Landscaping: 12 Classic Outdoor Toys for the Young at Heart

Deborah Finnell/stock.xchngWhen I was a kid, 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 in a subdivision being developed in the remains of a former gravel pit. Our yard was treeless, which created some challenges for my parents, who were raising 3 active boys.  There were a few trees in the neighborhood but none was larger than 6” in diameter. The trunk of Grandpa's walnut tree was at least 2 feet in diameter, with hefty, wide-reaching limbs.  Hanging at kid height was a classic old tire where we would spend hours and hours swinging and spinning. 

Now that I'm a father, my daughters have asked for a swing, but since nearly all the trees in our yard are flagpole-like Lodgepole pines, the infrastructure is just not there. Looking for alternatives to the tire swing has got me thinking about all the classic outdoor toys and play equipment we could still install in our yards. Here's my list of classics. Do you remember any others?

  1. The tire swing: This dates back to the early days of the automobile. Flexible and crash-proof, the tire could withstand just about anything a kid could throw at it. It’s one of those classic outdoor toys straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

  2. The plank swing: Presenting the alternative to the tire swing. A simple handyman project, it's made of a planks suspended by two ropes or chains.

  3. The rope swing: Here's a toy that's as simple as it gets…a piece of rope with a jumbo knot tied in the end. Set one of these up next to a river or lake, and Tarzan vs. Water is the newest show in the neighborhood.

  4. The swing set: Some of us lived in areas where large trees were non-existent, or lacked that classic overhanging branch. Hence the backyard swing set.

  5. The porch swing: Our great grandparents may have done some courting on or near one of these. The classic "glider" is still popular today. Imagine one on a screened porch cooled by a ceiling fan.

  6. The slide: In many swing set designs, a slide is anchored on one end. Back in the day, these were metal, which could get toasty in the hot sun. Now many slides are made of plastic resin and are a little nicer on your backside.

  7. 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.

  8. The sandbox: Growing up in a former gravel pit, we had one of these built right in. Today, you might have to find a pro to install a sandbox for you. A wooden frame filled with 10” of beach sand…what’s not to love?

  9. The half-buried vertical tractor tire: We never had one of these in our yard, but our neighbors down the street did. I would imagine it was the hump of a great sea monster or an old dinosaur. Again, a nearly indestructible item made from waste.

  10. The driveway basketball hoop: Not so common these days…but in my youth these were in driveways or backyards. Endless hours of healthy fun.

  11. 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.

  12. The treehouse: Another perennial hit. If not tree-based, a “clubhouse” or “fort” can be built on stilts or set right on the ground. Radio host Walter Reeves cautions treehouse builders: "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 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 often designs incorporate many of these individual classic outdoor toys…but that old walnut tree and the used tire will always hold a place in my heart.

Kevin Stevens is a Networx writer.

Updated November 29, 2018.

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