There is nothing that kids like more than to splash around in water, but the faff of filling and emptying a paddling pool gets harder as the kids get older and the pools get bigger.
Last year we decided to buy a giant paddling pool, also known as an ‘above ground frame pool’ to go in our garden for £70. Although I may dream of a riverside mansion with a never-ending garden, full-size swimming pool and multiple international holidays each year, the reality is very different. We live in a 1970’s end of terrace house with a small, square garden and the prices of flights and accommodation in the school holidays means that we can’t always afford to travel abroad. Adding a pool to the garden has helped fulfil a little bit of a dream and when I sit in the sun listening to their shrieks of joy as I sip a nice glass of something chilled, I can hand on heart say there’s no-where else I’d rather be. I’m pleased that the pool is helping us make lots of brilliant memories for the kids to look back on.
For the last two years we have set the pool up in the Easter holidays (we have been lucky enough to have sunshine at Easter for two years running now!). We use a pump, filter and chemicals to keep the water clean meaning that we only empty it at the end of the season to store it for winter. Maidenhead is blessed with pretty warm weather compared to other parts of the UK, so we were surprised at how much use we got out of it. Because the pool is set up and ready to go all summer, the kids can jump in whenever we get a quick burst of sunshine, so they ended up using it much more than if we had had to fill up a smaller pool each time.
Last year we had fun inviting friends around and even had a pool party for my son’s fourth birthday. The kids used the pool non-stop throughout the six-week summer holiday and I certainly felt less pressure to go out and do things when we had good weather as the kids were thrilled to be splashing in the pool. On one hot August day, my daughter and I went to the Natural History Museum in London, something we’d been keen to do for ages. But after an hour or so there, we sat outside and she said she’d much rather be in the pool at home!
One of the rare occasions that I actually got into the pool, it’s usually too cold for me!
The current lockdown means that we’re at home more than usual and it’s helping us have lots of fun while we stay safe at home. It’s been one of the best investments we’ve made but before you take the plunge (see what I did there!) there are a few things to think about.
Note – this article contains some affiliate links to Amazon which means that if you click and add items to your basket, when you check out a small percentage comes back to me. This helps me invest in the blog and means I don’t have to rely on adverts to keep the blog running. I mention a local pool supplier in the post too – I’m not working with them, but wanted to give a genuine local endorsement as they were so helpful. Please also remember that children can drown in just a few cm of water, so always make sure they are supervised when they are in a paddling pool at home. You can find lots of tips on the Royal Life Saving Society website.
What size frame pool or paddling pool should you choose?
One of the first things to consider before you buy a large pool like this is how big you should go. Remember that these larger paddling pools and frame pools are not something you empty frequently – you won’t be packing it away each weekend so work out how much garden space you want to lose for 6 months of the year.
You will need to put the pool on the flattest part of your lawn, so if like me, you have visions of it being tucked away at the side of your garden be prepared for it having to be located slap bang in the middle of the lawn! We’ve had so much fun out of it that my tip would be to get the biggest you can afford or fit into your garden so you can use it as the kids get bigger too.
You could put the pool on concrete on your patio, but you’ll need something soft and waterproof underneath like foam tiles, or I’ve heard of people using carpet underlay.
The kids couldn’t wait to get the pool set up this year!
The pool that we opted for is a 3 metre by 2-metre family frame pool by Intex which is 0.75m deep. (we paid £70 for it but prices fluctuate wildly when it’s a heatwave – I saw it for £350 recently!). You might want to add it to your basket and wait for a notification that the price has gone down. The other big brand on the market is Bestway, they do a similar size family pool.
When we bought our pool, my children were six and three and my youngest had to stand on tippy toes. He was a bit more cautious than his 6-year old sister who loved splashing, floating and swimming up and down. This year he is much more confident and is practising swimming under the water with his goggles. It’s big enough for adults to get in the water and the kids enjoy swimming a few strokes under the water and picking up diving toys from the bottom.
If you have younger children, you can get a mini frame pool which would be great if you had toddlers and wanted easier visibility over the side.
Before we bought this frame pool we had a circular 8ft pool which is an ‘easy set’ pool – you just inflate the top and then fill it with water but the kids found it harder to get in and out of this and we would end up flooding the garden if they grabbed hold of the side to climb in. If you’re restricted by space, it’s still a good option though.
Questions I had before buying a large paddling pool
Will a large paddling pool kill my lawn?
My husband is usually very proud of the lawn so I was quite surprised when he opted to go for this large frame pool as we knew it would kill the grass underneath. He decided that it didn’t really matter as we would soon be building a side extension on the house so the lawn would be trashed by that anyway. When we took the pool down at the end of the summer the area under the pool was completely barren, but we planted grass seed and it did grow back, although there will always be an outline of where the pool stands.
How can I keep the paddling pool water clean?
I found it hard to figure out how to keep the paddling pool water clean and Google sent me to an array of websites offering technical information on hot tubs and full-size swimming pools. No one really seemed to talk about a humble pop-up paddling pool or frame pool.
In the end, we got expert advice from a local company called Pools Plus who are based next to Dobbies Garden Centre at Harehatch on the A4. They have a beautiful pool outside with crystal clear water that stays filled all year round which was an excellent introduction to their expertise.
They talked us through the pump that we would need, the spare filters (so we can clean one while we use one), the chemicals and the testing strips. They helped us work out the volume of water in our pool, what dose of chemicals we would need and how often we would need to add them. They sell pools and accessories in their shop too so if you’re trying to find a paddling pool in the middle of a heatwave, they might be able to help.
Here in Maidenhead, we have really hard water which means we need to add ‘pH minus’ to get the alkalinity down and prevent limescale in the pool and pump. If the water has too high a PH level it can be uncomfortable for people in the pool (red eyes and dry skin) and it can also mean that the chlorine in your pool won’t work as effectively. (I’m not a qualified expert though, so please check chemicals and quantities with someone with proper expertise!)
Here’s the detail of what we do (which again comes with a huge caveat that we are not experts and that each pool and water type is different!)
Most days we use a testing strip to check the chemical balance in the water. You just dip a strip in the water for a few seconds or so and then compare it to the colour chart which has recommended levels. My four-year-old enjoys doing this.
If the PH level is showing as high, we add some PH minus. These are granules you dissolve into a jug of water and then pour in. We were advised that the ideal PH level is 7.2-7.6. Our size pool needs 60g of PH minus. We bought a 1.5kg pack and it lasted us for all of last year.
The chlorine level should be between 2 and 3. If it’s higher than that you can let some of the water out and replace with fresher water, or just leaving it in the sunlight will make the chlorine level reduce.
You can also use an algicide in the pool to stop algae growing in the water. The chlorine solution that we bought from Pools Plus has this built-in, along with a clarifier. We bought a 2-litre bottle for £30 and it has lasted us at least 12 months. You can buy tablets, but the granules give you better flexibility on how much to add at any time.
We have a pump connected to the pool which has a filter – vital to keep the water clean and oxygenated.
We have a filter in the pump which you can take out and clean, but we found that they get a gunky build up over time. You can buy them relatively cheaply in multipacks though.
We have the pump connected to the solar heating mats and it pumps heated water from the panels back into the pool. (More on that later)
What accessories will I need for the paddling pool?
It’s easy to look at the pool and think it’s a cheap buy, but the truth is that you’ll need to buy a few extra accessories to make it all work. in addition to the chemicals, pump and filter, we have bought the following:
- A set of steps – because children will break the pool if they are holding onto the sides as they get in and out. It’s also a much safer way of getting in and out.
- Foam tiles – we put these around the pool to stop the kids traipsing mud and grass into the pool and house. You could also put them under the pool if it’s going on a hard surface.
- Solar heating mats – these connect to the pump and the water follows through the solar mats and back into the pool. We now have two connected together which helps take the edge off, but I have to be honest – it’s still too cold for me! They lay flat on the ground or you can hang them on a wall so depending on space, the more the better!
- A thermal cover – this helps keep any warmth in the pool and works well in conjunction with the solar heaters.
- A full, weatherproof pool cover – this stops rainwater, leaves, dust and debris from getting in the pool when we’re not using it.
- A pool ‘vacuum’ – I love this one! You connect your hose pipe to the head and the internal water-jet scoops up the debris that has settled on the bottom of the pool. It also came with a giant net which is great for scooping out floating debris and dirt that gets in there during the day.
- Towel Ponchos – My two spend most of the day getting in and out of the pool and to begin with this meant that I would spend a lot of time picking up damp towels off the floor around the house. These ponchos are great for them to throw on when they get out of the pool, especially when they are shivering and their teeth are chattering. They also make it easy for them to get changed as they can easily take off their trunks or swimming costume from underneath.
- A sun shade – We have a south west facing garden so we get a lot of sun. We bought a ‘sun sail’ which we hook onto the fence which gives a bit of shade for the pool and also makes an extra place for the kids to hang out.
How can I make the paddling pool water warm?
This is the eternal challenge for pool owners and it’s something we are still experimenting with. The size of a pool like this means that a few boiled kettles of hot water are just not going to make a difference! I’ve seen a few posts on social media where people have used black bin liners to heat their paddling pool, but with this volume of water you will need something more substantial.
There are a few options:
- Use a cover and let it heat up naturally throughout the day – this is great on warmer days, but my kids are not patient enough to wait until 4 pm when it might be a bit warmer.
- Use a solar heater – this is the cheaper way of doing things as you won’t be paying for the electricity to keep a water heater going throughout the day. We have found that using two solar mats and a cover helps take the edge off, but it’s not quite as warm as we’d like it.
- Use a pool heater – these require more of an investment up front and have the added costs of running them too. A friend of mine has this heater from the Pool UK store and said that after leaving it on all night her pool was lovely and warm the next morning and the whole family got in.
How to keep the kids busy in the paddling pool
My kids love pottering around and messing with water.
Even though they can’t swim proper lengths in the pool they are content playing with all sorts of water toys, and even toys that aren’t designed with water in mind.
Here are a few examples:
- Floating and chilling out on inflatable toys. We can fit two large rings in the pool (just about!). I’ve got my eye on these inflatable donuts at the moment!
- Playing ‘pick up a poo’ or ‘hook a floater’. An actual game with plastic poo and mini fishing rods! This was especially well-received at my sons fourth birthday party.
- Playing with ‘floaties’ (floating drinks holders). These come in all shapes and sizes and the kids enjoyed playing with them, throwing balls into them for points. You can get 12 for less than £10 on Amazon but I also found some in the pound shops in Maidenhead.
- Using fishing nets to scoop out balls and ducks. I bought a set of 5 nets for the party and we created party games. The handles extend.
- Diving toys – my four-year-old has just plucked up the courage to get his head under the water and is loving playing with diving sticks and rings.
Recycle your paddling pool and your inflatables
If you find that you have lots of old inflatable toys or an old paddling pool, Wyatt and Jack recycle old paddling pools and inflatables and turn them into bags and fashion accessories. You can find out more about how to drop things off for recycling on the Plastic Free Windsor and beyond Facebook page.
Things to consider before you buy a large paddling pool
Hopefully, most of the information I’ve covered so far will help you make your mind up about whether to invest in a large paddling pool or frame pool but the big thing I haven’t mentioned, which we didn’t consider before is the amount of time you’ll need to set aside to keep the pool water clean. My husband has taken on the role of ‘the pool guy’ and on a day when the pool has been in use, he will spend around ten minutes scooping out debris, checking chemicals and getting the cover back on so it’s ready for another day. You do need to take the time to look after the water and the pool as harmful bacteria can start to grow after three or four days and your water will become cloudy.
I hope this blog post helps answer some of the questions you had about investing in a larger pool – it’s been one of the best investments we have made for our children. I just hope that the sun shines this year and that you all get to enjoy long lazy days in your garden with contented kids splashing in the pool.
About this blog
I write this ‘Maidenhead Mum’ blog to help local parents and families by sharing my experiences of life here in Berkshire and beyond. For up to date posts about life here in Maidenhead, you might like to follow me on Instagram or my Maidenhead Mum page on Facebook. As a small business owner myself, I’m always keen to support other local businesses and each Monday I run a ‘community noticeboard’ on Facebook where small businesses can promote themselves for free.