If you have grandchildren, you may already be asking yourself, “How do I make them want to spend more time at our home?” The answer might just be right outside your back door.
More and more these days, homeowners are asking me to create an outdoor environment for the expressed purpose of motivating the grandkids to spend time at their home. Some will even admit with a wink that they want their backyard to be the “better backyard” compared to the other grandparents competing for time with the younger generation.
It’s easy to see why they feel this way. We all know our world is overflowing with electronic media that can utterly consume young minds. Grandparents know that for outdoor play to compete with the onslaught of apps, games, streaming services, social media etc., their yards need to be the “best.”
FUN BY DESIGN
The good news is, when grandparents deliberately deploy fun outdoor assets in this high-stakes effort, they have an entire arsenal at their disposal, especially in and around the swimming pool.
The list is long and may include: shallow lounging areas or beach entries, (great for small kids), splash pads, caves and grottos, basketball hoops, volleyball nets, and especially water slides.
Away from the water’s edge, things like simple bike/scooter paths, yard-sized games you can include in the landscape, everything from checkers and chess, to giant Jenga games. Putting greens with artificial turf, cornhole pits, Bocce-ball and sport courts have also increased in popularity amongst fun-minded homeowners.
When it comes to kid magnets, nothing beats a water slide. It’s truly amazing how kids of all ages, including some adults, will enthusiastically and repeatedly go up and down a slide.
The mainstay of waterparks for decades, with small versions popular in backyard pool (we all remember the curved fiberglass playground-style slides of the 1960s and 70s) waterslides have become bigger, faster with a range of aesthetic options, from themed kiddie slides to those you might find in a public setting.
And slides can fit in across a range of budgets and designs. In fact, we’ve learned that a 10-foot slide can be almost as much fun as a 50-foot slides. You don’t have to build an enormous slide feature for big-time fun.
When you’re planning your backyard with your pool designer and/or contractor, there are some key decisions you’ll need to make. Sticking with slides as an example, you’ll need to determine where it will be located, which can influence the location and layout of the pool. You’ll determine the length of the slide, if it has turns, and how you get to the top.
In terms of construction, there are two basic options for adding a slide: pre-manufactured slides, and those built on-site from scratch, typically using gunite and other masonry materials. We’ve done both and have moved toward using composite material slides made in a factory.
Building a slide on-site means your contractor has to figure out things like friction coefficients, rider ergonomics, pitch and radii, and safety factors. By contrast, when you go the pre-manufactured route, the slide manufacturer figures out all the design specifics and ships all the necessary slide pieces, support structure, hardware and instruction to the site, where your contractor puts it all together.
Like many other products in today’s market, delivery time can be an issue. Naturally, the longer and more complicated the slide, the more time it can take. When you’re in the planning stages, it helps to be realistic about how long the process will take, and that’s true for all aspects of the work.
Whenever possible, we like to locate slides on a slope. It eliminates the need for an elevated support structure, and it can be a great way to take advantage of otherwise useless hillsides. On level grades, you have to create the support structure that holds the slide up in the air. Naturally, that adds to the cost and can make the slide more visually intrusive.
It’s common to incorporate slides into artificial rock structures or different types of architectural elements. Oftentimes we use lush greenery to screen the view of slides.
MAKING A SPLASH
Kids are also drawn to animated water. Splash pads in particular are a big hit with kids who love to frolic among leaping jets.
Popular in public spaces like shopping malls and parks, splash pads are a proven hit with kids. In recent years, splash pads have become more and more common in residential settings. There are different options including splash pads that operate on decks, or those that emerge from shallow lounging areas inside pools themselves.
They can be modest with just a small number of simple jets, or elaborate with different programmable nozzles arrays and lighting effects. Splash pads can be simple and affordable ($8,000-$12,000) or extremely expensive and complicated systems requiring expert set-up and maintenance.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that when you’re planning the best backyard, it should have features aimed at adults. After all, you want your grown kids to enjoy being there too. There are, of course, all sorts of features that make adults happy, from outdoor kitchens, fire features, outdoor sound systems, landscape lighting and, of course, the luxury of a spa.
It is true that when you design your backyard for kids, the appeal will fade as they grow. Once kids reach their teens, their interests turn elsewhere.
Some features are more timeless than others. A splash pad, for example, might be seen as a fountain feature later on after it has served its purpose as a play feature. Obviously, if you’re including themed elements like a pirate ship or a slide that looks like a Flipper or Puff the Magic Dragon, the appeal of those items will fade as children grow.
But while the grandkids are still kids, there is no question that an exciting aquatic backyard environment will keep them looking forward to their next visit.
Scott Cohen is a “Garden Artisan” and president of The Green Scene Landscaping & Pools, a watershape design and construction firm based in Chatsworth, Calif. A widely published author and popular speaker, Cohen is known for his gardens that combine outdoor living with inspired artistic details.