Sometimes you just don’t feel like having a swing set in your yard. It might be for any one of a number of reasons, and you sure don’t have to justify it to anyone (except maybe your kids).
However, if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you do want to get something for your yard. Something that’s going to be fun, engaging, and safe. And not a swing set.
I’ve managed to find some great alternatives. I’ve grouped them so that there are some similar to things you would find on a swing set, and then others that will help keep the kids active and safe, but are nothing like a traditional swing set.
Where possible, I’ve included videos of how people can make these themselves at home for low cost. You’ll need to be a little handy, with a basic set of tools. If you want to go shopping instead, everything here can also be purchased already made from a shop. Just use this list as inspiration instead.
Go forth kids to Mission: Backyard Adventure!
What To Get Instead Of A Swing Set
1. Swing attachment on a tree
A swing that hangs from a strong tree branch can be a true adventure. Whether it’s a plank seat or part of an old tire (without radial steel inside), if you can swing on it, it will be fun. You’ll need a generous hardwood tree, perhaps an oak, ash or maple. The branch should be at least 6-8” in diameter, and the swing attachments should be around 30” from the trunk. You can either throw a rubber-protected chain over, or attach hooks directly into the tree. Whatever you use shouldn’t ‘rub’ the tree bark. If you ringbark the branch, this will kill it and run the risk of the branch breaking.
These spiderwebs are suited to younger kids, rather than teens. You can sit on them, lie on them, have a couple of kids on there at once. It’s less of an active swing, unless you ignore the manufacturer’s instructions and stand up to push it. Just like an ordinary swing, they are fairly flexible in how you might set it up. You can build an A-frame, attach it to a strong branch (see the tree swing above), or even put it between two upright trees. Here’s a video I found that shows how a dad strung up the spiderweb between two strong trees in his wooded yard.
Kids love hammocks. You can create your own private world in there, and be transported to a swashbuckling treasure island, or a romantic lawn escapade. Perfect for reading, thinking or just chill time. Like almost everything on the list, it can be as simple or elaborate as you need. If you’re looking for a low cost homemade solution, check out this excellent video where someone has made a hammock stand for their yard, costing only $35 in parts. I’d probably sand and stain this, but you can’t go past the price. Somebody even put a parts and cut list in the comments.
4. Climbing Wall
Climbing walls are great for active kids who want to test themselves and reach great heights. Depending on your kids, you might want to start with something that is no more than 6ft high, and has good rubber matting at the base. When you look for instructions on how to do this, I’d recommend going with something fairly simple. Try an A-Frame style climbing wall where the kids can go up and then over the side first, before you build a 12ft underhang. You can get climbing hold kits that are fairly reasonable. Just attach them less than 18” apart for little kids and 24” for slightly older ones.
5. Monkey Bars
If you want something that actively builds strength and co-ordination, then the original version of a climbing wall has to be the monkey bars. I remember these were in every playground at school, generally 10ft tall or more, and placed over bare asphalt. Nowadays, they are smaller, and placed over rubber matting or mulch, but still fun as the kids learn to trust their own abilities. This video shows a guy who has built some monkey bars, as part of a series of making an entire Ninja Warrior yard.
6. Obstacle course
If you’ve got kids at home who enjoy playing, but aren’t elite athletes, you can easily build a temporary obstacle course. For toddlers and younger kids, they will love completing it. And if you are sitting outside, you’ll probably have to time them as they go around and try to make a new PB (personal best time).
I’d start fairly simple, so you can change it up to keep it fresh. A skipping rope on the ground to start and finish. An old wood ladder to hopscotch through. A long piece of timber on the ground, with a brick underneath in the center so that it tilts as you walk across. Several cut down tree stumps to hop between. Some old hula-hoops or tires to jump in the center of. And of course, a stretch of yard for the final sprint.
But you can also go elaborate. See what one company has to offer in the video below.
7. Flying Fox
This is where you attach a handle or a seat to a zipline. The zipline is a wire that is hung up tight between two points, such as a tree or bolt into a wall. One point needs to be higher than the other, so that you can move along by gravity. It needs to be tight enough that when your ‘carriage’ travels along the zipline, it doesn’t sag too much. It needs to have good stopping rubber or other mechanism, for fairly obvious reasons. Here’s the best step-by-step instructions I’ve seen. This is an ‘at-your-own-risk’ endeavor.
8. Giant drums
When I was around 6, and my siblings 4 and 2 years old, my folks were just starting out. We had 3 black round drums, probably old chemical drums, hopefully well washed out. It was the seventies, so we all live in hope. We would climb on them, try to walk on them, pyramid stack them, and then climb on them some more. These were the single most important element in practicing for our soon-to-be famous circus.
You can still get 55 gallon round plastic drums. Just try to get them new, or at least, very very well washed out. There are food-grade ones, and you may be able to find them at your local plastic recycler that collects from farms or even produce markets.
9. Teeter totters
Depending on where you live, this might be a teeterboard or a seesaw. Regardless, it will be super fun to use with your younger kids. They need to be old enough to hold onto the handles themselves, stay upright and not fall off. By two years old, they should be well and truly there. By four years old, they will be super excited to do this with you, their friends, and even try out the ever-patient family pet. They come in wood, metal or plastic. And of course, if you are somewhat handy with wood, you can make it yourself in an afternoon. Just be sure to use outdoor materials for the seat, and seal the wood before you start.
Here’s a neat video I found of someone who delighted his four-year old. You’ll be amazed at how simple it is.
I hope this has given you some inspiration for what you can have instead of a swing set in your yard. There are always ways that we can make Mission: Backyard Adventure more engaging and fun, and keep the kids safe in your yard.