I recently wrote about our efforts to make our front yard into a neighborhood hangout. Well, we have a back yard, too. We live in Northern California, a land of high, unneighborly fences. Beyond our fences on all three sides are four homes with seven kids my kids’ ages.
Unlike many parents these days, I have no desire to invest in expensive play equipment, then have it used only by my children and the kids they invite over for playdates. So, my number one goal for the features I installed in my back yard was enticing neighbor kids to freely go around, over, or through our back fence to use them on a regular basis. That means they have to be very attractive, and also that means that I need to reach out frequently to those neighbors with whom we share fences to establish and maintain good relations.
Indeed, we have three very attractive features in our back yard:
- playhouse: Our log cabin-design playhouse has two stories and lots of extras. Inside, the first story has all whiteboard walls. The second story, with a pitched roof like a house attic, can sleep at least five kids. I put two super-comfortable memory foam mattresses in there that, unfolded, come together to make a bed larger than a king-sized bed. I’m sure our kids will have amazing sleepovers there in a few years when they get older. The second story is also the starting point for two slides – a straight slide coming out of the front, and a turbo (corkscrew) slide coming out the back. Outside, the playhouse has a front porch with a porch swing and rock climbing toe holds to climb up the front and back.
- swing set: Our swing set is very sturdy due to its heavy-duty A-frame design, and has places for three different swings. We swap in and out four different swings there: a conventional swing, a glider, a baby swing, and a horizontal tire swing.
Our back yard is indeed a huge hit with visitors and with the neighbor kids I’m keenly interested in attracting. Pretty much every time kids come back there they have a fabulous time. We’ve had kids’ parties there, including two birthday parties, that are the best kids’ parties I’ve ever attended in terms of the amount of fun kids had. Regarding neighbor kids, our back yard is the most sought-after destination in our block. They sometimes come by spontaneously and ask to play back there. Of the four adjoining neighbors, I’ve convinced one to agree to a gate in our fence thus far. Also, three kids from two other adjoining houses climb over the fence to play there on occasion, thanks in part to a great ladder we’ve placed on our side of the fence.
- ladder on our back fence: This is our first step in getting kids from neighboring yards to freely visit our back yard. In time, I’m hopeful that I’ll get these neighbors to agree to gates in our fences so kids can pass between our yards anytime they want. Heck, I’d love for us to just demolish all these fences like folks at N Street did, but I can’t get everything I want. Anyway, this ladder has turned out to be a great asset – kids often come climbing over to play in our back yard, so much so that we’ve become good friends with two neighbors behind us almost wholly because of the flow of kids back and forth.
Kids (and adults!) have had some amazing times here. The parties we’ve had here have been the best kid parties I’ve ever seen. Honestly – I’ve never seen anything like the screams and laughter and running and mayhem at these parties. Also, we have a really wild impromptu gathering there with neighborhood kids every two weeks or so.
Still, our back yard isn’t a total kid hangout yet. Kids aren’t coming over every day to play there. Those adjoining neighbor kids come over once or twice a week, on average. Other than some random scribblings on the whiteboard walls of the playhouse, kids have left no artifacts of their own back there. The playhouse is tailor-made to be a “secret clubhouse” sort of place, but that hasn’t happened yet.
My oldest, Marco, is barely five now, though. He hasn’t even had his first sleepover there yet. I’m quite hopeful that as our kids get a bit older, they start to have sleepovers there. Also, as we open some gates in fences (or tear them down completely!), we will be able to make our back yard into a bonafide kids’ hangout.