Fatboy Hammock — we've had it for years (we store it inside during the winter) and it has been a pirate ship, the Titanic and a great place to read together with the kids as it holds a few people at once!”


10. Old-school sprinkler

“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, turning it into a water slide.”



11. Freeze frame

“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.”

12. Hoop dreams

“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!”

13. Branching out

“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.”

14. Backyard campout

“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 have a 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.”


15. Muddy fun

“Old pots for mud and grass. Mud pies are fun longer than you might think!”

16. Obstacle courses

“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 been doing this for years.”

17. Critter studies

“My kids love gardening and all things creepy-crawly, so last year we set up a worm bin in the backyard. They are endlessly delighted by it and love taking turns feeding their ‘pets’ from the compost bin.”


18. Cooking up mud fun

“The best outdoor play feature is a few plastic dish buckets, kitchen utensils and some balls, cars and play dishes; my kids put sand/dirt in one, water in another, and the third holds leaves, toys, etc. The possibilities are endless: playing house with mud pies and washing dishes, pretending, making mud, washing cars, etc.”

19. 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.”

20. 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 sport, you could use plastic animals and water balloons.”

Editor's note: This article was originally published a few years ago and updated for summer 2022. 

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