Traditional playgrounds are places with equipment like swingsets and monkey bars, which are meant to be used in specific ways. By contrast, a playscape invites and encourages play, especially the freeform variety.
Playscapes also usually blend into the landscape more organically than playgrounds, and they are typically built to help prevent falling and other dangerous situations. While playscapes are fascinating and attractive, they’re tricky to create. Landscape architects devote a lot of thought to inventing spaces that are both inviting and safe to play in. But, with a little creativity and guidance, you can create a playscape in your own backyard.
What Makes a Great Playscape?
If you’re putting together your first playscape, you’ll quickly realize there’s a dizzying range of options available to you. And, when you start factoring in things you build or create yourself, it’s easy to get completely overwhelmed. Take into account the following factors when making decisions:
Playscape equipment doesn’t just have to bear the weight of your children and their friends without collapsing — it also needs to withstand four seasons of weather. Wood is easier to build with, but a plastic or metal set usually lasts longer.
If you’re giving up some of your yard to your kids, you might not care what the neighbors think. But, while many of the most fascinating playscapes are sprawling wonderlands, it’s better to leave those at your local parks department. Ideally, you want play equipment that doesn’t take up too much of your yard and matches the rest of it.
Though some grown-ups get nostalgic for them, the days of terrifying roundabouts and hard falls on asphalt are long gone. Most modern playscapes include a layer of mulch, gravel, sand or even rubber to protect against injuries. Make sure any wood on your playscape is painted and sealed to prevent splinters, and consider putting a layer of plastic around swing chains so delicate fingers don’t get pinched.
You may have a grand idea for a playscape, but your kids’ imagination is probably bigger than yours. Simplicity is often best — kids can take a simple suggestion, or a couple of playscape elements (like a unique sandbox and blackboard), and turn them into something fantastic. By keeping your playscape unique but simple, you’ll create something that will grow with your children, no matter what kind of play they enjoy.
Simplicity isn’t just ideal for the convenience of kids — it’s best for adult wallets, too. Repurposing old elements, like worn-out tires or leftover lumber from a project, is often cheaper and involves more creativity (for your kids and you) than buying a huge, expensive playset.
Climbing builds grip and upper body strength, and kids love to see how high they can go. Your yard may already have a good climbing tree or two — one with sturdy limbs at a child-friendly height. But a tree with thick limbs that are low enough for kids to grab is also likely to make lawn mowing and other chores a hassle. And many parents balk at the thought of their children exploring a tree’s fragile upper limbs.
A ladder or rope up to a safe branch on a tree might satisfy your kid’s desire to climb. A rope net is a great way not only to climb but also to fall safely. Many prebuilt playsets come with ladders and ropes for traveling up and down the structure, as well as perches and other landing points on which to stand or sit.
Some outlets sell unique climbing pieces; for instance, walls with nubby protrusions, like you might use for rock climbing. And don’t forget the possibilities that a nicely sized hill can hold. If you live in a climate that’s cold in winter, piling up even a little snow for your kids in the backyard can be fun for them.
Make sure your children have a nice place to rest once they’ve made their ascent, and ascertain that everything’s appropriately sized. A climbing apparatus that’s too small will be swiftly outgrown, but if it’s too big or too high, smaller children will have trouble using it or may seriously injure themselves if they fall.
Swing, Swing, Swing
Kids love to swing, hang and spin, and parents may get nervous when their kids do so. While it’s also important to keep an eye on your kids, providing a soft landing can prevent a lot of injuries.
Tire swings are an old favorite, and it’s easy to use ropes, drill them in a plank and hang the swing from a sturdy branch. In general, swingsets comprising more than two swings are probably too large for a backyard. Monkey bars are good, but make sure the grips are smooth or your child may get frustrated and leave them be.
The range of options for building a playscape are truly impressive. Ask your kids what they’d like, keep your project simple and don’t be afraid to research what other parents have done.
With a little work and creativity, you’ll build a fun, versatile playscape that will become an indelible memory of your kids’ childhood. All that’s left to do is have some fun in the sun.
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