In my view, a playhouse is almost a requirement for our Mission: Backyard Adventure! Whether plastic or wood, younger kids will enjoy getting off their screens, and having their own world to inhabit and play in. Older kids will make a decent sized playhouse into a base or a clubhouse for them and their friends.
A playhouse is ideal for kids between 2 and 14 years old, with a sweet spot of 3-10 years. Indoor plastic playhouses are good for toddlers, whilst outdoor playhouses are well suited for kids between 4 and 15 years old. Larger wooden playhouses are great for kids 5 or 6 years all the way through to teens.
Younger kids will need supervision as they play, but older kids will appreciate having a private retreat. It’s a good idea to make the playhouse a “no-screen” zone.
We’ll go through the various types of playhouses, and what ages they are suited for in more detail below.
What Age Are Indoor Plastic Playhouses For?
Indoor playhouses are designed for younger kids, between 18 months and 5 years. My kids still enjoyed it up to 7 years. They are generally constructed from a heavy-duty plastic, able to be easily wiped down. Kids will enjoy having an open private space where they can make a kitchen, a café, or an empire.
You can put it in a rumpus room or living room, or even on the deck. For my kids, once the attached slide was conquered, they didn’t use it as a slide much. It became into a way for barbarians to enter the castle. And the ‘house’ space inside the playhouse continued to be a source of inspiration for their imagination.
Ideal elements for an indoor plastic playhouse are working doors and window shutters, a ‘sink and tap’ and a cupboard or two. You might also get a separate little kitchen or workshop set and put it inside or beside it.
What Age Are Outdoor Plastic Playhouses For?
Outdoor plastic playhouses are designed for younger kids, between 2 years and 6 years. Again, slightly older kids will still enjoy it a great deal. They might be made of even more durable plastic, often UV-resistant to prevent fading in direct sunlight. Whilst these are more likely to have climbing walls, slides or stairs, do look for one that still has an area that feels like a little room.
Having a little ‘room’ with shutters and/or a door gives a feeling ownership of place for kids. It doesn’t have to be fully enclosed, but enough that it is their space to turn into whatever is in their imagination that day. I’d be less inclined to add a kitchen or workshop set outside as the little pieces will be lost in the garden fairly quickly!
On a care and maintenance front, you’ll want to wipe it down from time to time before any dirt or mildew start to build-up.
What Age Are Outdoor Wooden Playhouses For?
Outdoor wooden playhouses are great for kids 4-15 years. This is where they really come into their own. Kids will start to make clubhouses with a storyline, and spend a good deal of time out there. These are bigger than a typical plastic playhouse. They will range from very basic little cabins (4’ x 4’) to mini-mansions with internal stairs, rooms and swing sets and slides built off the side (16’ x 9’).
Do remember to get one that is suitable for your budget. Whilst I love my kids to bits, I wouldn’t get a loan for a playhouse.
A good size outdoor wooden playhouse is around 4’ x 5’. It can be as simple as a garden shed, although you should take any locks off the door so they don’t play prisoners for real.
When Can Kids Play Unsupervised?
Keep in mind that every child is different. You’ll know if your child needs special attention or watching. However, kids do need the freedom to find where their own boundaries are.
Kids should be able to play outside in the yard by themselves from the age of six, as long as you have visual line of sight and in direct hearing. From the age of eight, you can just let them be in the yard whilst you are elsewhere in the house. You’ll want to check in on them every hour or so.
Even at the age of 12 or 13, you can probably leave them alone for a few hours, but not for a whole day. They still need to check in with you and know that you are there for them.
This is when the outdoor wooden playhouse will truly come into its own.
Playhouses For Ages 4-7 Years
Between the ages of 4 -7 years old, the playhouse should be adaptable to a growing sense of independence. It should be in hearing range of the house. It will likely have good quality wood to withstand the elements, and an opening door and/or shutters on the windows.
Kids will want to drag everything from their bedrooms into the playhouse, blankets, pillows, soft toys. Let them! But be sure to bring everything back indoors after. Whilst these playhouses are likely to give some shelter, they generally aren’t waterproof, and soft furnishings will get damp and moldy before you know it.
A simple one room playhouse, at ground level or elevated, will provide hours of imaginative play.
Playhouses For Ages 8-10 Years
Between the ages of 8-10 years, the growing sense of independence has turned into a sense of separate identity. A private space where you can leave the kids is just magnificent from their point of view.
This is where you want to make the playhouse as sturdy as possible. It will probably be climbed on. Balls will be kicked against it. Someone will try to string up a flying fox between a tree and the playhouse. It needs to not fall over easily!
A great playhouse for this age group will have a playset attached. The swings or climbing wall or spiderweb swings will be both vigorously played with and provide drifting motion for more pensive moments.
A simple one room playhouse 8’ x 6’, often elevated, will be base camp and a defensible outpost. If there is a playset attached, this will help with general fitness, flexibility and strength. A table inside, with art materials available, might generate a magazine or comic.
Other options include a loft or internal staircase. This will add to the sense of ownership and pride of place. Just make sure that you can get up and in there if there is some emergency. Again, bring the soft furnishings inside when the weather turns.
Playhouses For 11-13 Years
Between 11-13 years, the tween and start of the teen years, kids want to show just how independent they are. Whether you have a bunch of kids on the street, or they prefer some alone time, a playhouse will still get a lot of use.
They might say that they are too old for such an activity, but don’t be surprised if you find them hanging out there. Let them help you repaint it and decorate it to feel more like a teen’s retreat. They’ll still need art materials and books, but also whatever else they are into.
It will start to look more like a clubhouse. Swings will still get used, but as they get older, there will be a lot more lazing around and talking.
To Wrap It Up
I know that for my kids, a playhouse was part of the magic triangle of their outdoor world, along with the trampoline and the pool. Oh, and I guess I should add the fridge. Ok, the playhouse was part of the magic square. Even as they grew up, it never got old. They only really stopped using it around 14-15 years.
Good luck! And Go Forth Kids!