When I was a pre-teen I remember playing in a tire swing that hung from a large walnut tree in my grandfather's yard. We had just moved into our new ranch-style home and our sub-division was being developed in the old remains of a former gravel pit. Our yard was “treeless” and that created some challenges for my parents, who were raising 3 active boys. There were a few trees in the neighborhood but none of them were larger than about 6” in diameter. The walnut tree's trunk at my grandfather’s was at least 2 feet in diameter and had wide-reaching limbs that were 8-10” in diameter. Hanging at kid height was a classic old tire and we would spend hours and hours spinning and swinging in it.
As a father now, my daughters have asked for a swing in our yard, but since nearly all the trees in our yard are flagpole-like Lodgepole pines, the architecture is just not there. Looking for alternatives to the tire swing has got me thinking about all the classic outdoor play equipment we could still install in our yards. Here's my list of classics. Do you remember any others?
- The tire swing: This is a classic that dates back to the early days of the automobile. Flexible and "crash proof," the tire could withstand just about any thing a kid could throw at it. It’s a toy straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
- The plank swing: This was the predecessor to the tire swing. Our great grandparents may have done some courting on or near one of these.
- The rope swing: This is about as simple as it gets…a piece of rope with a jumbo knot tired in the end. One of these set up next to a river or by a nearby lake and Tarzan vs. Water is the newest show in the neighborhood.
- The swing set: These were the alternatives for those of us who lived in areas where large trees were non-existent, or lacked that classic overhanging branch.
- The porch swing: This swing is still common today, but it location so close the home may have some parents keeping a closer eye on the kids or they may just use it themselves.
- The slide: In many swing set designs a slide is often anchored one end. Back in the old days, these were metal and could get toasty in the hot sun. Today many slides are made of plastic resin and are a little nicer on your backside.
- Monkey bars: These can take the shape of a horizontal ladder, or be simple single bars for doing chin ups or hanging by your knees.
- The Sand box: Growing up in a former gravel pit, we had one of these built right in. A basic wooden frame or jumbo tractor tire on its side filled with 10” of beach sand…what’s not to love?
- The half-buried vertical tractor tire: We never had one of these in our yard, but one of our neighbors had one down the street. I would imagine it was the hump of a great sea monster or some old dinosaur. Again, it's a nearly indestructible item made from waste.
- The very large concrete culvert: Not very common these days…but in my youth these were in most schoolyards and a handful private yards, and from a durability standpoint concrete is even more robust than old tires. We would pretend they were submarines and went on many ocean adventures. "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" was just the beginning.
- Tether ball: A metal pipe set in concrete and a volleyball-sized ball on a rope connected at the top will always be fun. This game is still common today and is a lot harder than it looks.
- The tree house: For those that have an older mature forest nearby or landscape with a bit of room, these are another perennial big hit. If not tree-based, a “clubhouse” or “fort” can be built on stilts or set right on the ground. Radio host Walter Reeves, the Georgia Gardener, offered a caveat to tree house builders on Hometalk.com (a home improvement social network). He said, "The key is how you attach the lumber to the tree. You don't want to hurt the tree or to create liability if the treehouse should fall or come apart."
Any one of these classics will have your youngsters enjoying the outdoors in a timeless manner (and you too if you're young at heart). Modern multi-function “play-sets” are the rage these days and many designs incorporate many of these individual classics…but that old walnut tree and the big tire will always hold a place in my heart.