5 Backyard Play Structures That Won’t Make You Want to Gouge Out Your Eyeballs

5 Backyard Play Structures That Won’t Make You Want to Gouge Out Your Eyeballs

Ah, the ubiquitous wooden backyard play structure, that proliferation of four-by-fours and stained planks fashioned into a platformed, roofed structure to keep the rain off the whippersnappers when you banish them from the house to save your sanity. The kids may love ‘em, but one of the reasons I started this blog is because I despise those things so, with their bright plastic slides, unpleasing shape and—in my humble opinion—sheer lack of imagination. 

If you hate them too but want your kids to have something to climb on, consider something both beautiful and functional, imaginative and intuitive, play-worthy and pretty. I’ve taken the liberty of doing a little research to find out if such a thing even exists, and I was deeply rewarded with five really cool structures that won’t make you want to disembowel your eyeballs with a rusty hook. 

1. The PlayHive

Anyone with basic carpentry skills can build this impressive, beautiful PlayHive with two-by-fours and screws. Designed by Thoughtbarn, an Austin, TX design studio that creates inventive designs that are both functional and artful, the PlayHive delivers a ton of climbing surface and a little hideaway inside. Built in a parking lot to auction off for a fundraiser for wildfire relief, The PlayHive had so many fans that Thoughtbarn posted the plans, and you can download them for free.

2. Organic Jungle Gyms

Created from the wood of dead alien tree species like blue gum, DreamWeavers’ organic jungle gyms are as sculptural and beautiful as they are fun to climb on. They’re crafted from one-of-a-kind tree limbs that are sanded, treated with boron salts and sealed with a nontoxic and eco-friendly sealer, which needs to be reapplied each year. The structure can be moved around since it’s not anchored down, and depending on your preferences, it can include a woven swing, wooden monkey bars, a galvanized fireman’s pole, rope ladders, and a stretchy shade that keeps kiddos cool and dry. DreamWeaver ships their all-natural, rustic creations worldwide and include detailed assembly instructions.

3. Tree Stump Garden

The beauty of planting tree stumps in the yard is that you can find them for free if you’re resourceful, and they’re fairly easy to move or remove. You can configure them however you please, leaving plenty of room for your—and your child's—imagination to run wild. Varying the stumps’ heightsmakes for a fun climbing experience, and you can clump together several stumps of the same height to create platforms. You can even use staggered heights of stumps to create an enclosure for a sand box, making them both useful and fun.

4. Climbing Boulders

Serving as fun and functional pieces of art, Eldorado Climbing Boulders deliver unique climbing challenges and offer pint-sized handholds and “natural” nooks and crannies that mimic real climbing experiences. Eldorado is one of a handful of climbing boulder makers, and they’re appropriately located in Boulder, Colorado. They offer pre-fab climbing boulders, or they can custom design, hand-sculpt and hand-paint a climbing boulder that’s perfect for your back yard. Climbing boulders have a small footprint and don’t require a lot of space, and the tops are an ideal place to have a picnic or play a game of chess. These babies are pretty pricey, and if they’re too pricey for you but you like the idea of rocks, you can find a few large boulders from your local landscaping company for considerably less money and arrange them in a climbable configuration.

5. Fallen Trees

Give your back yard some serious play cred with a fallen tree that’s perfect for practicing climbing and balancing skills. LondonPlay, an organization that promotes fun and healthy play opportunities for children, offers a downloadable pamphlet entitled “Fallen Trees as Climbing Structures in Playgrounds,” which offers some great safety tips as well as information on finding a fallen tree, moving it to your yard, and even pimping it out to make it even more fun and interesting.

So there you have it: Five aesthetic alternatives to the ho-hum, pre-fab backyard play structure. Feel free to chime in with your own play structure ideas and backyard creations!

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