When we were kids, playing outside games at the nearby school playground was much more interesting than staying inside where there was only an old black and white television with six channels.

We’d literally play outdoors all day, come home filthy and mosquito bitten, and then head out the next day to do it all over again.

Fast forward 20 years to the early “aughts” when my children were younger. We were lucky to live on a cul-de-sac with 13 children under the age of 14, including our two. During the summer there were endless games, bike parades, and tea parties.

Children negotiated rules, played hard, fell, got up, and got very dirty. To this day I think that experience helped all of them learn to cooperate and appreciate being outside.

Backyard Playsets: Kids, Swings, Playing Outside - Boy - Mud Puddle

Boy Playing Outside

Playing Outside vs. “Entertainment Media”

Fast forward 15 years to the present. All those children are grown and even if they were young, our electronic devices and fear for their safety have altered childhood permanently.

Currently children ages 8-18 spend more than 7-1/2 hours per day using “entertainment media” and only 6% of kids ages 9-13 play outside on their own, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Yet a slew of studies from organizations as diverse as the American Academy of Pediatrics to The Children and Nature Network demonstrate that unstructured outside play is good for children’s physical and mental health.

So how can we get kids playing outside, where they can exercise both body and spirit in imaginative play? One thing you can do is check out play equipment and backyard playsets. Of course there is quite a variety on the market, depending on the age of your children and your budget. The following is a general summary of some basic ideas, but feel free to add your own!

Backyard Playsets: Kids, Playing Outside - Girl's Princess Play Tent - Tents

Girl’s Outdoor Princess Tent

Backyard Playsets: Tents

For very little ones, you can purchase an outdoor “tent,” where they can make believe they are on an adventure.

Children like this because they can be used inside or outdoors and are usually too cramped for an adult to follow.

Many different brands are available at different price points and for children as young as two or three.

For a idea of what’s out there, check out some different outdoor play tents on Amazon.

Backyard Playsets: Climbers and Trampolines

Backyard Playsets: Kids, Playing Outside - Outdoor Dome Climber

Outdoor Dome Climber

For something that demands more physical exertion, try a climber or trampoline. These two are for children ages three to ten. Both garnered 4.5 out of 5 stars from reviewers on Amazon.com.

The Easy Outdoor Space Dome Climber costs $159.99 and reminds me of what my friends and I played on at school. According to the literature, the dome “encourages your child to climb up, over, and around the structure with other kids, giving them hours of playtime and creativity while developing their interpersonal and social skills.”

At $164.23, My First Indoor/Outdoor Trampoline Combo with Enclosure is a safe way to jump high and practice the gymnastic moves they’ve been trying all over the living room sofa.

Larger Backyard Playsets

If you’re in the market for something bigger (as well as pricier), larger backyard playsets are a good option.

Some people prefer all wood structures because they are more eco-friendly than plastic and don’t react to the elements the way metal does. (I’m sure we all recall how uncomfortable a metal slide is in the middle of July). However, there are also structures that blend materials, like wood, plastic, and metal.

Buying a large playset isn’t cheap and can cost you up to $4,500, although you can get something simple like a swing for less than $1,000. So if you choose to purchase something like this, you have to think years into the future: What will your children still enjoy when they’re older, faster, and stronger?

Make Your Own: DIY Backyard Playsets

I have no idea how to make your own swing or playset, but a lot of people have done it, including Chad — a dad who told his story of building a playset for his daughter on ShelTerrific.com.

His basic steps?
– Buying a kit from Backyardcity.com. (which has hardware, swings, nuts and bolts and step-by-step plans)
– Getting the wood and follow the step-by-step plans.
– Getting a plastic slide (not included) for around $200.
– Getting a friend to help with lifting.
– Getting tools, including a circular saw, cordless drill, socket wrench, level, square, and safety glasses.

For his full story and in-depth description of building, check out his story.

A Simple DIY Swing Set

Backyard Playsets: Kids, Playing Outside - Outdoors - Make Your Own - DIY Swing Set - Simple Tree Swing

How to Make a Simple Tree Swing

When it comes to DIY playsets, I guess it doesn’t get more basic than this. The drawing (from Instructables.com) says it all. Manila rope looped over a sturdy tree branch.

A piece of strong wood with 4 holes in the corners. Thread the rope through and tie off with simple knots.

Maybe it’s a good first step, provided you have the right kind of tree!

Final Buying Tips

If you are buying a playset or swing set, take a look at some of the helpful guidelines Treefrogsswingsets.com has on its website and then you’ll be more prepared. Squidoo.com listed its top 10 backyard playsets including some by GorillaSwing-N-Slide, and Big Backyard. Other popular brands include Treefrogsswingsets and Backyard Adventures.

Whatever you choose, it has to be something that your children can enjoy over a period of years, not just one season. But if you choose wisely, then your children will get the physical exertion and imaginative play they crave and you’ll have peace of mind knowing they and their friends are safe in your backyard.