kids playing in a homemade splash pad

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I Designed a Splash Pad For My Kids and It Was Torn Apart — And It Was Amazing

Aug 10, 2020

This is definitely the summer for all parents to give themselves some kind of award. Today I am giving myself the "nailed it" award for the worst splash pad created by an adult, which was destroyed by a toddler in less than five minutes.

I will also be giving myself the award for best backyard playtime activity.

While you could go big and fail miserably as I have, and you’d have a lot of fun, there are plenty of great ideas to make a successful splash pad at home. This is really the best activity for parents and caregivers who want to avoid the crowds and still provide some wet and wild fun for all ages!

What you’ll need:

  • pool noodles
  • a hose
  • duct tape
  • pencils
  • a knitting needle

Additional elements can include:

  • a plastic slide
  • tarp or outdoor plastic table cloth
  • additional wading pools
  • bubble bath
  • bath & beach toys
  • water balloons
  • PVC piping

First Step: Splash Pad First, Bathing Suits Second

I’m a solo mum, so I figured if I got my toddler and her best friend playing first in our wading pool they’d leave me alone while I built the other elements of the splash pad nearby.

Except, no. The toddlers ran around ripping pool noodles out of my hand and picking them up from the ground at every opportunity.

Step Two: Keep it to yourself! Trust me.

I tried a freeform approach that didn’t end up working, but since then I have reviewed plenty of tutorials online. This was very helpful, because it made having a shopping list easy for when I inevitably headed to the dollar store. I also recommend second hand or hardware stores, depending on how big you plan to go.

So, yes — in your “‘free time,” after you’ve chosen your backyard splash pad of choice from Pinterest and have bought all the items you imagine you’ll need to ensure its successful completion, be sure to make it BEFORE the kids get wind that you thought this would be a good idea. Do not amp up excitement by talking endlessly about how much fun they’ll have.

Want more ways to play with water? Check out five more great ideas here!

If you’re working with a toddler, you already know that a muddy puddle can offer hours of joy to these bright-eyed, mischievous cherubs. So, simply adding a slide into a wading pool and some pool noodles turned into a sprinkling archway are enough to get them psyched. If you’re entertaining anyone older than seven, you’ll likely need to up the ante.

This could, depending on your ambition, end up costing a fortune. But in my experience it can cost as little as $25.

Here are some great resources I’ve found:

Step Three: Don’t let toddlers test your creation before you do

While older kids may be useful to test things out, and love being part of the construction, toddlers should wait to play before you or a group of older kids have safely tested your new watery paradise.

Step Four: Bubbles Are Fun, Not Food

Having two wading pools felt like a great idea. Non-stop fun, I thought. However, while volume gives you more play area for your buck, be mindful of the ages of kids at play. We made a bubble bath pool in one of the waders and my child decided to bob for toys face first, which, well is a recipe for a tummy ache and drama. (Who doesn't love bubbles?)

Step Five: Plug Your Holes

There are a lot of great ways to use pool noodles that can give you sprinkling archways or rings of watery delight. And they are amazing, but make note: plug the holes tightly. If you don’t, the water either sprays directly on the ground, in your face, or any of brave, kind souls helping the kids manoeuvre your splash palace. To do so, choose the end of the noodle you are going to plug. Some people use a scrunched up ball of foil flush with the hole and that seems to work just great. I used a cut-up piece of the pool noodle itself, like so:

Make sure you use the duct tape to tape off the now-blocked hole. This will keep the water where it needs to be most: the sprinkler! Simply feed the hose into the open hole and let it spray!

I’d suggest buying pool noodles that are all the same size, and puncturing holes along the side with knitting needles to release the spray. To hang from a tree, use a long piece of string, or try placing it on the ground to spray upward. To keep them in place on the ground, I used sharpened pencils as stakes.

Just note that if you’re making this for toddlers, their instinct is going to be now, now, now and destroy, destroy, destroy.

Kids are curious, and investigating how something is made will inevitably result in some things — yes, the very things you put your heart into — getting ripped apart. It isn’t your failing, just something to be mindful of so you aren’t shocked when your hours of hard work turns into a graveyard of dismantled noodle arches. RIP.

Step Seven: Add Your Special Touches

To make the whole splash pad feel special, you can add things like pinwheels, beach toys and bubbles to the mix.

Consider using a tarp or plastic outdoor tablecloth as a slip and slide. They get very slippery, so test it first for safety and lay down the ground rules for using it the best you can. 

Creating a barrier to the surface could be helpful! Using a colourful mat to cruise on also helps ensure their little wet bodies coast safely. It also provides a shield of sorts in case anything pointy (or pooey) was overlooked in the grass.

Step Eight: Laugh

This is totally worth trying. You may create a masterpiece or you may create a whole lot of fun for your kid that doesn’t look anything like you envisioned. All I know is that my little one and her friend were having a ball playing in the water. When they weren’t fighting over the same toy, they tore apart the pool noodles, slid repeatedly down the slide into the wading pool and pulled the heads off the pinwheels while dancing in the shower of bubbles we blew over them (because I misplaced my bubble blower.)

At the end of an exhausting day, the whole process had me smiling, drenched and laughing. In the end I came to realize it wasn’t about making a kick ass splash pad, it was about playing with them, getting down at their level and creating together. Plus, my first attempt gave me a ton of great ideas for the next variation. So as the storm clouds set in moments after I had finally figured out how to get the hose to stop popping out of my wayward pool noodles, I knew that I found a great summer activity that I would definitely revisit again.

Article Author Ella Cooper a.k.a. Mamma C
Ella Cooper a.k.a. Mamma C

Ella Cooper a.k.a. Mamma C is the host of The Mamma C Show, a community arts educator, equity facilitator, filmmaker and parent.

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