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Building the Dream

June 3, 2012

For the past two days, I’ve watched as a glorious edifice has arisen in my neighbour’s back yard. Built from high grade cedar, it is two stories high with a peaked roof enhanced with a decorative fan design at the front; there is a ‘crow’s nest’ balcony over a lower level deck, a green stained front door and windows, and a wide variety of ‘entertainment space’ add-ons.

What is being built, however, is not a house – or even an elaborate addition to one – it’s a children’s play structure (available from Costco for $1,399.99, it comes with everything you need to build it [except tools] in ‘approximately 10-12 hours (fort & swings); 2-3 hours (slide)’.  From my observations – and several testimonials on the Costco website – that’s an extremely optimistic estimate; the neighbours [two adult males] have been at it for two full days and they haven’t even finished the ‘fort & swings’ yet!)  Cedar PlaysetIt is certainly an attractive structure that should provide the two little girls who live there (one is three; the other just a year old) with hours of fun – provided, that is, they use it regularly and don’t grow tired of it too quickly (I say this because that particular yard is full of children’s toys – from several plastic ride-on vehicles, a wooden swing set, a plastic picnic table with benches and umbrella, and a pink plastic playhouse to doll carriages, balls, and other assorted ‘girl oriented’ playthings – that seem to get abandoned very quickly when something newer and more exciting comes along). Call me crazy, but $1,600 (factoring in taxes) seems like a lot of money for something that may not be used extensively beyond a few weeks or months.

When I was a little girl, I wanted a playhouse in the worst way.  I had this ‘vision’ of a perfect ‘doll’s house’ – like the one my friend (whose father was a doctor) had in her backyard.  We never actually played in it, but oh, did I envy her that little wooden structure with the cute front porch and the real glass windows.  Since the likelihood of me getting a playhouse was somewhere between ‘never’ and ‘not-in-this-lifetime’, I had to content myself with other make-believe ‘private play spaces’.  Multi Trunk TreeMy sister and I would occasionally pull the edges of our chenille bedspreads across from one bed to another and ‘play tent’ in our shared room. In the summer, we’d find overgrown sections of the woods behind the cottage to hunker down in to play with our dolls, or we’d head for the park next to the boat launch and clamber into the hollowed-out space between multiple trunks of a huge tree and pretend it was a castle.  Those are some of my best memories – and they didn’t cost a thing!

When my boys were little, I was particularly keen to provide them with all the things I never had as a child (a BIG mistake, I now know – they had way too much and I’m not sure they appreciated most of it, but that’s water under the bridge now, isn’t it?) Gingerbread House at Ontario PlaceWhen son number one was about three years old, he was particularly enamored with the ‘gingerbread house’ he got to play in during a trip to Ontario Place (it instantly reminded me of my childhood friend’s playhouse … only it was bigger and more colourful). So, shortly afterwards, I purchased all the necessary materials to build a playhouse in our backyard (I got the plans from a book I found in the Library).  It was framed with pine one by twos on a four-by-four base leveled on concrete patio stones, clad with pine sheeting, and topped off with a cedar shake roof. There were two louvered windows (taken from an old greenhouse), a proper front door, and even a mailbox.  When it was done, we furnished it with a small plastic table and two chairs.  I thought it was the greatest thing ever; my son played in it maybe a dozen times (he’d been more excited about building it than actually playing in it!)  It gradually became a space for spiders to hang out in, and a storage shed for various pool toys and assorted chemicals.

Building Playhouse  Finished Playhouse In The Playhouse

Climbing Structure 1989By the time son number two was three, we’d built an elaborate climbing/play structure behind the little playhouse.  Constructed primarily from ‘found’ materials, and a few purchased items, it consisted of a lower level with an angled climbing rail to go up and a metal slide to come down, a ‘look out’ platform with a steering wheel and an extension on each side (we hung a trapeze on one side and a swing on the other), and a sandbox underneath (with a hinged lid to keep the neighbourhood cats and raccoons from using it as a bathroom!)  The kids played on it occasionally (more so when friends or cousins came over) but, like the playhouse, it wasn’t nearly as popular as I had expected (the boys preferred climbing, sliding, and swinging at the neighbourhood park down the street).  We eventually tore it down (and put a trampoline in its place – which also didn’t see nearly as much use as we’d anticipated).

I’m not quite sure why parents want to buy and build something quite as elaborate as what the neighbours are constructing in their yard.  I suspect the older girl saw one in the store, oohed and aahed over it, and the parents thought it would be a great way to keep her entertained in their own backyard.  But I’m willing to bet it hardly ever gets used.  After all, there are climbing structures, swings and slides and so forth in dozens of parks and school yards all over town and you see few children ever actually playing on them (I suspect they are all inside pushing buttons on computer keyboards or video game systems instead of being outdoors in the fresh air, getting the requisite 60 minutes of exercise per day). 

From my own experience, what isn’t in your own yard has a much higher level of appeal than something that is always available, and the novelty of new playthings wears off quickly.  Clearly there is a market for this sort of thing; there are dozens of sets available from any number of retailers (Metropolis Playsetmy favourite? The $19,000 [plus taxes] ‘Metropolis’ set from Costco – “for use in residential areas only …  contains 7 play decks totaling over 200 square feet of play space and two enclosed club houses complete with windows and a front porch.  It also packs in a clatter bridge, 4 slides, 2 tire swings, 3 sand boxes, extra wide monkey bars, a sky loft, and so much more”.  I suppose this is one of those things targeted to the more-money-than-brains-set – or that family on TV with the eighteen kids; you’d need one heck of a big backyard to accommodate all 35 feet of it!) 

I still fantasize about having my own ‘perfect’ playhouse – only now it’s about 1500 square feet in size, surrounded by gardens, trees, and plenty of wide open space, and there will be no neighbours within site.  The big difference now is that I fully plan to make this dream a reality, here on … the other side of 55.

My Dream Home

  1. June 11, 2012 9:08 pm

    That looks like a wonderful playhouse! Hope you get it as planned. 🙂

    • June 12, 2012 9:11 am

      It’s a Viceroy (“Kitsilano”) so all I have to do is find the right property and then I can play to my heart’s content!


  2. Cathy permalink
    June 3, 2012 11:10 pm

    Embarrassingly enough, we’ve all done it – over-indulged the kids with things that we thought we would have loved when we were their age. And it’s so disappointing when they don’t play with them. I have to say that at least the play structures in school playgrounds get well used at recess time. There’s always a pack of kids on them, having a grand old time – usually using them to play ‘Grounders’ or some other ‘tag’-type game. So, perhaps we have to factor in the fact that nobody likes to play all by themselves. However, that said, I agree with you. I think that if a play-house looks too much like the real thing, it robs kids of the chance to create the ‘perfect’ whatever – a castle, a pirate ship, a raft on the ocean, a desert caravan. When I was young, our very simple swing set used to become all those things, often changing from one to the other in the space of a few minutes.

    • June 4, 2012 9:19 am

      I agree 100%, Cathy. Kids need to use their imaginations and they need to learn how to play with others. I bet if I’d gotten a playhouse all those years ago, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in it for long by myself (and I bet the novelty would have worn off before I outgrew it).


  3. June 3, 2012 4:10 pm

    I think most kids would have more fun making something out of a cardboard box. I know my grandkids did when we took one apart a few weeks ago and put a blanket over the top for a roof. It was so much easier to fold up and put away when we were finished with it too! Little ones have such a short attention span that it really doesn’t seem worth spending a fortune for something that may only provide a few days of pleasure.

    • June 3, 2012 5:22 pm

      I fully believe that the more imagination that goes into something, the more value it has. And usually the less you pay for something, the more use it gets!


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