Playhouses are guaranteed to get your children outdoors for their daily dose of sun and sand. A much needed respite in current times when technology is invading childhoods and robbing it of the fun and frolic that it much deserves.
Playhouses also have other benefits:
- Unsupervised play stimulates creativity in children and it also fosters emotional development.
- If you have more than one child at home, it gives them a private retreat where prying eyes and nosey parents are off limits.
- They can create rules, let their imaginations run wild, even escape to their playhouse to do their homework, which seems mundane and painstakingly boring when done indoors.
All said and done, shopping for playhouses is far from easy. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, right from one-child models for a tiny backyard to sprawling mansions for a group of kids.
Here are some of the important factors to consider when you go shopping for kids' playhouses.
Indoor vs. Outdoor playhouses - which are better?
Indoor playhouses are ideal for toddlers and small kids who are not old enough for unsupervised, outdoor playtime. These are typically made of plastic. But wooden models are not uncommon either.
Don't let the 'indoor' prefix fool you into believing that these are lesser than their outdoor counterparts in any way. Indoor playhouses are available in a wide range of designs, sizes and price points.
If your child is old enough to play outside, go for an outdoor playhouse by all means. These will be more expensive and expansive as compared to indoor models. But they are totally worth it for a number of reasons mentioned above.
How big a playhouse should be?
Parents these days don't mind splurging the extra buck as long as their kids are happy. Gone are the barebones, four-walled structures of yore. Instead, we have mini-mansions that are nothing short of luxurious. That said, you don't necessarily need a capacious castle to give your children a safe and enjoyable retreat.
- Ideally, it should be large enough to comfortably house your child or children, and their friends too. Oh yes, once you become a playhouse owner, expect the kiddie gang to take over your garden more frequently.
- Bear in mind that the capacity of an empty playhouse and a furnished one differs greatly. A 6x6' playhouse can easily accommodate up to 4 kids aged 2-4 when its empty. When its fully furnished, the capacity reduces to just 2 kids.
- You'd also want to leave out some space for your own things in the yard, like a toolshed or your woodworking workshop or a water fountain. So map out a specific area for the playhouse and measure it. This will give you a rough idea of how big a playhouse to invest in and also about the different shapes that can fit into this space.
- Don't forget to account for the clearance around the playhouse to allow children to get in and out of it safely.
What are the pros and cons of different playhouse materials?
While buying prefabricated, you'll be met with two options primarily, wood and plastic. Both materials have their own pros and cons which must be weighed carefully before narrowing down on one. Fabric and cardboard are not as common as the other two.
- Plastic Playhouses are available in a variety of aesthetic designs. Right from chalets to cottages to space ships, the sky's the limit really.
- Plastic is fairly inexpensive.
- It is resistant to moisture and hence, can be installed directly on the grass in your lawn. It won't rot and is very low on maintenance as well.
- Also, plastic playhouses are portable and lightweight, depending on the size and features of course. This opens up the possibility of moving it around the lawn in the event of a lawn makeover in the future.
- However, not all brands use child-friendly plastics and paints on their playhouses, which poses the risk of exposing your child to these chemicals. Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC is notorious for causing endocrine disorders with long term exposure.
- Also, plastic tends to fade with UV exposure and there's little you can do to repair the damage.
Tip: In the United States, Plastics are coded from numbers 1 to 7. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are relatively safer as compared to 3 & 6. 3 is PVC by the way. Anything coded 7 is downright toxic and should be avoided at all costs.
- Wooden playhouses are available in an extensive range of designs. Right from compact cottages small enough to fit two kids, to capacious castles that can house a group of children and an adult if need be, your choices are endless. These are also customizable to a large extent and you can make periodic upgrades and additions more easily than you can with a plastic model.
- They blend more naturally into your yard .
- Some types of hardwood, such as cedar or redwood, are more resistant to pests, mold and lichen than others.
- Also, depending on the weather conditions, you may have to select pressure treated wood, especially for parts that are exposed to the elements.
- Engineered wood is also an equally good option that's less pricey than hardwood. It can be finished to mimic the look of hardwood and can be equally durable too.
- Goes without saying that irrespective of the type of wood, you should always look for pre-treated ones. A retreatment is recommended every couple of years or less, depending on the manufacturer's instructions.
- Wooden playhouses will typically need to be installed on a cement base or on stilts to limit moisture exposure. As an added advantage, this will also keep the creepy crawlies out of the playhouse.
- Cardboard playhouses are a temporary option generally recommended for toddlers. These are inexpensive, environment friendly and can be personalized by the child with stickers, paint and other accessories.
- The caveat is that they are flimsy and should strictly be used indoors.
- Most children outgrow it very soon and you'll find yourself looking for a more permanent solution sooner or later.
- Tents and teepees made of fabric are rustic and a good option if you wish to introduce your child early to camping.
- They are also easy to install and portable.
- However, their outdoor usage is dependent on weather conditions. Also, these don't last as long as wood or plastic.
How are playhouses installed?
- Most prefabricated outdoor playhouses can be self-installed over a weekend. It might require some elbow grease and an extra pair of hands probably. But it's usually not overly complicated.
- Some large models with multiple accessories and fittings may need to be installed professionally.
- If the ground is uneven, you might have to create a level base or a cement platform to install it. Some professional installers erect stilts.
- Ensure that the area that you have earmarked for the playhouse is not prone to waterlogging or too close to a water sprinkler. There shouldn't be overhanging trees or weeds either, as constant dripping water will cause premature corrosion.
- Select a spot with at least 1.8 meters of clearance around the playhouse to provide your children safe access and exit at all times. No tree trumps or other objects that can prove to be hazardous to your kids in this clearance.
- Lastly, pick a spot that lets you keep an eye on them at all times. Unsupervised play does not mean unattended.
How to make sure the playhouse is safe?
The safety of your children will no doubt be of utmost importance to you. While selecting a playhouse, ensure that it complies with all safety standards for outdoor toys as set forth in your country of residence.
In the EU, playhouses are rated according to the EN 71 safety standard for toys.
U.S. toymakers must follow Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, created under ASTM International. It differs in the United States, but it should be mentioned clearly on the product information page on the website.
There are also a few general safety features to look out for.
- The playhouse should be sturdily constructed, should not wobble when installed and should not have leaks or gaps anywhere that can allow insects and critters to enter.
- If it's a wooden playhouse, there should be no sharp edges. The floor should not have any gaps that can allow a child to slip through, or cause one of their legs or arms to get wedged in it.
- Wood can form splinters if it's not maintained properly. Keep an eye out for this and maintain the playhouse periodically.
- For multistoried structures, the quality of the stairs and handrails are vital.
- Most manufacturers list age recommendations for their products which should be used as a reference point while selecting a playhouse. However, it's not a bad idea to look for a playhouse that your child can grow with so look for products with wider age range. For example, if you have a toddler, you might want to look for a playhouse that will last for a few years at least and that allows you to make age-appropriate additions.
What accessories and features can playhouses come with?
While selecting accessories and features in the playhouse, take into account the interests of all the children who will be using it.
- Swings and slides are the most common ones, but are not by far, the only choices.
- Older kids might like trapeze bars or climbers while your young ones will be happy with a porch or a balcony.
- Customizable playhouses are perfect for households with more than one child. This allows the parent or the child to personalize the playhouse as they grow, by making additional attachments.
Build vs. Buy
If you take pride in your woodworking skills, then building an outdoor playhouse from scratch might be an interesting DIY project for you. You can build it to your liking with almost endless design and accessorizing possibilities.
That said, it will depend heavily on your skill levels. A playhouse, no matter how basic the design, is an advanced project that requires a fair bit of carpentry expertise. If it's too much for you to handle on your own, you can consider outsourcing it to contractors.
Bear in mind that the cost for a custom build playhouse can be twice or thrice as much as what a prefabricated model costs. You have to account for lumber, paint, roofing material, accessories and furniture among other things which can run up to a sizeable figure. If you are shopping on a limited budget, it's always cheaper to buy a premade model.
There's no dearth of options mind you.
The playhouse will be an integral part of your child's growing years. So take your time with the selection process. Make a checklist of the most important features that you are looking for and prioritize them. With some solid research, you should be able to narrow down on one that fits your yard and your pocket. Good luck!