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Magical play structure makeover!

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Have you ever considered modifying your play structure? Lately our play structure wasn't bringing us much joy, so we changed it. The whole project was actually much easier than I thought it would be!

Two things happened that lead to this magical makeover. First a big storm blew the roof off. (I asked my husband if we could get rid of it, but he quickly reminded me that it still has a few more years of life left). Second we've been reading The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. If you are not familiar with the series, these are books about a magical tree house that take a brother and sister to different lands. My daughter loves the stories and even fashioned her own magic elevator in the house that takes her and her brother to far away places. These books inspired me to turn our boring old play structure into a magical play space!

We started by taking an afternoon shopping trip to Joann's for fabric. Joann's has an awesome selection of materials, including outdoor fabrics and even canvas (if you want to go with a sturdier material you'll want to choose canvas). I chose the outdoor fabric because it had more fun prints. I realize I may need to replace it in another year or two.

I let my kids each pick out one print, and I picked a third. Joann's was having a 50% off sale when I purchased these, which made it a super affordable project. While there, I also purchased some upholstery tacks and a box of steam-a-seam tape. All in all we spent around $60 for this makeover. If you are afraid your kids will pick out the ugliest material out there, you could give them a theme, like jungle, or ocean to help rein them in. But for me, part of the fun is ending up with the crazy mismatched materials!


  • Tape measure

  • Outdoor fabric or canvas fabric

  • Steam-a-seam tape

  • Sharp scissors

  • Staple gun

  • Iron or hand-held steamer (for seams)

Taking measurements of the roof was a bit of a challenge. I laid out what was left of the old roof and then added about an inch all around for the seam. I crossed my fingers that it would actually fit.

The other pieces were easier because they weren't as torn up. I laid the pieces on top of the fabric and cut around them leaving a little more than an inch to create seams. I ended up doing most of the seams while my son was napping. Measuring, cutting and creating the seams probably took about 3 hours total.

While you are doing this remodel you may want to look at your structure and decide if there are any areas you want to change. I decided to add in some wood slats in one open spot to make it safer. I was able to do this by purchasing a $3 piece of wood at Home Depot (they cut it for free). Then I stained it with stain we already had and screwed it in using a power drill and drywall screws. I found that since it is just a play structure measurements don't have to be absolutely perfect. My son helped with the wood stain and I screwed them in to place a few hours later. The structural change was actually much easier than I thought it would be.

Next came the roof and fabric installation. I started with the roof. I used the upholstery tacks for this, but a staple gun would work just as well. I switched to a staple gun for all the other fabric pieces. I asked my daughter for her opinion on where to place the fabric pieces and both kids helped by bringing me various materials.

We had some pieces of fabric left over, so I asked my daughter if she would like some fringe added around the bottom of the play structure. She thought it was a great idea, so we cut them and hung them from the inside bottom portion of the play structure using the staple gun. This would also be a fun place to hang interactive things like bells or wind chimes.

I'm happy to say that our "magic tree house" now brings us joy. How about you, what could you do to make your play structure more magical? If you don't have a play structure, do you have some trees that you could drape some fabric across to create one? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Update: We added a "pulley system" to the play structure. Well actually there was no pulley involved, instead we found some simple supplies in the garage (a wall hook, screws, rope, an old red bucket and a cleat) and put together a makeshift pulley system one in about 10 minutes.

First I attached a wall hook to the side of a wooden beam about a foot and a half away on the outside of the play structure. This way it would support the sliding action of a rope. I made sure it was in an area that would be safe and accessible when the bucket was pulled up and kids were leaning over to take things out of it. There is a window opening that my kids can reach through to grab things out of the bucket.

Then we tied a rope to a lightweight bucket and ran the rope up through the hook. Lastly we attached a cleat inside the structure to tie the rope off.

Immediately my son filled the bucket up with cars and rocks. I was amazed how well this worked, even without an actual pulley.

For me the best part about this addition was how incredibly excited and proud my son was of helping to put it all together. Seeing it immediately work pretty much blew his three year old mind!

He loves putting his little cars in the bucket, hoisting them up and then racing them down the slide.

Having a moving part that your kids can control themselves will add a totally new sense of wonder to your play structure, and it's so easy to do!

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