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LI businesses share how to build your own backyard ninja course, clubhouse and more 

Kids can have fun climbing and crawling through

Kids can have fun climbing and crawling through obstacles in their own backyards.  Credit: Getty Images/CasarsaGuru

Long Island businesses share ways families can recreate fun in their own backyards, from building clubhouses to watching butterflies.

BACKYARD NINJA OBSTACLE COURSE

“We have had a lot of recent inquiries about ninja warrior course builds for the home,” says Kevin LaPlatney, owner of Obstacle Athletics in Deer Park (770-04 Grand Blvd.; 631-627-8253, obstacleathletics.com). LaPlatney has been assessing yards for at-home ninja course builds. "It's a great idea for families that might not be able to make it to the gym regularly but want a safe fun place for kids to play under a watchful eye at home, on their own schedule.”

HOW TO BUILD

The course can be as challenging or as simple as you desire. LaPlatney, who builds his own for his 2-year-old daughter, says, "she's just fine with a few minutes on the home 'course' of couch cushions and crawling under tables or chairs." But for those who want to take it up a notch, his approach includes "arranging furniture to climb on or building an intricate rig of poles and bars that could involve being a height above the ground." LaPlatney adds that parents seeking more in the way of advanced equipment should consult an expert for safety. His tip: Make sure there is proper ground cushioning (pillows, etc.) around the course. 

“You want to make sure that there is enough range of different things to do for a long time, and also have the ability to adjust to more/less difficult tasks depending on who is using it at any time," he says. 

BACKYARD BUTTERFLY GARDEN

The Long Island Aquarium (431 East Main St., Riverhead, 631-208-9200, longislandaquarium.com) may be best-known for its aquatic exhibits, but it also happens to have a butterfly garden. “Butterfly gardening is a great family activity to pass the time during quarantine,” says Jeffry Petracca, entomology curator at the aquarium. He adds: “If you are successful in getting butterflies to lay eggs, kids can watch as the caterpillars grow up and eventually turn into a chrysalis! Then, the best part is, they can watch these chrysalises emerge into butterflies … I must stress, though, that observation is always best. Do not pull caterpillars or butterflies out of the environment unless you seriously research how to care for them.”

HOW TO BUILD

“The idea behind a butterfly garden is very simple,” says Petracca. You start by creating an ideal habitat. "Plant as many flowering plants that will bloom from the very beginning of spring through to the end of fall, which will provide nectar, which is the sweet mixture inside of flowers that butterflies like to feed on.”

“A key principle in butterfly gardening is to avoid the use of any pesticides or chemical additives completely,” says Petracca. “Tick and mosquito spraying may be lethal for butterflies, as well as other harmless but ecologically important insects, including bees and wasps." 

Colette Fardella, director of education at the aquarium recommends planting parsley, milkweed and fennel, which she says attract the Black Swallowtail butterfly, who lay eggs on these plants. "Caterpillars are also attracted to them and sometimes you can find that they will form a chrysalis on the plant. After some time, they would emerge as a butterfly," she says.

More plants Fardella endorses include rose of Sharon, butterfly bush, daylilies, purple coneflower, goldenrod and lavender.

To attract Monarch butterflies, among others, Petracca says, “some surefire winners would be any type of milkweed, like butterfly weed which is sold in garden centers.” If you’re wondering how many types of butterflies could drop by to snack on your garden, he reminds that “there are over 75 species of butterflies native to the tristate area, with close to 75 other species that wander up from more southern states, so there are a lot of different mouths to feed."

BACKYARD CLUBHOUSE

Bryan Spodek, owner of Wood Kingdom in Farmingdale (woodkingdomwest.com) and Backyard Solutions in Medford, says families can recreate a bit of the fun at home by building their own wooden clubhouse. ”Building play equipment for children is not an easy task for someone who has never tried it before,” he says. “But for the DIYs out there, it is possible to accomplish."

HOW TO BUILD

The first thing to note when building an outdoor clubhouse is safety. Spodek says household items will not suffice, and that builders should take a trip to the department store to purchase pressure-treated lumber, exterior grade hardware, water sealer and power tools. You'll need to measure your space and follow a layout design plan. His stores sell premade and custom designs for both clubhouses and swing sets appropriate for area residential backyards. 

For some added flair, Spodek says families should rely on their imaginations, but some fun things to include inside a clubhouse for playtime would be lighting — "solar power units work great" — pictures that aren’t otherwise in use or art that the kids have already created. “Furniture is also a great idea,” he continues, “a table and chairs, maybe one with a drawer for board games or art supplies storage. If the clubhouse is built right and weather-tight, it could serve as winter storage, allowing the kids to leave their belongings in the clubhouse year-round.”

BACKYARD FAMILY THEATER

“So many children enjoy playing pretend and using their imaginations to create all sorts of stories and situations,” says Kevin Harrington, producer at Plaza Theatrical’s Performing Arts Academy in Lynbrook. He suggests creating an outdoor theater space where kids can be the stars. 

HOW TO BUILD

Unlike other forms of fun that rely heavily on the inclusion of physical items, Harrington notes that, here, a tale to tell is key: “Perhaps the first step is for all the family members to agree on a story to dramatize … a fairy tale, short story, a sequence from a book are all excellent starting points.” 

If your family wants to get even more creative, Harrington suggests, “improvisation can also be used to establish a script. Children can create songs, both melody and lyrics, to enhance the scenes.” He also reminds that the cast doesn’t have to be all kids, as parents and grandparents can get involved playing characters.

When it comes to the performance, Harrington says items such as stuffed animals, puppets and dolls can be used as props or to fill extra script roles. “Using their imagination, children can create all sorts of props from common household items. A broom could be transformed into a stick horse; hats can be made with newspapers."

A previous version of this story was incorrect.Wood Kingdom in Farmingdale is not affiliated with any other Wood Kingdom location.

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