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People ask all the time to see my outdoor space. Setting up my home daycare playground took me a few years, but we love playing on it! For more ideas on running a home daycare, check this out.
Why do you need to set up a home daycare playground in your yard? It’s so important for kids to play in nature and get fresh air and sunshine. They also get a ton of active play outside. Whether you have a super small yard or a giant expanse of space, you can create a fun place that helps kids learn every day. Kids can do active play, dramatic play, quiet play, art and so much more outside.
The first thing you need to do before you comb through all the home daycare playground ideas here is think about the age group you’ll have playing on it. Over the course of my home daycare career, I have kept kids from birth to age 12 and there’s a big difference in needs for each age group. And check out the home daycare regulations that everyone needs to start with here.
Infant swing set
Are you going to be keeping infants? Where will you put them down at outside? I have had an exersaucer that I’ve used outdoors for infants. It worked great, but always had to be dragged inside in bad weather and it was hard to shake it out and make sure there weren’t any spiders or wasps or something in it before I put the baby in. My hands were already full.
I have used a playmat that was waterproof, laid it down on the pea gravel or grass, and laid the baby on it. That worked pretty well until the baby learned to crawl. It’s great for babies to sit in the grass and explore, but the mom I had didn’t want her baby to get dirty. So, I got one of those plastic fences and put around it when she asked me to. Then when I could, I would hold the baby while I sat on the grass so he could still see nature and grab some grass and stuff.
You could use a pack and play to keep them safe, but the same problem with dragging it out and in again. I installed an infant swing on my metal swing set and that worked great when I needed a safe place for the baby to sit for a few minutes. They even make infant swing sets that are small and have climbers on one side and a swing on the other. That would be a great tool to have on your playground.
Outdoor playsets for toddlers
Toddlers, kids who are starting to walk, can safely explore a lot more area. The same infant swing set would work great for them as well. You could also allow them to explore in the grass more because they are up on their feet.
There are so many great small climbers for younger kids that are lower to the ground than the big wooden playsets. I have had my 8 in 1 climber for about 20 years and it’s been a wonderful tool for kids 1-12 all of this time. I am so glad I bought it. I would suggest, no matter what age you keep, you get an outdoor playset like this.
Playground toys for school-age kids
Older kids can really put a lot of wear and tear on your home daycare playground. I prefer the metal swing set frame to wood because of splinters and maintenance. I have replaced the swings on my frame twice and it’s been going strong for over 10 years. When I had school-age kids, I did have to remind them not to swing all the way to the sky because they would break the anchors out of the ground. If I did school-age kids now, I would probably not have swings in my home daycare playground because it can be a safety problem for young kids walking around as well.
They do great climbing on the 8 in 1 and jumping off. They love even the little slides. I’ve had an alligator teeter-totter that seems indestructible and they’ve been loving that over the years. Even older kids still love to dig and build. School-age kids REALLY love the daycare garden as well.
Daycare playground layout
Next, you need to consider how you want to set up what you decide to put in your home daycare playground. Are there hazards near your yard such as pollution, big neighboring dogs, traffic, or other dangers? You’ll have to have a fenced-in area for the kids to play, and you may want to fence in just part of your yard for them.
If you have pets that use the yard, it would be nice to have a separate area for them. If you don’t, you’ll have to make sure all the animal waste is cleaned up daily before you take the kids out to play.
Do you have a lot of wildlife in your yard? You’ll need to make a plan on how to make sure there are no snakes or animals like squirrels that may carry rabies in the kid’s play area before they play. A quick look around is all it takes. Just think about what dangers there may be outside and make a plan for how you will keep your home daycare playground safe.
Now think about the areas you have available? Do you have grassy areas? Do you have a patio that would be good for ride-on toys? Do you have access to your driveway and sidewalks in the play area?
What about an impact area for climbers and swings? If the structure is 3 feet off the ground, you need something that absorbs more impact than grass. Mulch, pea gravel, rubber mulch, mats, or whatever you like to use needs to be at least 4-6 inches deep under those pieces of equipment to prevent fall injuries. So, think about how you would accomplish that.
We have little tykes edging around our playground. We’ve had it for about 20 years and it’s still in great condition. One piece got broken in a tree fall, but other than that, it’s hard to tell it’s old. We paid a lot for it, but it’s been worth it. It’s held up great, the kids use it for a balance beam, and it holds our pea gravel in place.
We purchased 15 tons of gravel and had it delivered in a dump truck. They dumped it next to the driveway and we hauled it into the edging in wheelbarrows. We put landscape fabric down, commercial-grade before we installed the rock. And we have loved it for 20 years. I would totally recommend it.
There are plenty of other ways to mulch the home daycare playground, so do your research and ask your fellow childcare providers. We have a great group on Facebook you can join and ask questions of other providers. Click I Daycare So Hard and request to join.
You can even get tiles that absorb impact. They make for a super neat play area. They keep things a lot cleaner. But do they get hot in the sun? Do they stay together well? I would read lots of reviews and talk to other providers and see how they like them. I don’t have any experience with them. I do see that they are fairly costly. So, consider that when making the decision. Most home daycare providers don’t have a big playground budget.
The last thing to think about before you decide what you want in your home daycare playground is comfort. Are there areas of shade to get out of the sun? Do you have tree cover or an awning for kids to cool off under?
If you don’t have any shade or tree cover, you can invest in playground covers. They come in all kinds of shapes, colors, and sizes and they can help block out a lot of heat and sun. You can build a permeant structure but you can also buy fabric ones that connect to posts and are removable.
Is there a place for kids to have access to drinking water? We leave our cups right inside the house. Our back door is in the kitchen where we keep the water cups. So, we just open the door and run in and get a drink any time anyone is thirsty. It saves me from having to keep up with all the waters outside. If we have an event, I’ll put an ice chest out filled with bottles of water with names on them.
Do you have sunscreen and bug spray at the ready? Is there a place to store it outside? Inside near the exit door? I’ve seen small cabinets outside that would be handy for that. We keep ours right by the back door in the kitchen as well.
Now to decide what to put in your home daycare playground. There are so many choices and many providers face the problem of a really small yard, so we will address that first.
Playsets for small yards
Again, I LOVE the 8 in 1 for a small yard. If that is all I could have for my kids, I would definitely get it. There are many versions of a nice climber like this on the market today.
I feel like it’s the best investment because it lasts forever (20 years of play from all ages of children) and it gives you slides, climbing, and playhouse type shapes. You also get a tunnel. I love it. There are others that are shaped like trees, ships, or other things that look super fun too!
Obviously, it would be great for a big yard too, but if you could get only one thing to fit in your space, it’s awesome for that as well. If space were not a problem at all and I had a big budget, I would probably get two.
Swing sets for small yards
Some climbers come with a swing or two and that would be an awesome space-saving idea for your home daycare playground. I have a metal swing set and they tend to be far smaller than the wooden type. If space were a premium, I would go for metal. You can get the small ones like I have with just two or three swings and a slide.
Ours had a teeter-totter, but it broke so we removed it. It also had a slide, but that cracked so we replaced it and that one cracked and we recently got rid of it as well. But the frame is still great. We’ve replaced the swings on it once. They are inexpensive and easy to replace so I plan to use it until retirement.
If I had a super small space, I would get a two swing and a slide one. That meets the needs for the smallest amount of space.
Daycare playground equipment
There are so many fun and wonderful choices for home daycare playground equipment. As many as there are personalities and tastes. You can do natural playscapes, all plastics, metal, wood, and more.
Do you want outdoor music? Do you like muddy messy play? Do you want lots of grassy areas for kids to explore? Do you want a lot of hard surfaces for kids to drive cars on and ride trikes? Think about the ideal play area you want to make.
I love having natural things for kids to play on. We have a large grassy area. We also have some natural balance beams for them to climb on and drive cars on. We just cut some large branches from a tree when we needed to trim it off the roof of our house. Then we cut it into one long piece and one shorter piece so they’d have a little area to climb. We just laid them down in the gravel. They love it and play on it all the time.
We also have a fairy garden where kids can dig in the dirt and grow little plants. They often get torn out and we replant something else. We have pea gravel in our landing zone playground area. The kids love to dig and pour and measure with that.
I’d love to add more natural play that is permanent. But we do have the preschool garden that gives us many different opportunities for temporary natural play. For instance, we just harvested sunflower heads so those are in the play area for exploration.
Don’t forget that it’s super cool to create play spaces that are not flat. It’s free to dig a hole in the yard and pile the dirt up to make a valley and a hill. When grass grows over it, it’s fun to run and climb the mountain.
I love for kids to have places to crawl through. Our 8 in 1 has a climbing tunnel. There are many other playground tunnels you can get. I have seen people bury a large pipe in the ground and cover the top with dirt and grow grass and flowers on top. The ends are open for kids to crawl through. This would be such a magical place for a child.
Playground climbing structures
Playground climbing structures can be plastic like what I have, or metal like the old ones we had in elementary school. They come in all shapes and sizes and are made out of many materials. There are giant wooden ones as well that are super cool. Those were never in my price range.
But playground climbers can also be recycled tires that are bolted together. They can be made of other upcycled materials. They can be anything you can imagine. The main thing is the gross motor skills kids build by climbing up them and the balance and strength they build playing on them. It’s only limited by your imagination.
There are also net climbers. They are like a big fishing net that you can hang vertically or over a triangle shape. They are always tons of fun. And they are great exercise for kids. The rope mesh is fairly inexpensive. If you can find or build a good solid structure to put them on, you could probably have a fairly inceptive climbing area.
Once you have the main structures chosen for your home daycare playground, then it’s just filling it in with the rest. Do you want a mud kitchen for kids to play in? What about sand and water play? Are loose parts your thing? Where will you put them?
Is there room for sprinkler play? Do you have an area for kids to bounce balls and shoot baskets? You can still have balls the kids can kick and chase and throw even if you don’t. What about ride on toys? Coupe cars are fun. So are push cars that a child can sit on and you push from behind. They can even push each other. What about trikes to ride?
Do you want some outdoor music? I would love to have that but my neighbors are close and I have mercy on them. But if you have an open space you live in, the more music the better.
How to store outdoor play equipment
Where are you going to store all of these things? Do you want a place to put them away? Do you have grass or will the rain splash mud on everything? Do you want a mat to put the toys on? Or a toy box? Some people even build a little short carport type structure to keep the weather off the movable toys. Think about how much mess you can handle looking at and how you want to do it.
The best thing we have in our outdoor play space is our preschool garden. You can check out ours by clicking the highlighted link. You don’t have to do anything large or elaborate, you can just use a few five-gallon buckets or a 3 x 3 raised bed to teach a ton of things about nature, science, and life.
I promise if you look into gardening with your kids, you’re going to enjoy a ton of learning yourself. I bet you will probably fall in love. There are a few things you need to get started. Soil, water, and full sun. The rest is up to you.
Grants for playground equipment
There may be funding available for playground equipment in your area. You can google daycare playground grants in and add your location to see if something is available. You can also check with your licensing agency and any tribal resources that serve your area.
You can also consider fundraising for playground equipment like we have done in the past. There is always the opportunity to find used equipment. Check on Facebook marketplace and craigslist to find leads for that.
And also consider making things homemade with upcycled materials like tires and things you may already have. There are so many ways you can save on home daycare playground equipment. Don’t give up if your budget is small. Keep saving and working on plans and eventually, you’ll build the playground you dream of for your daycare kids.
For ideas for home daycare setups and home daycare layouts, check these articles out.