As I’m sure many families have noticed during lockdown… kids have SO MUCH ENERGY. After almost a year of social distancing (i.e. not being able to temporarily hand your little ones over to other people), chances are you’re running out of ways to keep them entertained.
Sound about right?
Well, now we can still squeeze in a little bit of daylight garden-play after “school” and at the weekend, we suggest finding fun, outdoor activities to keep your kids busy – like building an outdoor play area to give them a physical and mental workout. Yep, we’ve pulled together a whole list of different garden obstacle ideas for kids you can try out at your home, packed with out-of-the-box obstacle suggestions and tips.
5 Reasons Why to Make a DIY Obstacle Course for Kids
There are a whole bunch of TV shows that can inspire your kids to try an obstacle course. When I was growing up it was all about Gladiators, then Total Wipeout and Takeshi’s Castle were all the rage and, across the pond, Ninja Warrior seems to be the “thing”.
You might not be quite up to the task of building the huge-scale sets of the popular TV shows, but even garden obstacle courses have their benefits. Obstacle courses are not only great for getting your child to stay active and improve their motor skills – the right obstacles can help challenge their problem-solving skills, too! Here are a few more fun reasons to build some obstacles for your kids to jump across, climb over, or crawl under.
1. Building self-confidence
Obstacle courses push kids to step out of their comfort zone to improve both their physical abilities and problem-solving skills. It’s important for kids to learn about setting goals, and to come up with strategies to complete them. Being able to complete a difficult challenge then gives them the sense of achievement they need to boost their confidence.
2. Enjoy some healthy competition
A garden obstacle course that requires different skills – like physical strength, speed, accuracy and balance – makes it more interesting when your children race against others. Being able to help (and be helped by) others through the course builds sportsmanship, while seeing how different people excel in different areas encourages empathy and appreciation.
3. Making new friends through teamwork
Some of the best obstacle courses require a little bit of teamwork, and make a great excuse for inviting your child’s friends over or asking the neighbours’ kids to come and play. Adding some fun team-building games for kids adds to the experience, helping young minds to improve their communication skills.
4. Cut back on screen time
Sure, the internet is a great place for entertainment and to learn stuff. However, in the digital age, kids sometimes need some encouragement to learn stuff off-screen. An intriguing obstacle course is a great way to tempt children away from their gadgets, improve their fitness and potentially stimulate brain growth and boost cognitive performance.
5. Give their immune system a boost
Light to moderate physical activity is linked to a stronger immune system. Spending their sunny days taking on an obstacle course should hopefully lead to fewer sniffles and days off school in winter!
Simple Garden Obstacle Course Ideas for Toddlers Aged 1-3
Kids can benefit from an obstacle course even when they’re just toddlers. As long as your challenges are the right level of difficulty, tiny tots can improve their motor skills, spatial awareness, physical control, balance, agility and concentration.
As a parent, the difficult part is often figuring out what age-appropriate obstacles look like. Of course, every child is different so supervision (and assistance) is essential, but here are some garden obstacle ideas that are perfect for very young children.
1. Crawl-through tunnels
If your little one is still learning the ropes of walking, focus on obstacles that are a little closer to the ground.
For example, a variety of tunnels to crawl through, low blocks to clamber over and wide, flat paths for them to “balance” along without the risk of falling off. Choosing lightweight fabrics or soft-play style obstacles is a great idea at this age!
2. Water obstacles
Water-based activities are perfect for a hot day! Try starting your obstacle course with a water-balloon piñata, or targets for your kids to shoot with water pistols (obviously younger kids can have easier targets).
The final challenge of the course could be a slide into a paddling pool, or picking up an object from the bottom of a shallow pool – ideal to cool off and catch their breath!
3. Sensory experiences
Encourage curiosity about the world from an early age with a “sensory walk”, and help your child learn about the things they experience along the way. Take the route across several different surfaces (like a patio, cobbles, sand and lawn), and prepare boxes where your kids have to touch, smell or listen to different items.
You could use dried leaves, shells, nuts and seeds, but also include items from inside the home, like cotton wool, coins or even their own toys! Take a look at more sensory garden ideas, if this appeals to you.
4. Climbing through netting
Loose netting can present quite the obstacle for toddlers, but scrambling through it will test their motor skills as well as their patience. Mix netting together with crawl-through tunnels, hoops and other obstacles.
5. Paddling pool fishing
Garden challenges don’t have to involve running around! Help younger kids practice their motor skills with paddling pool fishing games. Put a few coloured floating objects in the pool, and task them with scooping up specific things in a net.
As they get older, you can swap the net for a trickier hook combo, fairground style.
6. String “laser” net
Tie strings in between two objects to create pretend “laser” sensors that your kids need to carefully duck under and weave through. Perfect for a spy-themed garden party!
7. Mini obstacles
Even if they’re not able to traverse a tricky surface unaccompanied, you can introduce these kinds of obstacles so your adventurous little ones can start becoming familiar with them.
Fun Children’s Outdoor Obstacle Course Ideas for Kids Aged 4-7
As your kids get older, you can swap out sections of your garden obstacle course for more challenging tests of balance, jumping and running. Just remember the main element should always be fun! The goal is for children to associate being active with having fun.
Especially at this age, make sure you’re offering plenty of positive reinforcement and praise, encouraging your kids to tackle challenging obstacles and helping them to build confidence. It’s also important to emphasise that it’s okay if they don’t finish the course; enjoying an activity is a reward in itself.
With that said, here are some fun backyard obstacle course ideas for kids four years and up.
8. Chalk & imagination
Not sure your obstacle course is going to hold your child’s attention for longer than an afternoon? Try drawing out a route using chalk, with shapes to represent balancing beams, stepping stones and targets.
You could also draw arrows and directions – like “spin around” or “run to the fence”. If it sounds incredibly low-effort, that’s because it is – but as long as your kid has a vivid imagination, they won’t care!
9. Obstacle hoops
Hula hoops bring so many possibilities. You can ask kids to jump through them, across them (flat on the ground) or to hula hoop with them for a set length of time.
Once the creative juices start flowing, you’ll find they can be pretty versatile.
10. Recycled tyres
Tyre courses are an old-school obstacle course feature thanks to how many different ways they can be used. Depending on their size, you can get kids to crawl through them, or step across them.
You can also stack them or half-bury them in the ground for some more unusual challenges. Plus, they look bright and fun with a coat of playfully-coloured paint!
11. Slalom challenges
This is the perfect age for kids to test their balance and concentration. Lay down some cones or set up some posts that kids need to zig-zag through – and make it harder by asking them to balance a ball on a spoon or sports racquet at the same time. You could also use a slalom for kids to cycle, skate or dribble a ball through.
12. Hurdles and limbo
Having low fences and barriers to jump over or limbo underneath is an obstacle course staple – and this type of challenge is easily adjusted as your child’s skills improve. You can also raise or lower the barrier if taller (or smaller) kids want to play, too.
13. Monkey bars
Monkey bars are an amazing way to help your kids build their shoulders, biceps, and grip strength. For safety, it’s best to get a professional set of monkey bars installed, but they’re a great garden feature for kids.
They can play above and below them, plus monkey bars are a great frame for outdoor forts (or a garden cinema screen at night!)
14. Pool noodle courses
Pool noodles are still fun to play with out of the water – and make for fantastic obstacle course props. Use noodles to create race track barriers, hurdles, and fun, floppy bats.
15. Blindfolded courses
If you’re blessed with a very active child, they may quickly get too skilled for any obstacle course you can build yourself. Up the ante by getting them to do the course single-handed, or even blindfolded.
They’ll need to concentrate on using their other senses to succeed – or it can be a trust-building exercise by having a non-blindfolded friend give them instructions.
16. Boot camp-style course
We mentioned using old tyres earlier, but there are lots of other challenges that appear in conventional “boot camp” style obstacle courses. Incorporate physical exercises like sit-ups, push-ups and planks, as well as athletic activities like timed runs or the dreaded “bleep” test.
For physical obstacles, try getting them to crawl beneath low netting, or up and over a sturdy fence or hill with ropes.
17. Obstacles for bikes and ride-on toys
Don’t forget that obstacle courses and race tracks can work on wheels, too – although you’ll probably want to adapt some of your challenges.
Whether your child is still at the stage of ride-on toys and balance bikes, or if they’ve progressed to proper bikes, skateboards or rollerblades, let them try out some simple obstacles! Remember that knee pads, elbow pads and helmets are a must!
Challenging Outdoor Obstacle Course Ideas for Kids Aged 7+
Kids who are above seven years of age shouldn’t back down from taking on a complex obstacle course that pushes them further out of their comfort zone.
It’s around this age that kids start to get more consciously competitive, which is healthy to nurture in moderation. Keep up the teamwork-based obstacles too!
18. Complex, mix-and-match courses
You might only be able to keep younger kids focused on two or three obstacles at a time, before they wander off after a bug or a bird or a snack.
As they get older, you can increase not only the difficulty of the obstacles, but the number of challenges you put in the course. Use a combination of the ideas we’ve suggested so far to up the difficulty quickly!
19. Serious balancing test
Kids at this age are ready to take on obstacle courses that challenge their physical abilities more than ever. High balancing beams, cable walkways between trees and even junior slacklining are great tests of balance, posture, and coordination even for adults!
Safety needs to be a priority here, so think about harnesses, helmets and crash-mats suitable for the height of the course.
20. Climbing walls
Climbing walls take up very little space and can be built quite easily with a little bit of planning (just make sure to pick up some safety gear, too). You can have fixed walls that get more challenging as they stretch vertically or horizontally, or you can get conveyor-style walls that offer endless “climbing” action.
Take a look online for starter climbing wall kits that you can assemble on your own. Climbing walls pair really well with garden treehouses, too!
21. Tyre scrambles
If you have the space and the resources, build a big pile of tyres for kids to scramble up, down and across. This kind of obstacle requires perseverance and determination to conquer – and works kids’ balance, endurance and route-planning.
22. Challenging rope-climbs
While you test younger kids to avoid getting caught in a net, older kids can try and use rope nets as a way to climb up or along to a new obstacle. Rope nets also work well in combination with tree-houses!
23. Professionally-built obstacle courses
If you’ve got a generous budget and space (and especially if you’ve got multiple kids to entertain), look into getting an obstacle course custom-made. There are lots of features that professional builds have that a DIY course just won’t be able to include.
Find fun activities your kids want to try and already enjoy to keep encouraging them to see activity as an outlet for fun.
Unleash Your Child’s Inner Gladiator!
Obstacle course racing is a fun activity that can foster a lifelong love for fitness and problem-solving. These types of challenges are all about building confidence and encouraging your child to build new skills in unfamiliar situations. Plus, as we’ve highlighted in several places, obstacle courses can be completed in pairs or teams to mix friendly competition with team-building and support.
Building an obstacle course in your garden is ideal for letting your child burn off some extra energy where you can also keep an eye on them. Hopefully some of the ideas we’ve listed here will help you build an engaging place for your kids to race around any time they want.