By the middle of summer, the kids have swung on the
backyard tire enough times to qualify for frequent flier
miles, and the wading pool toys you bought have
mysteriously disappeared into the pool's own Bermuda
Triangle. And somehow the treehouse you promised them last
winter just seems a little daunting, not to mention
stressful (12 feet is a long way down for a six-year-old;
your nerves aren't that good). What to do? Toys these days
are outrageously expensive, easily broken, and
unnecessarily complicated. With a month remaining until
school starts, a Sunday afternoon's investment in time can
yield a natural playground with one or more of these outdoor playthings,
saving you lots of money—and perhaps your sanity.
A Horse Swing
Check your wooded property
for a young locust or some other tree with a beautiful
curve at its base. The bottom of the trunk will make a
sturdy and graceful swing.
To convert the trunk to a swing, first cut it and carry it
to your shed. Strip off the bark—quite an easy task while
the wood is green. Then, using a brace fitted with a
one-inch bit, bore two parallel holes through the
swing-to-be's side, one at each end of the trunk.
Next, saw a pair of one-inch diameter lengths, each about
eight inches longer than the width of the log, from a
straight hardwood branch. With the bark removed, blunt the
ends. The stubs should fit snugly in the holes with an end
protruding on either side of the log. Ropes are then
attached to the ends of the crosspieces to suspend the
The hanging horse can be safely used by any child old
enough to hold himself or herself in place on it, and the
height of the swing steed can be easily adjusted to suit
the length of the young rider's legs by letting out or
taking up the rope it hangs by.
A Playing Platform
The next time you have
to cut down trees near your house, you might leave a little
more stump than you ordinarily would. These will make
sturdy foundations on which you can build playing
To begin, set a post in the ground at a point about six
feet from two serviceable stumps cut to the same level as
the post. Then 2 X 4's are spiked in place running from
each stump and the post to form a triangular base. Nail
some old boards across these beams, and add a small ladder.
Because this "platform" is shaded by greenery, it has the
feel of a tree house. It can be a pretend pirate ship, a
goblin's cave, or a knight's castle.
The remainder of the tree
used to make the horse swing can be stripped and cut into
fenceposts, a process that will produce a pile of curled
bark. A four-year-old can construct a water engineering
project using these leftovers, and though such a homemade
aqueduct might seem just a toy, bark-strip conduits have
been used by pioneers and homesteaders for channeling water
to a house.
Another project using bark
will turn small scraps that are 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide and
3 to 4 inches long into little Viking ships.
First, use a nail to press holes into the bark at any
points where you want to locate masts. The uprights are
made from thin sticks whittled to a point on one end.
Trapezoid-shaped pieces of paper or big leaves can serve as
sails. Just slip them onto the sticks and mount the masts
in the nail holes.
Add to any pond, pool, or lake, and when you blow on the
little sails, the small bark boats slip prettily across the
water. Throw in a few acorns for buoys and you're off to
the races! Don't be too surprised if there are a few
exciting capsizings to watch.