The average backyard only has room for a few pieces of outdoor play equipment, so choosing the right equipment for play is important. This guide will help you find the best outdoor play equipment for your child, taking into consideration the size of your section, your budget, and of course your child’s age and stage of development.
Kids love to run, jump, climb and explore the outdoors, and while they don’t need special equipment to make that time fun, it can help to make the experience challenging, motivating and engaging. Well designed play equipment allows children to safely challenge their physical abilities, while enjoying imaginative play. Here are our favourite pieces of outdoor play equipment for children of all ages.
A trampoline will literally last your child a lifetime. Preschoolers enjoy simply bouncing, school aged children will start to test their abilities with stunts and tricks, and even teenagers use a trampoline to let off steam or simply ‘ hang out’.
There are lots of different types of trampolines available, and which sort suits you will depend on the size of your backyard and your budget. Many trampolines now come with extra safety features such as flexi nets to stop your child falling off, and there are even ‘springfree’ tramps which remove any potential impact zones altogether.
When choosing a trampoline, buy the best you can afford, as you really do get what you pay for. For more information on choosing a trampoline, check out our Trampolines article – coming soon.
No kiwi backyard would be complete without a swingball set, and children from 4 to 94 will enjoy the game. Swing ball is small enough to fit in any backyard, very inexpensive to buy, and really is great for the whole family. Need I say more?
The term fort covers all types of huts and playhouses, but we’re talking about the good old fashioned tree hut, with ropes, climbing frames and flag poles. Of course not everyone has a suitable tree in the backyard, so you can buy forts which are freestanding and simply slide them into a suitable corner.
The best forts are those which allow your child to really play pretend. Things like trap doors, climbing walls, telescopes and secret escape routes turn fort play into something far more than physical. Forts truly encourage your child to use their imagination, and their games will evolve as they get older. Even intermediate aged boys will enjoy racing around their fort – provided nobody is watching of course!
There are some great companies which sell ready-made or ready-to-assemble forts, or find a builder in your area who can make one to your design. Maybe you could add a pulley from the kitchen, so you can send a note when dinner is ready?
Playhouses are different to forts in that they are less about adventure games, and more about role playing family life. Playhouses generally have a pretend kitchen with lots of accessories, like a table and chairs for tea parties and a bed or a cot for afternoon naps.
Playhouses are like a human-sized doll house, and your child and their friends are the dolls. Preschoolers will play in a playhouse for hours, but they will start to lose interest by the time they are 7 or 8. If the playhouse is big enough, you could convert it into more of a quiet-time space where they can go to read books or do their homework.
There are some amazing ready made playhouses on the market, or ask a local builder to make one to your design.
Swing and Slide Sets
Swing and slide sets are a pretty standard feature in backyards around New Zealand, and that’s because they are affordable and practical. Most have the option of attaching a baby swing for your child while they are still young, and some have optional extras like rope ladders or lullabies which you can interchange.
Generally speaking, your children will get a lot of use out of this set in their preschool years, but their shear size means that they will out grow it by about 6 or 7 years old. If you have, (or are planning to have), more than one child, then obviously younger siblings will continue to enjoy it once their older brothers and sisters have moved on.
When choosing a swing and slide set, make sure you check what the equipment is made from. Some cheaper brands rust badly over a few year period, which makes it hard to on sell once your children have outgrown it.
Climbing frames are such simple looking pieces of equipment, but they provide hours of fun for young children. There are several different types of climbing frames on the market, so consider how much space you have, and how old your child is. Ideally you want your play equipment to grow with your child, so look for climbing frames that can be used with other pieces of equipment as they grow.
There are a whole range of plastic playgrounds available that are designed specifically for preschool children. These are perfect for your toddlers, and can be used inside or out – depending on how much room you have. The playgrounds, which usually consist of a slide and some sort of climbing apparatus, can be easily disassembled and packed away when your child has outgrown it.
These playgrounds are usually fairly expensive compared to other outdoor play equipment, and are only used for a short period of time. On the upside, if you buy a reputable brand, they do hold their value when it comes to re-sale.
It may sound extravagant, but building a customised playground doesn’t have to be a mortgage breaker. There are a few playground companies around which allow you to pick and choose pieces which suit your budget, your backyard, and the ages and stages of your children. While a built-in playground will not suit everyone, they are a great option for people who own their own home, have a reasonable sized backyard, and have (or are planning on having) several children.
Customised playgrounds are well designed, offer incredible safety standards, and are made from the best quality materials. They can integrate the all types of equipment, including climbing walls, ropes, slides, swings, monkey bars and even sand pits. Before you discount it as ‘too expensive’, do your homework, and consider the individual costs of buying several pieces of equipment. You might surprise yourself!
There are all sorts of other types of play equipment in NZ that can stand on their own, or be integrated as a part of your whole backyard playground. Some of the best stand alone equipment includes:
- Spring mounted ride-ons
- Adjustable basketball hoops
- Soccer Goals
- Sports nets for volleyball, tennis, badminton…
- Climbing boxes
- Crawl tunnels
- Gym mats
- Foam cubes and wedges
There is also a huge range of outdoor toys which can be used alongside this equipment. Check out our ‘Outdoor Toys’ article for more ideas, and in the meantime, get out there and have some fun.