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Monkeying Around

How to turn up the volume on a backyard kid's zone

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When I was a girl, my dad heroically took play time to the next level. Having no backyard, he put a public park-style 10-foot steel slide in the living room of our Portland studio apartment. Though, how he obtained said play aid is strictly classified, I will never forget how much joy that recovered rubbish chute and ladder brought to my sister and me. We rallied hot laps while he cooked dinner and infinitely ran laundry. For me, that slide set the stage for a lifelong love of all things downhill in the form of biking, snowboarding, roller skating and even dropping wave trains in a kayak.

A-frame climbing wall. - BRIAN SCHUMACHER
  • Brian Schumacher
  • A-frame climbing wall.

Good old-fashioned unstructured play can set kids off on the right foot for a love of recreation and creativity.

Luckily for Bendites like Brian Schumacher, owner and operator of B.P. Schumacher Contracting LLC, and father of two, there are plenty of backyards in the high desert.

Schumacher, who's constructed four backyard play zones, says he follows these steps when building personalized outdoor play spaces:

Assessment of Ground Zero

"Take a look at the area you are working with," explains Schumacher, "make sure the area is suitable for play structure(s)." Consider the amount of space and any obstructions such as trees and rocks. And, be clear about your goals. "I wanted to transform my backyard to create an area to stimulate imagination, create fun challenges, and promote healthy play for my kids," reflects Schumacher.

Kid Input

"Talk to your kids. Find out what they want, but keep it realistic, folks," said Schumacher. "My kids definitely had roles in the building process... It was very important to me for them to be part of the process and to witness what it takes to create something. They were very vocal in what they wanted and are part of an open conversation of what to add."

Materials

Plan out your build and gather your materials. For Schumacher this meant a lot of reclamation. "Company shout out to the Restore of Bend, [an] invaluable resource for materials, great source for imagination and a great cause to support," said Schumacher.

Kid Powered

Build it! Let your kids help where they can. "In total, I think the fort took around 40 hours to build. The play structure took around 20 hours to build. The A-frame took around 12 hours to build. The kitchen took around four hours. [My kids] were out there fetching tools and materials. Mainly they made me chuckle with their impressions of me. My oldest kid, Russelle, said, 'It's really awesome my dad made it. The funnest thing to play is 'Pirates.'"

Schumacher's play zone projects to date: In his own words

Fort: This was the first play structure I created in my backyard. I wanted to build something for my kids that would serve as a playhouse, a shell for imagination, a sanctuary, a sleep out shelter, and something that could be utilized in many capacities (storage...) without having to change a lot of elements. I was inspired by a lot of old mining buildings that are very prominent where I grew up in Southwest Colorado. I utilized mainly reclaimed lumber for the build, including old cedar fence boards for the siding. Those have an amazing patina and aged look. The windows and door came from the Restore in Bend.

K.M. COLLINS
  • K.M. Collins

Play structure: I created the play structure to satisfy the need for something to challenge and inspire my kids. I wanted to create an elevated platform with room underneath for storage and more room for imagination. I used an old cedar fence board for the back wall on the top of the platform. We talked about a "ramp" and decided on a pallet ramp, that we laid plywood on one side to run trucks and things down. Recently though, we decided to get rid of the ramp and add a climbing wall. The nice thing about this concept is the simplicity and ability to adapt to meet their growing interests, needs and desire for challenges.

A-frame and climbing wall: This was for a client and was one of a few features created in a play area. I wanted to create a challenging climbing structure with different ways and difficulties to reach the top. I created a padded, elevated platform within the A-frame with enough room for kids to play in. The platform within the A-frame is also intended for sleep outs. The entire structure concept is a "shell for imagination." The design is simple in construction and stylized to match simple concepts of the other outdoor structures.

Play kitchen: In the shared space where the A-frame sits is a play kitchen. The kitchen is comprised of a sink (thrift store bowl), etched-in burners with control knobs, a backsplash and storage underneath. It is a perfect spot for water play, outdoor world experiments and creative play. The construction is simple but built stout to withstand the rigors of play.

And for Schumacher, the evolution of backyard play zones is ever unfolding. "The play area in our backyard is subject to change as my kids' needs and desires change. I am looking for new ways to challenge them and to stimulate imagination. I will be adding a climbing wall this summer. Inside the fort, I will be building a loft. The process will never be over until the kids are too old to appreciate the play structure. The fort was planned to be phased into a studio or storage area once the kids are no longer interested in using it as a play fort."

For more information on constructing a home outdoor play zone, email Brian at: bpschumachercontracting@gmail.com

For more ideas on backyard play construction:

thebackyardgnome.com

tipi.com

nwplayground.com


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