7 Great Play Structures for the Back Yard

Kids can entertain themselves for hours on the simplest of playground equipment, but when they have their friends over, or there are too many children in the household to share a swing or a tire on a rope, a play structure is an obvious choice. I know the play structure we installed at our house gets the most use when our kids’ friends are over.

A play structure has the advantage of not only giving the children a variety of activities, but allows their imaginations to run wild. A fort is always a fun place to hide in, protect, or try to capture. Climbing walls, vines or ropes help a child develop strength and coordination.

You can purchase a play structure as is, in about any size you wish, or in some instances take advantage of combo play structures, where you can join together two or more separate units.

We thought with summer finally here in the Pacific Northwest we would treat you to a set of great play structures, some for older kids, some for toddlers – bearing in mind that even a small play structure can seem pretty awesome to a toddler.

We’ll start with a play house we built for the 2005 Parade of Homes. One of my friends and neighbors liked it enough to bid on it once the show was over. As you can see, copper gutters and a built-in loft put this play house in the awesome category, though I think kids are generally happy with just about anything as long as it doesn’t have a bunch of spiders in it.

Fazzolari Play House

The CAD drawing below gives a sample of what a large play structure can look like. This particular model, by Miracle Recreation, covers an area of approximately 60 feet by 70 feet, and has among other features, an observation deck, a lookout tower, several types of climbers, including vine climbers, a slide climber, slides, and horizontal runways. This would be great for your the kids, but at $55,000+ it’s probably best for the local school’s playground. This one, in fact, reminds me a little of the one at the Felida park here in Vancouver.

Miracle Play Structure

In selecting a play structure of course you’re not limited to just those shown in brochures, as many manufacturers or retailers build their systems on a modular basis, giving the purchaser a highly customized end product. Some of these play structures come partially assembled, or are put together on site by the retailer or a contractor like us. Many, if not most, could be assembled by the homeowner, barring any restrictions on doing so out of safety or warranty considerations. Most of your larger and truly awesome play structures have foundations embedded in concrete. Smaller versions, such as those shown below, and designed for toddlers or those of preschool age are bolted down and can be somewhat portable.

Toddler playhouseChild Playhouse

The above play structures, also by Miracle, run in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $5,000 with many models to choose from.

As the children grow, so do the needs for a larger play structure, eventually getting to a size where Mom and Dad can sneak out for some time on the swings or recapture their youth by going down a slide.

The two examples shown below, both by Backyard Adventures, are of a modular construction, and can take on almost any shape or size. There’s no real requirement to purchase a large multi-functional structure if building one up module by module over time would better suit your needs.

Backyard Adventures features a concept which they call their Adventure Bridge, a component used for tying one or more structures together, as shown in the picture on the right. The bridge itself can be a home to a ship’s wheel, a telescope station, or when 5 feet or higher, become a perfect support for a tire swing. It’s not hard to visualize that given several bridges and several play structure modules, one could easily put together a play structure of truly awesome dimensions.

The structure on the left has these features:

  • A Tree house
  • A Cabin
  • A Lower Cottage (hidden from view)
  • A Sun deck and Porch
  • Lemonade Stand
  • 2 – 14′ Rocket Slides and a 12′ Slide
  • 12′ Rocket Slide
  • 2 – Adventure Bridges, with Binoculars and a Ship’s wheel, and possibly a Tire Swing.

I installed a set from Backyard Adventures for my kids, and it’s weathered pretty well over the past few years, as you can see from the photo below. (We got ours at The Kids’ Backyard Store in Portland, but you can also get residential ones at places like Costco – where prices start about $1,200.) Like any other piece of playground equipment, some periodic maintenance is going to be needed, but for the most part these structures tend to be low maintenance. I spray mine with the hose once a year and that’s pretty much it. Basically, these structures are designed and manufactured with heavy use in mind. One should reasonably expect to have playground equipment of this type in use for many years, perhaps for more than one generation, without a need for any significant repairs or replacement of parts.

Play Structure

When you stop to think about it, a play structure combined with other standard children’s recreational toys such as bikes, basketball hoops, or trampolines, is a much better investment than a second or third TV set, albeit much more expensive.

Most of us lived in an era where the backyard swing or swing tire pretty much made up our play “structure” and we couldn’t even visualized anything like the play structures currently available unless we visited a large city park or an amusement park. In more recent times, playground items like the “Jungle Gym” kept our kids busy, and when they grew up, it was the trampoline and the sports court where they spent many hours.

When you consider purchasing a play structure, whether it be an all in one package or you choose to go the modular route, you might think this is one of those play things the kids will quickly outgrow, after which it will stand neglected in the back yard. That’s always a possibility of course but through some careful choices it’s possible to “design” a structure that the children will have fun with for a number of years, after which children of guests and your extended family, and even your children’s children can have their turn.

A play structure such as some of those currently on the market can make a wonderful baby sitter while the adults visit. If you have family or friends over for a barbecue, the young ones will not constantly be underfoot once they see what’s out in the back yard.

Here’s hoping you have a great summer!

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