Building a Playhouse – A Guide for Beginners

When we moved into our South Minneapolis home five years ago, our children, five and two at the time, only had one request–a treehouse. So imagine their disdain when they arrived at our new home to discover that the only tree in our backyard was not strong enough to hold much more than a bird’s nest. Talk about disappointed clients.

Determined to keep our word and invest in our home, we promised our kids that we would build a treehouse by the following summer. We knew we could have simply purchased a ready-made play-set, thrown it in the backyard, and called it done. But as much as this was my kids’ dream, I wanted to love it, too. For this, I knew we needed to build something that was both fun but aesthetically pleasing to our home. Never mind, by May I was seven months pregnant. Never mind, our definition of power tools in this house was an electric toothbrush. Never mind that the only building project we’ve ever completed is putting together our IKEA bedroom furniture, which nearly ended our marriage.

But how hard can it be for two people, one of whom is quite pregnant, both of whom barely know how to work a drill, to build a structurally sound play structure for their children? It’s fine. This is fine. The internet makes it look so easy.

Ok, so easy might have been a misnomer. But possible, yes. And worth the effort? 100%. One month and a bunch of Saturdays later, not only did we add character to our modest backyard space, but we also made our kids feel like this was their home, too. And those home improvement commercials don’t lie. It feels mighty good to complete a project all on your own.

With spring right around the corner, maybe you, too, are considering adding a fun backyard play space for your children but are feeling discouraged before you even begin. Allow me to offer a bit of encouragement from our process in hopes that it inspires your own.building a playhouse - three children sitting on top of their playhouse

  • First it starts with really good plans. The internet is full of them. We followed this plan from Handmade Home and found the detailed plans to be incredibly helpful to two newbie DIYers. As long as you read carefully and measure thoroughly, most plans are created for the beginner in mind, prepared to answer any questions you might have. Take it one step at a time, and you will be surprised what you are capable of completing.
  • Borrow tools from friends and neighbors. Because we don’t imagine ourselves becoming the next Chip and Joanna, investing in our own power tools wasn’t part of our plan. But we found by asking a few handy friends that many were willing to share their power tools with us. And repayment was easy when we promised to invite their families over for a backyard party to celebrate.
  • Ask for help. There were points along the way when heavy walls required lifting outside of my very pregnant capabilities. This was just another reminder that people want to help. This is what it means to be in community. My neighbor held a wall in place one evening, and we helped him with his fence another day. This is why we live in community with each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Design for adults in mind. Just because it is a playhouse for kids doesn’t mean it has to look like the plastic toy aisle of Target. Choose paint colors that match the home. Add in plants sturdy enough for kids but pleasing to your eye. Work within the space you have instead of taking up your entire yard. We couldn’t build the playhouse into the tree but we built it right up to the tree so it gives it a treehouse feel and is still tucked away from the flow of the backyard.
  • Remember this is their space, too. After the final reveal, when the last board was in place, the last swipe of paint was dry, and the plants were styled just right, I then had to “hand over the keys” so to speak. There are so many ways we have to say no to our kids when it comes to our homes, it feels really great to let this be a yes. Yes, you can draw all over the walls with chalk. Yes, you can make a mud pile inside the rock box. Yes, you can grow your own veggies and pick them before they are ripe. This is your space, children. Do it with it what you will. This also allows me freedom to say no in other spaces of my garden. Boundaries are good for all of us.

And if none of these ideas were enough of a motivation, just imagine the satisfaction and awe on your children’s faces when they see your amazing talents come to life. You’ll win parental street cred to last you at least the end of the summer. And a backyard to enjoy winter spring, summer, and fall. Happy Building!

backyard treehouse in the winterbackyard hammockplayhouse in a backyard

Rachel and her college sweetheart met in Indiana, spent early married life in Chicago, and now parent three children born in three different states, but since landing in their south Minneapolis neighborhood in 2017, decided with the access to good ski trails, running paths and beach side picnics, this might just be their forever home. Rachel is the curator of family adventures, builder of epic train tracks, lover of all of the library books, mixer of fancy cocktails, and writer in the in-between. You can read more from Rachel over on her blog blog or Instagram Squares.


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