A Low-Budget Way to Turn Your Backyard into a Park

My son and I love going to the park. Since his earliest days, getting outside and meeting friends at the playground has been one of our favorite weekly activities. Sadly this year, just as the weather was warming up, playgrounds across our country have been roped off with caution tape and deemed off-limits for children. This has left parents with the challenging role of explaining to our kids why we can’t go to the park like we used to and needing to come up with ways for them to get all their wiggles out within the boundaries of our homes and backyards. 

For our little family, we don’t have the money, space, or time to build a fancy swing set. Instead, I’ve had to get creative and resourceful with how to keep my little one active in our backyard within a modest budget. The great news is, it really doesn’t take much to keep a toddler entertained! 

Here are some low-cost ideas my son has loved: 

Sandbox: I bought a cheap plastic baby pool, got two bags of play sand, and found some toys for digging and building. All in, it probably cost me $25 to set this up and we have already spent hours playing in it. [Mom-tip: I used an old tarp to cover it at night so no critters make it their home and to protect it from rain.] 

Garden: Toddlers love water and pouring. You could use any plastic cup or bucket to let them water the plants or even just the bushes. I found a cute plastic watering can in the dollar section at the front of Target that’s just my son’s size. [Mom-tip: Fill up a larger vessel with water that you can use to refill their smaller bucket to save yourself countless trips to the faucet.] 

Slide: The plastic toddler slides last forever. If you can, I recommend finding something used. We managed to reach out to a neighbor who had older kids and see if they would let us borrow the slide we had seen sitting in their yard untouched for the last year. They were ecstatic to get rid of it—everybody wins! 

Swings: You can hang a single swing from a sturdy tree branch, a deck overhang, or in our case, an old clothesline pole! 

Bubbles: It’s amazing how entertaining bubbles can be for a little one. Make your own solution or pick up a few bottles. I found it was also good to get a larger bottle to refill the smaller bottles as there will likely be spills, and it’s better to have more bubbles on hand. [Mom-tip: If you get tired of blowing the bubbles yourself, find a cheap bubble machine.]

Picnic: The novelty of eating a meal outside can be a fun activity. Find any old sheet or blanket you have around the house and set up a cozy spot to relax in your yard. We have been doing afternoon reading time laying on a blanket, which has been enjoyable for both me and my son. 

Sidewalk chalk: Another simple and cheap activity for all age kids. [Mom-tip: I’ve been using sidewalk chalk to teach my toddler colors, shapes, and our numbers—he has loved it.] 

Water Table: This doesn’t have to be fancy. Last summer I used a rubbermaid bin, filled it with water and threw in some plastic cups. It kept my one year old happy and entertained for quite a long time. This year, I decided this would be the one item I would splurge on so I bought a new water table. Both the DIY version and the store-bought seem to be equally effective at keeping little ones busy and happy. [Mom-tip: They will get very wet. Put on a swimming diaper and clothes that are okay to get wet to keep the fun going for longer.] 

I still very much look forward to the days when we can share the swings with our friends, but for now when my son says, “Park, Mama!” I’m grateful we have found ways to continue to make memories and have fun in our backyard, which has quickly become our own little piece of heaven. 

Ashley Heyburn
Ashley is a mom to an incredibly active toddler, and wife to a kind-hearted Louisville, KY native. After over a decade living in Brooklyn, NY, and few years in Cincinnati, OH, she recently returned home to KC to plant roots and grow her family. Most days you will find her exploring local parks, libraries and playgroups with her son, and tapping into Kansas Cities great art scene whenever she can.