How do you make a boring backyard fun? Turn it into a backyard construction play area (aka a rock pit)!
Swing sets and trampolines are fun, but open-ended play areas that invite kids to use their imaginations and build and create... well, they're just plain awesome.
I have been staring at our boring, dirt-filled side yard now for over two years. It used to be a dog yard for the previous homeowners... but now we use it as a cardboard box graveyard and a place to stash baby pools and other random things.
It's been a total eyesore and I just knew it had the potential to be the ultimate kid's play area. So that's where the idea for our backyard construction play area was born.
One week ago, I sat my husband down with Pinterest and showed him some different inspiring ideas and then I mapped out my vision with a quick sketch.
My goals were to have all these things in this fancy new backyard area :
- gravel pit with diggers
- play kitchen
- outdoor easel (hopefully this gets built soon!)
- and a spot for me to sit!
Easy, right? ... Not completely.
Fortunately, my husband was raised by an engineer and loves a good project, so he got to work measuring and sketching and doing all sorts of math equations he hasn't used since high school to figure out all the angles perfectly.
How to build a backyard construction play area:
- First we measured out our space and figured how much wood we'd need to create a rock box. Kind of like a sand box... but for rocks.
- Next, we bought the wood and used a chop saw we borrowed from a friend to cut it to fit. We purchase redwood boards at Home Depot.
Here are a few quick designs my husband created. We ended up going with the left top design.
3. Next we got to work digging out the dirt to create a hole for the rocks to go in. We wanted the rock pit to be down pretty close to the ground so that it would be less of a tripping hazard for kids as they ran around.
4. We also used yarn (and stakes) to rope off the outline of the rock box so that we knew what to dig out. Our neighbor was so kind to lend us his pickaxe to break up the soil since Bay area clay soil is so hard to dig through!
5. Next, we secured everything into place. My husband used stakes to anchor the sides down and make them extra secure.
6. Then he covered the bottom of the hole with ground cover and secured those into the ground with more stakes so that it didn't move.
7. Finally, he secured the little low bench to the corner side of the rock box. I wanted a place to sit and watch the kids and play along without having to sit in the rocks. I love what he came up with!
8. Once everything was secure, it was time to add the rocks! We got rocks from a local masonry shop. They were half the cost of what we would've paid at Home Depot.
The biggest challenge at this point was finding a truck to haul the rocks! Fortunately a good friend offered to lend us her truck and saved the day!
9. Once the rocks were poured into the pit, we leveled them and spread them out and then it was time for the kids to get to play!
(PS- At any point when I use the words "we" in this project, just know that I was the brains and vision behind this project while my husband did all hard labor. I was the task master and helped keep everyone hydrated, fed, and complimented!)
Although we could've just left it as a plain rock pit with trucks at this point, I knew that adding a few other tools would ensure longer playtime for the kids!
Having simple tools for open-ended and imaginative play in your backyard can enhance and extend play time!
Here are a few of the items we added to the backyard construction play area, beyond just rocks and trucks.
Cool Tools for Your Backyard Construction Play Area:
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1. Cars and roads!
We purchased some rubber baseboards from Home Depot and turned them into car tracks. This genius idea was from Tatertots and Jello.
I used acrylic paint to paint some simple white lines on the baseboards and then we let them dry for a few hours. Once they were dry, we added some toy cars and kids were ready to play!
2. Wood blocks!
In addition to using wood to build the rock box, my husband also cut some extra pieces of wood that the kids could use in the play area for building. These wood pieces come in handy for building car ramps, digging, and making all sorts of creative things.
3. Rock Kitchen
4. Play Sink
We also added this little sink to the rock kitchen so that we could have running water! My mother-in-law gifted it to Annabelle for her birthday. We are in love with it. It fits perfectly inside the plastic bin that came with our kitchen. Hooray! The sink actually uses recirculated water, so you don't need a water source nearby. It's pretty much the highlight of the kitchen and is used non-stop.
4. Construction Signs
Next we added some construction signs we bought at Home Depot for $1-2 to the fence to add to the ambiance! The kids thought they were so cool. I bought one that says "Caution" and then I added "Kid's at play" at the bottom.
5. The Big Dig
The last addition to the rock pit was The Big Dig (a sandbox digger excavator crane). My friend Jackie who has three kiddos and her own backyard rock pit swears by it... so we had to grab one. Annabelle has a similar digger at preschool, so I knew she would love it!
6. Lots of trucks!
The trucks and diggers are also an important part of the rock pit. We have a variety of trucks to drive around. Here are a few of the ones we have. Some we were gifted for Annabelle's bday from my mom:
As you can imagine, my kids have been playing in their new construction backyard play area non-stop! Even my twelve year old (who helped build it), loves burying himself in the rocks and building and digging.
What are the rules of the rock pit?
This play area is like a glorified jumbo sensory bin. This means that we take all of the skills we've been learning over the last few years as we've played with sensory bins and we apply them here.
Basic sensory bin rules in little bin and jumbo bins include:
- Keep the rocks in the rock box (no dumping)
- Keep the rocks on the ground (no throwing)
- Keep the rocks out of your mouth (no eating).
Will they need reminders? Yes.
Just like I trained my kids to use sensory bins, I'll once again train them how to use this fun new sensory play area.
Training my kids to use sensory bins has helped them learn self control so that they can handle a bigger sensory experience like this one!
If they choose to break one of the rules, they get a little "break" from the rock pit and can come back and try again later.
This construction themed play area allows kids so many opportunities for building their creative skills, using their imaginations, and practicing problem solving skills!
Have any questions about our backyard play area? Ask them in the comments!
Do you have a backyard play area that you love? Tell us about it!