by Simmy Parker
Here we’re going to talk about how you can make your own DIY jungle gym in your own yard!
“What is a jungle gym?”, some might say.
A jungle gym is a structure with several attachments offering different methods of play, which enables several kids to play at once, while providing a shelter they can manipulate into their own environment.
For example, they may use a jungle gym to play house, restaurant, pirates, castle, or any number of games.
There are two major considerations you need to figure out before you get started, which are:
1. What kind of jungle gym do you want it to be, in terms of looks and style?
For instance, do you want it to look modern, or rustic? Overall, can you picture it in your mind?
Are you thinking of something like this?
The above is a more modern, mostly wood-construction with some colorful accents and a very child-friendly design, and a subtle locomotive theme.
Or perhaps you were thinking of something like this?
This is an older jungle gym, and, at the time it was constructed, took a totally different approach to your modern jungle gyms.
This was back when jungle gyms were made with less safety precautions and had a bit more of a problem-solving angle, effectively creating a literal jungle out of metal poles for kids to weave through (and probably bang their heads on occasionally).
These days, most parents probably would not opt for something like this, but it is interesting to see how it looks, because if you put a kid in front of this contraption, they certainly would play on it.
Not to mention, this highly compact sort of web like design for a jungle gym is not uncommon.
These days, many kids playgrounds and playsets have very labyrinthian constructions, but generally, the bars aren’t made of metal to prevent the bonking of heads and kids getting hurt.
These days, they just use softer elements, like plastic, or padded plastic.
You’ve got to admit, it does look fun!
Or maybe even this if what you had in mind…
This jungle gym has a slight castle / tree fort theme, where, kids can hide in different sections like the turret, or play in other sections, including underneath it.
Games like “tag” can be fun with these types of jungle gyms, as kids can go up and down and run around it all day. It has a certain feng shui, as they say. Could be very fun!
So, as you can see, jungle gyms can look very different, depending on what you’re imagining.
Overall, what makes a jungle gym a jungle gym is that it has a number of fun components for your kids to play on, including the following:
Lest we forget the second point we wanted to make, which you will want to ask yourself, once you can picture how you want your jungle gym to look.
2. How many components do you want it to have?
As we mentioned above, there are many different components you can add, depending on how you want it to look in the end.
For instance, do you want it to be elaborate, with 7 different sections, or are you thinking maybe 2 or 3 sections?
Because there are so many ways to do this, you might want 2 slides, or no slides, but ah ha, you might like to have at least one so your kid can get down from the thing somehow, without having to leap from some platform onto grass (or concrete, yikes!)
Planning out a jungle gym can be simple, if you make it so, or you can think of it like an architect and go very much over the top, creating a very noticeable structure in your own yard.
But, if you ever heard the tale of the Spanish guy who apparently build an apartment without elevators (just an old wives tale, really) – don’t be that guy! A jungle gym must have its own logic, or your kids will ignore it.
This is a good excuse to plan it with them! It may sound a bit crazy, but it could be a great way to see what they think of it, since they’re going to be playing on it more than you, presumably.
That of course doesn’t mean your kids are going to be giving you measurements and telling YOU how to make it (that would be bad!), but you can always ask them what they like or don’t like as you plan it out.
Make sure you plan things out and take a few days or even weeks to do it (at least sleep on it!), before running off and buying the supplies.
Here are some plans that come with your typical jungle gym you might buy at the store. You may want to draft up your own version, just so you can see how you’re going to put it together, and can visualize it better.
This is another benefit of making your own DIY jungle gym, because you made it, you know absolutely all there is to know about it.
If you make yourself the instructions, you don’t need to complain to anyone if you can’t read your own writing! So make sure you take the time to plot things out and even draw pictures.
No one’s grading you on this, the stakes are much higher – your kids having fun and being safe on a structure you built, so you’re not trying to build this…
Yes, they did look like this sometimes, back in 1900. Don’t believe anyone would actually make this? It’s on Snopes! So here we are, a hundred plus years later, and I’m guessing you’d probably like to avoid making a contraption like this. Good idea! Let’s keep safety first, folks!
Once you know the scope of the project, and how it will generally look, we can begin getting everything ready for construction.
We understand that it may seem daunting to put together a jungle gym of your own design, as it takes some money, imagination of your own and construction skill.
However, the cost of the materials may be equal to the amount you would otherwise spend on video games, a new computer, and any other necessary equipment (cell phones, cameras, etc.). a jungle gym or outdoor playground is timeless and once built, will last for decades.
Jungle gyms are the opposite of today’s technology, ie. phones, which requires updates and keeps your kid sitting still, sucked into whatever game is designed to keep kids glued to their phone.
A jungle gym will inherently attract other kids and this will be easy for your little one to invite friends over. Also it will be easy on you as the parent in charge of entertaining all of those kids!
And when you feel like it, you can even join in. Studies show that children are more likely to get physically active if they witness parents or guardian/authority figures engaging in physical exercise.
Again, make sure to talk to your kid about what they actually like, in terms of a jungle gym.
Do they like to climb? Do they show a fear of heights? Do they enjoy interactive games like tic-tac-toe? Who are their idols at this point? Are they fascinated by pirates or flying airplanes?
You should be sure to include a shelter so they will be able to seek refuge from the sun without having to go inside the house. The shelter will have a roof and two or three walls.
There will need to be a ladder going to the shelter, from which you will want to attach a slide. Slides are undeniable and I have never met a kid who didn’t like to slide. Nor an adult, for that matter.
Look at the size of your backyard or wherever you are putting the jungle gym. Factor in the area you have to work with when considering the layout you’ve created and the measurements you’ve taken. By this point, you should have a solid idea what the dimensions are going to be.
Make sure there is room for everything and remember to double and then triple check.
When calculating the area of land you’ll need, make sure to consider at least three extra feet on all sides for playing around the structure. For instance, don’t put the jungle gym right next to some thorny bush.
Kids have a tendency to run around the outside of a jungle gym and so having your rosebush on the side of it will probably just get your flowers trampled by a herd of 5 year olds!
There all several clever ways to work with a small area of land. Simply build up rather than across. There can be two or three storeys with platforms that offer different games like a steering wheel or a twisty slide.
You can also put a sand pit at the bottom.
So, at this point in the process, you should know what you want your DIY jungle gym to look like, how big it’s going to be, and, very important – WHERE it’s going to go, and why it’s going there.
You must consider the weatherproof qualities of the materials you choose. Using PVC or Sunbrella fabric for a canopy shelter. Pressure treated lumber like cedar will look beautiful and repel mosquitoes.
You can add all kinds of extra components like nets, rope ladders, swings, hoops or monkey bars.
A good jungle gym design exercises both the body and mind.
Provide physical challenges like climbing. Monkey bars will build upper body strength while swinging will exercise the whole body. There should also be parts to engage the mind and imagination.
You can keep it rustic and affordable by using rough pieces of wood for the walls or simple rope netting as a place for them to climb.
Our advice – Take an afternoon with your kids and head to the nearest home store. Maybe two different stores, and pitch your idea to them.
They’ll give you some feedback, and you can tell them what we said and see if they agree.
By the time you talk to a few different people, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the materials you’ll be needing and where you can get them. Home stores can be daunting, and hopefully this isn’t the point where you decide to give up on this at the sight of floor-to-ceiling lumber.
Take some notes, so you don’t forget, and then systematically acquire each thing you need, and store them until you’re ready to build your jungle gym. You’ll probably hit a few different shops to get everything, as a lumber store isn’t going to sell a slide, and you can’t just go to Home Depot and get monkey bars, rope, and spray-painted red waterproof curved 6′ poles.
Also, be aware that the home stores may offer to have their people build it for you. This is the point in the process where you can decide if you want someone just to do it for you, or if you are literally going to see this through to the end, taking responsibility for your design once and for all. In the beginning we said you’d probably need construction knowledge – well now’s the time you’re gonna need to apply that!
But maybe your construction knowledge is limited somewhat. Since the world isn’t all black and white, you might say, ok, I’ll have them build part of it, and I’ll do some of it. Fair enough! You should do whatever makes the most sense to you!
At this point, your list of materials may look like this:
As with any deck that is higher than 12” off the ground, you will first need to set posts in concrete. You will want to use sono tubes for these support posts.
Sono tubes ensure safety and security as they are extremely thick and durable cardboard tubes set several feet in the ground.
They are then filled with concrete and the post is braced inside. Make sure the posts are tall enough to set 3 feet into the ground, and then accommodate platforms and walls as well as a roof.
Here’s a great video showing how to set up a sonotube.
It may be wise to contact a contractor or professional deck builder who will have access to all the right tools as well as knowledge about wood construction including support areas and appropriate railings.
Since it is a jungle gym and not a deck, you will not have to get a permit from the city, but it is useful to talk with a professional so you can be sure of what you are doing.
Since you will have some construction knowledge, you will have drawn a design for yourself including how many 2 x 4’s to use.
After the posts have set (after 48 hours the cement will have cured to concrete and you can build), you will assemble the frame using 2×6 boards equally spaced.
Secure these to the posts. You will now attach the swing beam if applicable and its A-shaped frame with a swing frame bracket that will hold the legs together.
Then lay 2 x 4’s, flat and tight to each other, for the floor. They will be perpendicular to the frame boards.
You will then construct the walls leaving spaces for doorways, ladders and slides.
The hardest part is building the frame. Once this is complete you can then attach the swings, slides and any other components (roof, steering wheel, metal monkey bars).
By this point, you should be just about done, and your backyard will look something like this…
If you made it to this point, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear how you did!
The most popular kids in the neighbourhood were always the ones who were lucky enough to have a jungle gym in their backyard.
This is, of course, not the majority of kids. Since it’s relatively rare, and the laws of supply and demand kick in right here. It’s a bit like having a swimming pool. Guess who’s coming by? Probably everyone will come a-knockin’!
If you are a family lucky enough to have one, it’s great, because you don’t have to go all the way to the park, but rather congregate in your friend’s yard and take turns climbing, swinging, sliding and generally monkeying around.
Back in the day, as they say (pre-1980, let’s say) there was television but there was no internet or computers really. It was a simpler time, one in which a parent could pretty easily convince their kid to get outside for some fresh air.
You’d wake up waiting for your friends to come knocking on your door during the beautiful summer months when you didn’t have to go to school or be anywhere at all, really.
Each generation argues that times were simpler when they were kids and that “kids these days” are spoiled and have it all.
At least, this has generally been the mentality since at least the 1950s when children were allowed to have childhoods instead of being employed on the farm or elsewhere.
But now, there are so many technological trappings that could keep a kid indoors endlessly: video game consoles, the internet and computers, cell phones with games and apps and contact with friends (we don’t think kids under the age of 15 should have cell phones, but far be it from us to place judgment or tell parents what to do), as well as the increasing levels of depression and anxiety spread amongst people at younger and younger ages.
Even children under the ages of 9 are equipped with cell phones and most likely certainly have a computer at home. These technological pieces of fun are all very enticing and strong enough to keep someone inside for days on end.
And since the screens are backlit, kids are ever looking into a light source and being stimulated by all kinds of wild movement and complicated design.
This amount of light and activity can hook a person into a never ending cycle of catch and release. Especially on summer days, players will close the blinds to block out sunlight and get lost in their backlit screens.
It can be difficult to encourage your little one to get outside and exercise. This will seem wholly unappealing to them especially if they have a video game or television show waiting for them indoors.
This is why, again, we’d like to say that having a jungle gym or anything that can motivate your kid to go outside in the nice weather is a great idea. We can’t let our kids turn into smart phone zombies! Leave a comment if you agree!
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About Simmy Parker
Simmy is an outdoor expert who loves to spend time in the wilderness. She received a BS degree in Civil Engineering at Sacramento State University, and has put her skills to use by helping design and build some of the most impressive structures in the world. However, Simmy's true passion lies in sharing her love of nature with others, and she spends much of her free time leading hikes and teaching people about the flora and fauna that can be found all around them.