If you are “old school” like me, you believe that children should be running around outside and getting dirty instead of being in front of a screen. Would you be surprised to learn that 25 percent of children between ages 2 and 5 have a smart phone? Also, children and teens use technology four to five times the recommended amount, according to the Kaiser Foundation. Parents are now faced with thinking of creative ways to get their kids outside to experience nature and build long lasting relationships.
There needs to be a balance of activities to suit the individual and to allow them to grow in different directions. Playing board games is a great way to mentally challenge your kid, but pent up energy will need to be released every so often. With short attention spans, there are few activities that keep kids active and engaged. From personal experience, I have compiled 3 activities that will yield countless hours of healthy fun you and your family can enjoy. In addition, your backyard will be the place to be for all of your neighborhood kids which allows proper supervision. Use your judgment to determine if these activities are within your price range or backyard availability.
Often an overlooked backyard activity, zip lines are not only easy to setup, they are safe and affordable. When I first thought of zip lining, I was thinking of the time I zip lined across the mountains in Hawaii. Seems super dangerous! But the more I looked into it, the more I realized those fears were unjustified. Your zipline would be setup between two trees, and not over a mountain range. A pool can be just as dangerous, but proper supervision and installation is required. Let’s explore safety a little bit more.
Zip line safety comes down to the materials, the installation and how it is used. Materials can vary by manufacturer and the most important thing to look for is to ensure the zip line wire cable they use is strong enough to support your children’s weight. A lot of kits sell wire that is super thin in order to save on costs, but sacrifice durability and breaking strength. We recommend wire sizes of 5/16″, 1/4″ or at the smallest 3/16″. It should also be Galvanized Aircraft Cable for longevity.
Next is how to properly install your zip line kit. The most important part is ensuring your anchors, or what is holding the cable up, is solid. Typically, these are trees that have at least 8″ diameter. They should be healthy and alive trees, and you should only attach the zip line around its trunk, not its branches.
And finally, how it is used will affect its safety. Are there multiple kids hanging on the zip line? Is your child ignoring safety precautions? Be sure everyone riding always has a grip on the rope or the trolley at all times of the ride. If the zip line is elevated, consider wearing a helmet. If the child is too small to ride by themselves, you can ride with the child given the weight requirements.
ZiplineStop carries the best backyard zip line kits as they focus on safety, durability and customer service.
Slip n’ Slide
Slip n’ Slide is a great activity to do during hot weather. It gets your kid outside, running and slipping. The activity itself is very physically active. It involves a large sheet of plastic, which is connected to a hose that shoots water onto the sheet. It creates a very slippery surface and allows your kid to run and dive onto to the plastic tarp and slide. Something about water activities at your home builds forever lasting memories.
If your kids are too old for the retail Slip n’ Slide, you can always DIY to create a bigger, faster one for teenagers! Did I mention it is really simple and cheap? Go to your home depot store to pick up 10ft. x 100ft. clear plastic sheeting. Layout your sheet on a hill preferably and roll pool noodles with the plastic on the sides to allow water to be directed downwards. Use landscape pins to secure the noodles to the plastic and the grass.
Pro Tip: If you want to increase the speed, get some baby soap or tear-free soap. Putting this on the sheet or on your body will make you friction-less!
A trampoline is the most expensive option we have, but depending on your kid, it might be the perfect solution for your family. Countless hours of jumping up and down are great ways to get their energy out. Trampolines can actually improve core strength, balance, and dexterity. But safety is a big issue. The obvious safety concern is falling off the trampoline onto the ground. That issue can be mitigated by having an in-ground trampoline. Accidents can still happen, but it won’t be at the same height. In ground, or above ground, we recommend having a barrier around the trampoline. Typically it is netting or foam cushioning that will keep occupants in the confines of the trampoline.
Other potential safety concerns are the metal springs. Occupants can fall on or in between them. There are covers one can utilize. And finally, there is a possibility of broken arms or legs. Or having too many people in the trampoline. I would recommend considering a trampoline if your kids are over 6 years old. Adult supervision is always needed as things can get rowdy fast!
Overall, any outdoor activity will carry some risk. As long as there is supervision and proper safety etiquette, most dangers can be mitigated. Choose what is right for your kid because you know them best and what they might enjoy. Kids grow up fast, so being able to cherish the few years you have with them can build lasting memories as well as get them active.