Best in class: Outdoor playtime

Sand pits, garden parties and priceless memories in ultra-high end treehouses


Time to get outside for summer fun. Blue Forest, the UK's top treehouse design firm, has created several playhouse and play trail projects in Ireland including the recently completed Monalto estate, outside Ballynahinch, Co Down and the tree house at Birr Castle. Its attention to detail is pure magic and this craftsmanship is reflected in the asking prices starting from €45,200. But imagine happening on this secret den, built at the base of an apple tree. The kids might miss its cedar tongue and groove lining, hand-cut cedar shingles, copper roof and finials but the memories will last lifetimes.;


All hail Aldi for giving us exactly what we need – affordable playthings that all the family can use or at least get involved in their construction. Dropping tomorrow in stores is a selection that includes two trampolines that come with a weather protected enclosure – €64.99 for the 4.5ft design and €99.99 for an 8ft design; an inflatable pool in the form of dinosaurs, €39.99; a soft archery set whose carry case is also the target – great for the beach, €29.99 and a variety of bubble-making kits, €3.49, including solution, that will bring a smile to even the most jaded of faces. Every home should have one.

Garden party

If you're invited to a barbecue or a garden party, check out Britain's National Trust online shop for some great games to gift to hosts this summer. For groups there's a rounders set, about €17; a tug-of-war kit, about €28.50; French boule set, about €16. And for the kids there's a junior croquet set, about €34 or a junior skittles set, about €28.50. Almost all are made from wood and will help get any party started. Howbert & Mays also sells boules sets, €39.95.;

Tyre-swing bird feeder

A simple tyre swing hung from a tree remains one of summer's simple pleasures, and even better if there's a pool of water below. American brand Genuine Fred has created a miniature version for our feathered friends to get in on the action. Its tyre-swing bird feeder has novelty factor written all over it. The 14cm ceramic design takes about half a cup of birdseed at a time, comes with a 1.8m long rope and can be purchased from the American site where it costs about €15, ex delivery and taxes.


Mud pies

Could your little darling be the next Paul McNamara or JP McMahon? If their taste buds are a little more prosaic making mud pies is something every kid should be allowed to do. My mother used to gift my sister and me all of her out of date spices to add flavour to the muddy mix and so we could differentiate between the various "bakes". It also helped us decorate accordingly. Argos is selling a very cool mud kitchen by Chad Valley for €119.99 (order number 803/7886) that will elevate this primitive pastime to haute cuisine.

Sand pits

If the idea of having to hose down muddy kids fills you with dread then perhaps a sand pit might be more your style. Nenagh-based Clever Kids sells a variety of options from an octagonal pit with cover, about 1.8m wide, from €149 and a sand and water table, complete with bench, similarly priced and €179 for a two-bench set up. The sand in these pits is not the free-flowing variety but rather a sand-cum-silicone oil mix that gives the material a more dough-like, less likely to be dragged around the house, quality.

If that isn't to your fancy you can simply buy the sandbox and invest in whatever kind of sand you prefer. UK-based Cuckooland is selling this wooden hexagonal sandpit for about €78, ex delivery. You will need about 200 kilos of sand to fill it.;

Vinyl balls

Need to let off a little steam? Launch the kids at each other, but inside these Ab Zorba balls, a 1.2m inflatable ball that you wear. Made of durable vinyl, each ball, about €47, comes with shoulder straps and handles for safe, bruise-free fun. The balls are suitable for kids over eight and can be bought online from UK-based Men Kind.


If your child is into football, hurling or camogie then a rebounder, a tension-set net is a brilliant investment. It will stop them driving neighbours mad whacking balls against walls and help to build up their muscle strength into the bargain. There are several on the market, McSport is selling one for €53.95 and Smyths Toys stocks one at €59.99, but one being championed by county players, such as Limerick's Nickie Quaid and Clare's Patrick O'Connor, is made in Loughrea, Co Galway, by welder turned entrepreneur Paul Griffin. It costs €220.;;

Outdoor table tennis

Fancy a spot of ping pong? In a country as climatically inclement as Ireland any outdoor designs have to weather the weather. Based in Dublin 1 the Billiard Company sells a range of outdoor table tennis tables by French brand Cornilleau. Pictured is the Pro510, a resin-topped design with an aluminium base that's popular in schools. It costs about €1,100. The same brand has a concrete top design with a powder-coated steel base that you might spot at holiday resorts. It works really well poolside or near the beach and costs about €1,850.


Badminton is a fun game to play on the beach where a shuttlecock is likely to do less damage to other sun worshippers than a stray ball. Sunnylife, a brand selling photogenic play props that has taken Instagram by storm over the last few summers has a set with a Malibu flavour. It costs about €35, ex delivery from UK-based home and design site Amara.