Engage Kids in Outdoor Play All Day with a DIY Backyard Easel

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Do you dream of a summer in which your kids spend just about every waking minute outside? I’m talking sun up to sun down — breakfast, lunch and dinner with lots of running, frolicking and maybe even some dozing in the grass in between? Me too! My husband and I recently installed a new addition to our backyard that has helped keep our little ones outside and engaged all day long — and I’m going to show you how to make one of your own in whatever size works for your outdoor space.

Our DIY backyard art easel is the perfect thing for outdoor play when the kids were active all morning and need a calmer activity to recuperate. They can use it in a multitude of ways, so it takes a long time for the novelty to wear off. Plus, the water element helps to keep the kids cool. It’s also a top attraction for large playdates.

Read on for the step-by-step directions on how to set up your own backyard art easel.


  • One sheet of 1/8-inch-thick plexiglass in the size of your choice (ours was 48 inches by 75 inches)
  • 2 two-by-four cuts of wood, each in a length equal to the height of your plexiglass
  • 1 two-by-four cut of wood equal to the width of your plexiglass
  • 1-inch wood screws
  • Small steel brackets
  • 2 1/2-inch bolts with wing nuts
  • Carriage bolts

Begin by accessing your outdoor space and figuring out the best spot for your easel. We had a nice amount of unused space under our deck, so we opted to hang our easel, but you could also make it free-standing with just a few modifications.

Once you’ve figured out your size, cut your two-by-four pieces of wood to those dimensions. Be sure to include 45-degree cuts on one side of each of your pieces that will run vertically and on both sides of your piece that will run horizontally.

Use a screwdriver or drill to secure each corner of the frame with 1-inch wood screws and a small metal bracket.

To mount the frame below our deck, we used carriage bolts. If you’d like to mount your easel to a wall, you can use lag screws instead.

Once your frame is complete, clamp the plexiglass to the front. Next, drill holes through the plexiglass and frame, evenly spaced about 2 to 3 feet apart. Then secure the plexiglass into place using 2 1/2-inch bolts with wing nuts on the back.

Now it’s time for the grand reveal. Start at one of the top corners and pull to remove the protective covering.

The last step is to arm your kids with some simple tools and materials. Our favorites include:

  • Squirt bottles
  • Paint brushes
  • Small roller brushes
  • Sponges
  • Squeegees
  • Shaving cream
  • Washable paint

As I mentioned earlier, there are tons of ways to play with the easel. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Start with plain water and some squirt bottles. Add in a couple of squeegees and rollers — and you’ll be amazed by how long toddlers and preschoolers will be entertained. When that gets a little boring, add some food coloring to the water to renew their interest.

Another great medium are our homemade washable window paints. Simply mix 2-parts dish soap with 1-part washable tempera paint. We like to put various colors in a muffin tin and let the kids go to town.

After water, our favorite way to play with the outdoor easel is with some good old fashion shaving cream. This takes our outdoor art experience to a whole new sensory level. Use the inexpensive foam kind — it works the best! Squirt a big dollop into your kids’ hands and tell them to rub their hands quickly back and forth to work up a good lather.

Next, have the kids spread the shaving cream all over the easel.

Now they can use their hands, fingers, paint brushes, toy cars, and whatever else they can find to play. Adding washable paint to the shaving cream is another way to extend this activity. (Hint: Putting the paint/shaving cream mixture in the freezer for 20 minutes or so before using it will slow the melting process once you’re outside.) Once you’re kids are done painting with the shaving cream, it’s time to play car wash!

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