Inspire your child's imagination by providing him or her with a playhouse. Whether pretending he's a knight in a castle slaying a dragon or she's a mother in a cottage with 10 sick babies, your children will find that an outdoor playhouse is a source of endless entertainment.
Wooden playhouses tend to last longer (virtually forever, if cared for properly) and are essentially permanent. You can buy kits to build them, or buy plans and build one from scratch, making the house as simple or elaborate as you like.
Expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a smaller wooden playhouse. The cost of a more elaborate house--say, one with gingerbread trim--can run into the thousands, depending on size and quality.
Plastic playhouses are more common than wooden ones and range from ultra simple to elaborate. They are quite durable and will last for years if properly maintained. They are also portable. Plastic playhouses generally cost a few hundred dollars, depending on size and style.
If you decide to stain the wood on a playhouse or leave it natural, an oil-based finish will be more durable. Repaint a wooden playhouse whenever it begins peeling; reapply other finishes every couple of years.
Cedar is durable enough to go unfinished, but the wood will turn gray and may not last as long as if it had been treated with paint or finish. Aluminum or vinyl siding is also an option, making the playhouse easy to clean with a pressure washer or hose.
With plastic playhouses, a once- or twice-a-year cleaning with soapy water usually is adequate. If the house develops mildew, wash it down with a mixture of one part bleach and 10 parts water.
Avoid placing plastic playhouses in direct sun, since light breaks down plastic. Placing any playhouse under trees makes frequent cleanings necessary. Open shade, such as in the shadow of your house, is ideal.
Give your children the opportunity to plant and tend a playhouse garden. If a toddler or preschooler will be using the playhouse, steer away from toxic or thorny plants. If this is your child's first attempt at gardening, stick to easy-to-grow plants such as sunflowers, marigolds, cosmos, nasturtiums, bachelor buttons, morning glories and daisies. Vegetables such as beans, carrots, lettuce and zucchini are also easy to cultivate.
Think creatively when landscaping around a playhouse. Low-growing shrubs around the house give children the feeling of being hidden. Or indulge fantasy and create a fairy-like field of baby's breath, a moat around a playhouse castle, a jungle of tropical plants surrounding a fort, or a forest of short trees around a cottage.
Don't forget to add other structures such as a white picket fence to complete the look of the playhouse. Inside, include toy pots and pans and pretend foods. Consider adding fabric curtains (although they should be removed during wet weather), wallpaper, a working porch light, wall art and a few chairs. Dress-up clothes also can spur your child's imagination.
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