GeekDad UnWired: DIY Backyard Play Equipment

Geek Culture

Some PVC pipes, a saw, a drill, and a hose: Instant car wash. Image: Kathy CeceriSome PVC pipes, a saw, a drill, and a hose: Instant car wash. Image: Kathy Ceceri

Some PVC pipes, a saw, a drill, and a hose: instant car wash. Image: Kathy Ceceri

Having grown up in a world where four TV channels and AM radio were the only electronic distractions, I can understand why it’s so hard for kids to drag themselves outside on a nice day. That doesn’t mean I like it, however. Of course, the outdoors would be more attractive if play spaces for kids offered a little more challenge. Over the years I’ve watched as slides, swings and merry-go-rounds (the kind you push yourself) at our local parks and schools have been ripped out and replaced with climbing structures that are little more than a series of plastic ramps.

Thankfully, parents still have control over what goes in their own backyard. We’re lucky that the houses we’ve owned have come pre-equipped with actual tire swings hanging from actual trees. Our first swing was mounted horizontally, allowing for several little ones to swing at the same time. The boys and their dad also added a duplex treehouse (sandbox below, shady deck above) with a pretty fast slide. No WiFi, but it did feature an Adirondack twig-style railing (one neighbor thought it looked like the Swiss Family Robinson’s abode) and a basket on a pulley for serving lunch al fresco. (We adapted plans from How to Build Treehouses, Huts and Forts by David Stiles , written for kids and very useful for the beginner.) Sadly, I couldn’t convince my husband to include some of the great 60s-era ideas I found a DIY book his folks passed down to us called Children’s Rooms and Play Yards – things like a homemade trampoline, a fireman’s pole or a cargo net for climbing.

1969 Directions for a "giant construction toy" Image: Kathy Ceceri1969 Directions for a "giant construction toy" Image: Kathy Ceceri

1969 Directions for a "giant construction toy" Image: Kathy Ceceri

With kids who were really into building sets, there was one other project from that book I always hoped we’d make. It was a life-size outdoor construction set, made of pre-cut and pre-drilled 2X4s and boards. Using stove bolts and wingnuts, kids could make anything from a simple lean-to to a fort on stilts, complete with ladder. But even though it was nowhere near as substantial, we did come up with our own version of a fresh-air construction toy. Our set was made of PVC pipes and connectors, and the kids used it to build sculptures of dragons 15 feet long. By drilling a few holes into some of the pipes, attaching a metal hose connector, and hooking one some shower curtains the kids had decorated in art class it also made a dandy car wash for the Cozy Coupe! Making it involved nothing more complicated than a saw and a drill, and as long as you don’t lose the connectors (make sure to get a nice variety of angles) it’ll last forever.

What’s your family’s favorite DIY backyard equipment?

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