Ah, childhood memories.
There are so many, aren’t there?
We’re often reminded of simpler times (especially nowadays), and one thing we at Eastern Jungle Gym often come back to are kids obstacle courses.
Weren’t those the best? Whether it was on the playground during recess, at a summer camp, or a birthday party that had all the bells and whistles, obstacle courses for kids were always a hit. With kids becoming increasingly attracted to their screens and not as focused on the outdoors, we thought this would be a good opportunity to offer parents some ideas to get their little ones engaged with something new.
And where better to do so than your own backyard? Creating an obstacle course at home isn’t all that difficult and it will get your kids thinking creatively while becoming problem solvers – and those critical thinking skills are always helpful.
What makes this even more rewarding is that you can build a DIY obstacle course for kids, and get them involved in the process. It’s endless fun for children of all ages, and they might even invite their friends, too.
What are the benefits of having a DIY backyard obstacle course?
To put it simply: there are many benefits to having a backyard obstacle course.
And, you can use many of the items lying around the house to build it! You don’t need wood, lumber, fancy or expensive materials, or a large backyard footprint. Something as small as a pool noodle can get you started to build a DIY obstacle course that your kids will enjoy for hours.
Let’s talk about the benefits of outdoor play – particularly when it comes to your obstacle course.
Like we mentioned earlier, kids are spending a lot of time in front of screens, whether it’s YouTube, iPads, video games, etc. We’re not here to tell you to put a stop to it, but we do know there are numerous health benefits to getting kids outside and enjoying nature. Remember how, when we were younger, playing outside meant we didn’t have a care in the world? That’s what today’s kids could use more of, and using your DIY obstacle course can make a big difference on their mental health. Worry-free, care-free, and using their imagination…this kind of play time is often the best for our children.
There’s no overstating the importance of children’s mental health. Equally important is making sure they’re physically active every day – especially in the summer months when they’re out of school. Even a 30-minute obstacle course in the backyard can get them moving and using both their minds and bodies, which are beneficial as the kids continue to grow. DIY obstacle courses feature light physical strain but can capture kids’ attention as they look to complete it successfully, and if your kids are like most kids, they will not stop trying until they finish!
An obstacle course is a place for you (the parents) to get creative and challenge your kids – because this isn’t supposed to be easy, after all! The object of the backyard obstacle course is to motivate them, to energize them, and to help them discover and/or use skills they don’t use every day. One of those is problem solving; this goes hand-in-hand with some other benefits we’ve listed below, but if your kids can find creative ways to solve problems and navigate their way through the obstacle course, it’s safe to say the course architects have done their job.
Teamwork makes the dream work, isn’t that the adage?
For kids, it can be really easy (especially in this digital age) to be reclusive and too self-reliant. From iPads to video games to other screens, so much of their entertainment these days is independent and not collaborative. As a result, it’s not far-fetched to see kids lose some of the communication skills that prior generations had – and in other cases, it simply takes longer to develop. Activities like a backyard obstacle course can accelerate that growth, particularly if you task the kids to work in groups or teams. Because who likes to lose to their friends, right? It’s part competition and part communication, all leading to the same goal of completing the obstacle course.
Critical thinking skills
Skill development seems to be a theme for the DIY backyard obstacle course, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a reason: stimulating activities are proven to help kids with skills that extend beyond the classroom. Real-life situations that give them hands-on experience (i.e., an obstacle course) will challenge kids to think deeper, think more meaningfully, and find new ways to get a desired result. Rather than “point A to point B” thinking, the obstacle course in your backyard will help kids figure out a multitude of ways to get through a certain section or chart a more efficient course to the finish line. These critical thinking skills aren’t out of the box, either; sometimes it takes an activity you wouldn’t expect to help turn their light bulb on!
Building the obstacle course can be a team effort, but you also don’t want to give too many of the secrets away. The more of a surprise the course is, the better results you’ll see and the more fun (and challenges) the kids will face. In this context, “hands-on work” refers to the need for kids to, in some cases literally, get their hands dirty to find their way to the end of the obstacle course.
Active play, easing anxiety
The more kids are outside, the more carefree and happy they’ll be. Obstacle courses are a great way to keep them outdoors for a longer period of time and not be as willing to get back in front of a screen. The benefits of outdoor play, as we’ve discussed, are numerous, but high on the list is easing anxiety and freeing their minds.
The Best Items To Use for Your DIY Obstacle Course for Kids
Of course, you can build the obstacle course however you’d like – and much of the layout or design will depend on how much space you’re working with. Here’s a starter list (but by no means comprehensive or exhaustive list) to help get the creative juices flowing and get on the way to building your DIY obstacle course.
Small water bottles, larger canteen types…it doesn’t matter. They can be used to chart a course or direct kids through the obstacle course. Of course, if it’s a hot summer day, it’s a good idea to encourage them to take a sip or two along the way. Hydration is key!
Before you use lumber pieces or parts for the obstacle course, you’ll want to make sure they’re sanded and smooth. The last thing you want is a kid falling and getting a scrape or splinter while attempting to complete the obstacle course – so, start with the motto of “safety first.” Lumber can also be a navigational tool, or serve as a “stepping stone” along the course. But at the end of the day, the choice is yours!
Don’t have lumber? No problem. Pool noodles are cheap and generally can handle a decent amount of use, so don’t feel obligated to use lumber to build the DIY obstacle course. Kids only want to know where to go and what the challenge ahead is, and it doesn’t really matter what the course looks like (as long as it looks fun). Colors and shapes of pool noodles are visually appealing and will get their attention.
Let’s move into the meat and potatoes of your obstacle course. You want to get the kids moving around and using some physical skills, and jump ropes are a great way to do it. Make them do 10 jumps before they can move on to the next station, or do a group jump if they’re working in teams. They’ll get a quick exercise in while also working to progress to the next part of the obstacle course.
They’re fun, they’re cheap, and kids will immediately take on the challenge of a hula hoop as part of your obstacle course. Place them in different positions and areas of the course and direct kids to complete 5 or 10 rotations to continue; you’ll see them get competitive, active, and enjoying the spirit of the course.
Cardboard boxes are great for a DIY obstacle course because they’re lightweight, generally harmless, and most people have them around the house. Use them as markers, directional assistance, or even designate a part of the course as a “box hop” where the kids get into the box (upside down) and get to the next station by hopping.
We’ve done that before, and the kids went crazy for it.
Kids obstacle course ideas
There are so many fun and creative ways to spice up your DIY obstacle course – and don’t let us limit you. We’re only here to provide some ideas and inspiration, because the possibilities are truly endless.
With that said, here are some options to get started.
If you have a big family (no one said the adults can’t participate, too) or the neighbors are joining in the fun, consider dividing everyone into teams. You can have even more fun by creating team names, wearing the same colors, and instituting a points system to keep track of how each team is doing throughout the obstacle course. And, it goes without saying that a little friendly competition always makes things more interesting.
Grab your stopwatch and channel your inner time trials referee. See which kid (or team) can complete the obstacle course in a defined period of time, or more simply, have a running clock for each participant to find out who’s the quickest and most efficient in completing the obstacle course.
Every kid loves a prize, right? This is a fun way to incentivize them to complete the backyard obstacle course and, just as importantly, outduel their siblings or friends. Don’t feel it necessary to go “big” with your prizes, but make it something they can display with pride to let everyone know they conquered the obstacle course better (and faster) than everyone else.
Pizza party after
The only thing better than a pizza party is a surprise pizza party. After a long afternoon of tackling the obstacle course and working up a sweat, chances are the kids are also going to work up an appetite. Be prepared and plan ahead – which means the best solution is pizza. What kid doesn’t love pizza?
DIY obstacle course safety tips
Sure, the obstacle course is going to be set up in your backyard and you’re always more at ease when you have eyes on the kids…but before getting started, make sure safety is the No. 1 priority.
Here’s how to do it.
Clean the backyard first
A good first step would be to mow the lawn and make sure you can see anything that could cause harm, whether it’s rocks, nails, sticks, etc. You don’t want kids (who may prefer to be barefoot) stepping on something that can puncture the skin or necessitate an unwanted trip to the hospital.
Wear proper footwear
Another wise idea is to have everyone, kids and adults, wear shoes when taking on your DIY obstacle course. Not only will it protect the feet but shoes provide stability and traction that kids may not get with their bare feet.
Be prepared for weather
Hey, you’re outdoors…so you never know what the day will bring. If there’s rain in the forecast, make sure the kids are wearing comfortable clothes (activewear is a great idea) and they’re able to quickly get indoors if thunderstorms arrive. If you have the space indoors, consider alternative “inside” obstacle courses or other games to keep them occupied and engaged until the bad weather passes.
Safety means a commitment to safety – it doesn’t just happen on its own. Before beginning the obstacle course, it’s important to have a “safety rundown” with the kids to let them know both how to take on the course, and also lay down the ground rules to keep everyone safe. For example, “hustle but don’t run” is a rule we’ve introduced before, and also, to be respectful of everyone’s space and don’t bump, push or shove anyone out of the way.
So, there you have it! Hopefully you’re excited and ready to build a DIY obstacle course for kids right in your own backyard – and maybe even take on the challenge yourself. Just like DIY swing sets from Eastern Jungle Gym, an obstacle course is ideal for getting your children (and their friends) outdoors and using their imaginations and physical skills.
Want to reduce screen time and keep your kids active? We strongly recommend building an obstacle course at home. They’ll love it.