In this age of television and video games, it can sometimes be hard to get your kids up and moving. I’ve written about why it’s important to make the effort (see “Why You Should Turn Off Your Technology“) and inexpensive activities you can encourage your kids to do (see “Fun and Easy Ways to Be Active With Your Kids,” “30 Outdoor Activities” and “Scavenger and Treasure Hunts“) to help them be active. I realized that in my efforts to be budget-conscious, I have overlooked one of the best ways parents can motivate their kids to get exercise—purchasing play equipment for the backyard. Obviously, each family faces its own financial constraints so I don’t want to convince you to splurge on a $10,000 swimming pool if your budget doesn’t allow for that. However, I will share some ideas for items that most families can afford (perhaps after saving up for them) that are worth the expense.
My kids spend HOURS jumping on our trampoline. Ours has the net surrounding it for added safety and cost us $400. My kids have created dozens of games, most that involve them taking turns so that only one person bounces at a time. Be aware that some home insurance companies will not cover you if you have a trampoline or unless you agree to strict guidelines (e.g. only one person allowed on at a time, must be enclosed in a yard that is fenced and locked). I understand that everyone has different thresholds for risk-taking. If you prefer to play things safe, this isn’t for your family. However, if your family tends towards the more adventurous and you have athletic children, this is a great piece of equipment to help them bounce out their extra energy.
Don’t think that play houses are just for little girls. Boys like these mini-homes just as much as their female counterparts. The fact of the matter is that kids’ make-believe games often involve pretending they are grown-ups. So, they like to have their own house, office, fort, store, etc. Just because it looks like a miniature house to you, doesn’t mean that is what it is limited to in your child’s imagination. Brand new, most of the plastic models will run you $200-300, but you can find them at yard sales for a fraction of the price and usually, in pretty good shape. For older kids, building a club house can be a fun family activity and gives you flexibility on cost since you can add features over time.
You have a wide variety of options when it comes to choosing a jungle gym. For younger children, plastic play sets typically offer several fun features that are sturdy and sized for toddlers and preschoolers. For kids slightly older, there are inexpensive metal ones available that come standard with swings and a slide. Some models include other features like rings or seesaw.
If you want a set that is sturdy and will stand up to years of use, it’s worth splurging on a wood play set. These are usually highly customizable, include more features than either the plastic or metal models, and are built to endure years of active children climbing, swinging, and walking on them. We recently had to remove ours because at 20 years old, it had finally become unreliable. Since we live in Northern Virginia, we’ve been looking for swing sets in Woodbridge VA to replace it.
If you don’t want to invest in an entire jungle gym or if you rent and aren’t able to install one, a tire swing is a great alternative (provided you have a tree to hang it from). Personally, I don’t understand the appeal, but every kid I know thinks tire swings are super cool and lots of fun. If the price of a tire swing is still too high for you, I can tell you from experience that a rope hung from the tree is just as popular. Just make sure it is a thick, sturdy rope and that you tie a nice, tight knot at the bottom to serve as the seat.
Outdoor Storage Bin
I don’t know why it took us so long to figure this one out, but it literally took us years and a few hundred dollars of ruined or unused toys before we finally realized that an outdoor storage bin would allow us to keep toys and equipment in a convenient location for the kids so they would get used and put away. A small storage bin costs about $50 and larger bench-style bins can run anywhere between $75 and $500 depending on material and style. We went with a $125 bin that is large enough to hold squirt guns, balls, cones and bases, baseball bats, and jump ropes.