A young family in possession of a back yard must be in want of some toys
March 23, 2015 4:54 PM   Subscribe

We (parents and 2 boys ages 4 and 16 months), recently relocated from an apartment with no outdoor space to a house with a backyard. A couple of months in, the joys of simply running in circles are finally wearing off. What outdoor toys/equipment can we get for the kids that will maximize everyone's fun?

Some limitations apply: We are renting at the moment, so permanent installation of swing sets, play houses, etc. is out. Large, movable play structures are not out of the question as we're hoping to buy a house in 6-12 months, so something that could be heaved into the back of a pickup by one or two sturdy adults would probably be OK, if it's likely to result in a lot of use. Assume landlord assent is a given and that it's OK to leave stuff outside. There are no trees in the yard that are suitable for swings or climbing.

In addition, we are well-versed in playing at parks and have some nearby, so we have lots of balls, toy cars, stomp rockets, kites, etc--I'm mostly interested in things that would be too big to carry to the park but might be fun to have in the backyard or the basement. One last caveat: no trampolines, which would probably be hugely popular but would give me a heart attack.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
They probably have one at the park, but it's nice to have at home, too: Wading pool! And while we're going with the bring-the-park-home theme, how about a sandbox?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:57 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Totem Tennis, and if the area is large enough (and it's warm) a slip'n'slide.
posted by Youremyworld at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2015

My 2 year old loves her little pool and water toys, endless fun in the summer! She dumps the water everywhere and washes her little tikes car and the dog and anything else she can get her hands on and has a fantastic time.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:02 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Something like this Little Tikes castle climber or this Step 2 outdoor playhouse might work. We got a simple, small outdoor structure for $40 on Craigslist a few years ago and it held up very well.
posted by mogget at 5:03 PM on March 23, 2015

Sand and water play table! The best.
Kid-powered ride-in cars - like the Cozy Coupe
Low basketball hoop
Sprinkler to run through in summer

Also - you can get this stuff cheap by cruising yard sales, if you don't mind things being somewhat sun-faded.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:04 PM on March 23, 2015

sprinkler, sandbox, tiny pool, playground ball, bubbles. i'll, uh, be outside...
posted by j_curiouser at 5:05 PM on March 23, 2015

magnifying glass to look in the grass?
posted by discopolo at 5:11 PM on March 23, 2015

Some sort of tent or tipi!
A really large cardboard box, like from a major kitchen appliance. Sometimes stores will give them to you. Add water soluble finger paint and naked-ish kids.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:33 PM on March 23, 2015

I just got my 18 month old the little tikes slide, and he is completely obsessed with it. He also adores his little tikes basketball hoop.
posted by gatorae at 5:45 PM on March 23, 2015

Sidewalk chalk, riding toys and bikes/trikes, sandbox, water table. My kids will play with a water table and a sandbox for hours.
posted by sutel at 5:47 PM on March 23, 2015

How about a climbing dome? Santa brought it for our twins when they were three. They still love it a year+ later.
posted by killy willy at 5:49 PM on March 23, 2015

Yes. Per jrobin276, Go to Lowes and ask for an appliance box. Fold it up to get it home and it's instant play house. And free!

Anything water related is fun.

Gardening (even in pots) is enjoyable.
posted by mightshould at 5:51 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Soccer ball and pop-up goals!
posted by JenMarie at 5:51 PM on March 23, 2015

The little tikes slide is a huge hit here with my newly minted 2 year old and the 5 year old, and it isn't even outside yet. We also have a little tikes sand/water table that is a ton of fun and less mess than the regular sandbox, and can be used for just water when we feel like it. (also takes less sand).
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:35 PM on March 23, 2015

A hopper ball. I loved to bound across the backyard on mine.
posted by brujita at 6:49 PM on March 23, 2015

When I asked this question it led to the purchase of a Rody which was incredibly well received by its two year old owner, as well as her little brother, and several adults who had a bit too much beer on various occasions. No back yard should be without one.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:56 PM on March 23, 2015

i know this sounds crazy, but when my sister had her second kid, her girlfriends all pitched in and got her a small(ish) bouncy castle. oh man. her first kid gets SO MUCH use out of it. she keeps it in the backyard in the summers and in the basement in the winters. it is a toy they use every single day.
posted by andreapandrea at 7:18 PM on March 23, 2015

My four year old and 20 month old have been spending literally hours playing with further, sticks and water in our backyard. I suppose a sandbox would be a good portable substitute for what we have, which is just a giant dirt pile. We also have a water table and a selection of buckets, which the kids fill from the rain barrel (free water!).
posted by linettasky at 7:35 PM on March 23, 2015

This Costco dome climber looks like it could be easily disassembled and moved later.

My kids loved their sand & water table.
posted by Ostara at 7:36 PM on March 23, 2015

With lots of cardboard, paint and these rivets you can make some pretty big Castles, Trains, Pirate Ships, etc.
posted by Sophont at 7:44 PM on March 23, 2015

We have a 'Bouncy Castle' which, to be honest was a bit rich for me when I looked at them new, but we found a great one at a yard sale. It's less 'bouncy' than a trampoline, and perfect for your age range. We use it outside on low wind days, with a tarp underneath it, and just folded it up on rainy/nasty days and left it inside. It's a wonderful place to nap on a summer afternoon, just laying on it (grownup too), watching clouds go by. We have a big basement rec room where it gets used in our long winters. Otherwise, the plastic slide (also a yard sale find) has been a big hit, an easel for (mostly naked) painting, and a small raised garden (as long as you can value the process over end results). We have also had great fun with a cheap tent (not a kids tent, a 'real' but cheap, dome tent)...but it was basically garbage after a mostly full summer in the yard.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 7:49 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Croquet. Plastic mallets at that age was something I wish I'd thought of. Ouch!
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:32 PM on March 23, 2015

Get a trampoline and your child will make instant friends with the neighborhood kids.
posted by Jubey at 11:40 PM on March 23, 2015

Whoops sorry I somehow missed your last sentence. In that case, space hoppers and water tables. (But just an FYI, trampolines can now come fully enclosed and springless for extra safety, if that is your concern.)
posted by Jubey at 11:41 PM on March 23, 2015

You need a sandbox like this with a lid that gets closed when it's not in use, otherwise the neighborhood cats will use it.

Also get one of those bikes without pedals for your older child and some other wheeled thing for the younger. As long as the yard is flat they can "ride" around in circles.

And be sure to get yourselves- you parents- a picnic table with an umbrella.
posted by mareli at 7:39 AM on March 24, 2015

Some kind of Radio Flyer wagon. Big kid can push around little kid while little kid steers. All kinds of activities can be done with a little imagination. Very very fun. Something that will last for years if it is sturdily built. If where you eventually move when you buy has a slope, coasting down a slope is as much fun as sledding in the winter. :)
posted by Fukiyama at 7:47 AM on March 24, 2015

When I was young, I loved my sandbox much more than the tiny swing set. Not having a cover meant that sometimes one got wet sand and mini lakes (it had a wood bottom (why?) so drainage was slow. If I wanted to swing, we'd walk to the park and use the larger swings, and a jungle gym.

My youngest kid really loved when we got a used running trampoline (the kind that are ~6 inches high and maybe 2.5 feet in diameter - no heart attacks!). Maybe use it to see how much your kids like to jump before considering moving up to a small bouncy castle. Seriously, my youngest probably logged 400+ hours a year on that sad little running trampoline. If you're using it in the backyard if you don't have someplace solid, pick up a few paving stones to go under the feet.
posted by nobeagle at 8:11 AM on March 24, 2015

Best bang for the buck when my kid was that age was building a sandbox. A couple of 2x8s for the walls, some 2x6s to go around the top. Fill with a few bags of sand. Buy some pails and shovels. Nail it all together and caulk the seems so the sand doesn't leak out.

It took me a couple hours to build. When it was time to get rid of it we just moved the sand with a wheelbarrow and lifted the whole thing over to my neighbor's yard for his kid to use.
posted by bondcliff at 8:12 AM on March 24, 2015

A collection of various balls, tennis balls, through to big rubber bouncy ones, assuming a fence to keep them corralled, skipping ropes etc. Nthing Sand box & water table a cheap wading pool full of sand will see you through until you move &get something more permanent, get a cover to keep leaves/cat poop out. Some pots where you grow some veggies in with the kids help, strawberries are easy, fruit quickly & tasty. Tent/teepee.
posted by wwax at 9:05 AM on March 24, 2015

Playing pretend was my favorite thing as a kid. Maybe try to find things that don't suggest designated types of play, and which allow the kids to make their own stories.

A few items off the top of my head that would be fantastic:
A set of poles of various lengths (to make boundary lines, swords, goal posts, ship's masts, tent poles, etcetera)
A large-ish piece of canvas or similar fabric, or a couple of blankets you don't care too much about.
Blocks (I had a set of large cinderblock-sized cardboard blocks that I made many a fort out of)
Various balls (small foam, kickballs, yoga ball, etcetera)
Hula hoop(s)
Rope of a couple different lengths/thicknesses
Plastic tubes (maybe PVC, or larger), buckets, and boards

You may want to consider a space in the yard where the kids can dig/shovel/bury to their heart's content. The yard I had growing up was sandy in one spot, so there was no grass for my parents to be angry about me digging up. It was my favorite spot ever.
posted by Urban Winter at 10:14 AM on March 24, 2015

Tonka Toys One of my most treasured possession is a scraper tonka toy that my dad had, and got refurbished for his 50th birthday.
posted by bartonlong at 10:15 AM on March 24, 2015

I wanted to second the recommendation for a good, sturdy wagon. My siblings and I played with ours endlessly.
posted by congen at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2015

Plant a garden or container garden in one sunny corner. Fun for the whole family!
posted by Gungho at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2015

Sandpit! Bigger the better (within reason).

Be careful with pools, young children can drown so quickly and easily. Paradoxically, I am going to suggest you revisit the trampoline issue. My three had one for ten years or so, from probably age five for the oldest. We set rules about jumping off, and only one at a time, and supervised pretty closely, but the three of them basically supervised each other. Yes they can look scary, but if you set and enforce rules it can take most of the scary away. Worst case, broken rules = trampoline sold.
posted by GeeEmm at 3:00 AM on March 25, 2015

Trampoline = higher insurance rates for homeowners, not so sure about landlords.
posted by Gungho at 7:04 AM on March 25, 2015

Make a mud kitchen!
posted by Helga-woo at 5:02 AM on March 27, 2015

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