Best tips for designing an older kid-friendly area in the woods?
May 21, 2021 10:26 AM   Subscribe

What are the best things (swings, toys, plants, other) to think about when designing an area for tweens and teens in the woods?

As part of a long term plan to turn our place into The Default Hangout Place for all our daughter's friends until they grow up (currently ages 8-11), we built an 7.5ft elevated 8'X12' deck down in the woods in a shady area with a good breeze.

The area is good for nature-play in terms of rocks and logs and kid-friendly landscaping. From watching how the kids play in the sunny-already-kidscaped part of the yard, we think we need two kinds of add on to the deck for attracting children: 1) places to chill and chat (they currently use a climbing dome and a web disk swing in the sunny part of the yard) and 2) places to be active (in the sunny area, they use a yoga swing or trapeze or just run around, but not the trampoline or bucket swing.)

The kids are COVID-conscious and would not feel comfortable with anything that blocks airflow (which is why it's a deck and not a treehouse.) That said, we can consider adding walled areas when the kids are all vaccinated. They don't seem to be into round things (too hilly) or organized sports with defined rules (making up their own rules seems to be a lot of their idea of fun right now.) Also, it rains a lot, so anything we do needs to be water tolerant and dry quickly.

What are the coolest toys, swings, hammocks, furniture, or other add ons (ropes? tarps? little safes for treasures?) that we can add to or around this woods-deck that are interesting for this age and as they grow older? Do you have any other advice for designing outdoors space for older kids, or things we should consider?

Thank you for sharing your experience!
posted by arabelladragon to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A way to go from tree to tree via ropes.
Bike trails.
A flat surface, maybe well-poly'ed plywood, to paint and graffiti.
posted by theora55 at 10:32 AM on May 21, 2021

I'd buy some hundreds of meters of nice hemp rope around 9-12 mm and go to town.
It's a great opportunity for the kids to learn knots and related skills too.

You can look up traditional scout bridge, but also do horizontal net platforms, rope swings, climbing nets, etc.

You can also build things like ballistas, trebuchets and catapults with the same rope.

You can reinforce any of the above with wire rope if you don't trust your load calculations.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:46 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

zip line that will support weight even as they get older.
posted by hydra77 at 10:46 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

My partner's mother built him a geodesic dome out of broom handles and sections of pipe, then covered it and put loads of cushions inside, ran power out from the house for the xbox etc. It was very much the default hangout place for his friends at that age and he has a lot of happy memories of time spent in the dome.
posted by terretu at 10:53 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lighting? If it's outdoors you could install some sort of solar rig. Kids can hang out into the evening without having to take a break to run back to the house for lanterns. Or, just put lanterns out there and keep the batteries fresh.

A faucet with running water would be pretty sweet. When I was a kid that was the one thing that set my neighbor's backyard playhouse apart from the rest. We could get our own water for whatever childhood activity we were embarking on. Also nice for filling water balloons and getting drinks on hot days.

If you're looking for a way to keep things dry in the woods, my old neighborhood dog park used a mailbox like this one for the doggie first aid kit and other info. It worked great. That way stuff can be stored at the site.
posted by Gray Duck at 10:59 AM on May 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My parents just bought land and one of the things I want to do there for family fun time is set up a bean bag range? I don't think there's a specific word for the idea I have in my head, but make lots of brightly colored targets, bullseyes, colored rings, etc, throughout the wooded area at different heights etc. Kind of like a cross between an archery range, frisbee golf, basketball, and corn hole. It'd give your kids a loose outline of a game, but with no rules so they could use their imagination.

I got this idea because after Easter we took all of the real eggs and spent the afternoon seeing who could hit what branch or what knot on the trees, and it was fun for the 8 year old, the teens, and the adults.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:59 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

On a practical standpoint, tick mitigation and checks if they're in your area.

A waterproof storage area for electronics if it's rainy enough to be concerned about them getting damaged but not raining enough to come in.

Some way to charge electronics, either full AC or batteries.

A fire pit and/or grill.

If running water is impractical, there's the foot pump hand washing stations and are the very least a stock of hand sanitizer.
posted by Candleman at 11:02 AM on May 21, 2021

Definitely fire pit and an above ground pool!
posted by DTMFA at 11:07 AM on May 21, 2021

Best answer: Oh also, I'm not sure how much space you have, but one of my daughter 's friends has a setup with multiple hay bales and trampolines (all bought cheap at auctions), and the teens/kids all love it.
posted by DTMFA at 11:09 AM on May 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A big cooler or wash-tub type thing they can load up with ice and drinks so they dont have to run to the house for water, etc.

If you're out of extension cord range and want them to be able to power their electronics (and are ok with throwing money at this) a portable power station like any of these from Jackery would be awesome (the small one should should be sufficient), but someone will have to drag it back in to be charged as well if you dont also go for the solar setup.

As a teenager several decades ago hanging out in our friends woods (which now that I think about it, may have been intentionally setup for us similar to what you're doing), a firepit for bonfires was key for evenings. With permanent seating of some sort - no one will bother to drag chairs out. We also had a huge multi-person rope hammock out in the trees, which was amazing.
posted by cgg at 11:15 AM on May 21, 2021

Best answer: Mine spent a lot of time hanging out on (and sometimes under) our trampoline. Significantly more time was spent doing schoolwork (we homeschooled), chatting, and napping, than actually bouncing on it. It was located on the edge of our sunny & wooded areas, so it got both sun and shade. The kids always wanted a deck under it, and a roof or removable canopy over it, for rainy days. We kept a broom nearby for leaf and fir needle removal. They'd also set up a tent on it.

It was a rental, so much of what we dreamt of, we couldn't do. Slack lines, stepping stones/logs, perches in the trees, a BIG slide, a climbing rope, tire and board and rope swings, one of those hanging egg chairs, a stand-alone porch swing, etc. Mine joked (I think it was a joke) about a teeter totter and a merry-go-round, but then, they'd hang out on those at the park while chatting with their friends, so maybe it was less a joke than I thought. A picnic table. An area that, while not totally walled in, was protected from the wind and rain.
posted by stormyteal at 11:46 AM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Fountain, or better yet an artificial stream and pond, but I assume that's too much.

Scrap lumber and tools.
posted by metasarah at 11:51 AM on May 21, 2021

2nd the idea of a fire pit or gas fire thing (with adult supervision to start, but a sufficiently responsible tween/teen could definitely use one solo). Good for heat, light, and bugginess. And s'mores.
posted by mosst at 12:26 PM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Outdoor things my friends and I enjoyed as teens/tweens:
+ fire, seriously a fire pit would have been amazing, but maybe increase your homeowner's insurance...
+ pool
+ seesaws
+ swings, especially a tire swing with the tire horizontal from a pivot
+ games loosely like basketball/softball, without paying much attention to the rules
+ seating big enough we could sit on each other / dogpile
+ water guns, nerf guns
+ sitting on my friend's garage roof, sounds like the deck is similar

also TPing houses, fireworks, and a potato cannon, but you probably don't want to encourage those
posted by momus_window at 12:29 PM on May 21, 2021

Best answer: Put hammocks up under that deck. String lights/fairy lights. They'll outgrow the constant running around soon (much sooner than you'll ever think possible) and will want some place to congregate and just hang out. Fire pit + teach basic fire safety. Cornhole! If you have electricity out there, an outlet for phone/device chargers.
posted by cooker girl at 12:38 PM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest going the other way from all the fairy lights/chargers/trampolines and suggest getting a whole pile of stuff (sheets/blocks/planks of wood, canvas, rope, plastic crates) and maybe some basic tools that they can use to create their own dens and hangouts, adventure playground style. Doesn't need to be advanced structural engineering, even being able to stack up crates and wood to make a table and seats, tie a tarp to the trees for a roof etc. is exciting and makes a place feel like your own. Judging by the cute little circle of found building materials and blocks of wood in the trees across the road from me, even adults love doing that kind of thing.

(FWIW, There have been some studies, like this one, suggesting that adventure playgrounds have lower accident rates than traditional fixed play equipment, though maybe with some supervision, at least at first).
posted by penguin pie at 1:53 PM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Letting the kids design and help build it might be worthwhile.

When I was that age, building a fire and cooking food over it outdoors was a real highlight. As was spending the night outdoors near home. Maybe a small, well screened fire pit and a tent or stuff to make a shelter out of?
posted by eotvos at 2:55 PM on May 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you don't have power I highly recommend getting a strand or two of These lights, along with a few power tool batteries and an battery top inverter. (Ryobi linked since that's what I have, but really anything will work). The 3-4 amp hour batteries can light 3 strands of those linked lights (they can chain plug like christmas lights) for several hours, and the lights themselves are really very pleasant.

We've a few sets up on trees out in the woods around the teen / tween firepit; when they head out there they just bring a couple batteries and the inverter. It rains a lot here too and as long as you screw the bulbs in really tight it's not an issue - we left it out all winter and still works fine.

Also yes, nth-ing a firepit. I made some benches out of stumps but people will happily sit on the ground.
posted by true at 6:06 PM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

We built a bike trail with a few jumps made out of wood, a zip line, and two, what we called bunkers, made out of wood to play paintball. Also, we built a (not so accurate) replica of Yankee Stadium outfield wall to use playing whiffle ball. We have two boys and a girl. My daughter in her team years, spent a lot of time in our hot tub with her friends.
posted by AugustWest at 10:10 PM on May 21, 2021

Number one in my list of things to make an outdoor space cosy: a rocket mass heater built into a bench!
It's a fire pit, but not for staring at. The wood and wood gas are burned with very clean exhaust, and the 'chimney' can be run almost horizontally through a masonry or adobe structure/bench. The bench gets warm and would be just an ideal cool weather or evening hangout spot.

I can get materials to make one where I live for about $300, but not also house insurance at the same time (which would be different if I could build it far enough away from the house). I think the "batch box" versions are simple to build and really very safe.

I'd also have a small fire pit for just staring at, of course. With a warm butt.
posted by Acari at 12:06 PM on May 22, 2021

A tent, for camping out safely.
posted by theora55 at 10:59 AM on May 23, 2021

« Older Sofa bed without the bed   |   How do I take care of annoying, persistent... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.