Swing sets and playsets can be a wonderful outlet for kids, while keeping them close to home. Here are my tips on choosing the right one for your family.
I know that our swing set, or outdoor playset has been a lifesaver, both for my three kids and for myself. When they were very little, I could sooth cranky toddlers with a few pushes on the baby swing. Preschoolers could climb and slide on their own, while I gardened nearby or tackled cleaning out the car or the garage. Now that the children are of school age, they still get use out of the backyard playset, enjoying some time for exercise and fresh air, while I get time to make dinner or do other tasks. Plus, the swing set contributes to our reputation as being the “fun” house and proves that you don’t always need screens and electronics to be entertained.
We choose to purchase a used playset as a way to save money and be friendly to the environment. I recommend doing your research before you select any swing set, being especially diligent if you choose, as we did, to buy a pre-owned set. We made sure we got one manufactured by a company with a long history of well-built equipment that could replace parts, service the playset, or allow add on features, if needed. We also had a carpenter friend look it over for structural integrity.
So what is the difference between a swing set and an outdoor playset? I tend to think of swing sets as the smaller metal frames that hold two or three swings and maybe a small slide. It is important to invest in a sturdy frame that is sturdy enough for your oldest child. Because these sets can wobble, installing them properly is key. Opt for light colored plastic slides over shiny metal ones. Plastic can still get very hot, so make sure to touch and test the surface before a child slides.
Playsets are larger, more elaborate products that combine several play opportunities and can include not only swings and a slide, but also a rock wall, climbing rope, tunnel slide, playhouse, fire pole, tire swing, tic-tac-toe board, sandbox or picnic table. Naturally, models are available with different combinations of these features, and a playset can often be custom ordered with your favorite things. A canopy to provide shade is always a good idea. It should be able to be removed in the winter or before bad weather.
Here are some more tips on what to look for in a swing set or play set.
The first piece of advice I have is to purchase a product that will grow with your children. Select something that is too small or simple, and it may not get much use. Units that have multiple features that can be swapped or added are a good idea. Baby swings can be swapped out for full size ones, an extra arm can be added to accommodate a longer slide, etc. Your play set should include different activities that can be used at different stages. Not only with this allow children of different ages to enjoy the set, but it will also give it a longer play lifespan. For example, the sandbox may get a lot of use at first, but as they grow, kids may switch more of their attention to the tire swing.
Choose quality materials, such as Cedar or Redwood, which can stand up to the elements. You can choose to apply stain and sealer or allow the wood to age naturally. Avoid playsets constructed of wood treated with pesticides and toxic chemicals. These substances can be accidentally ingested when kids put their hands in their mouths. When we purchased our house, it came with a playhouse on the property that was made of pressure treated lumber containing toxins. We dismantled it and donated the wood to a place where it would be used away from young children.
If your playset features a platform that is more than four feet high, make sure it also comes with a protective barrier, such as a railing, that is at least 27-inches high. Examine the railing for notches or openings where clever kids could fit head and hands in an attempt to climb over it.
Follow the eight-eight rule when choosing or installing side by side swings. Each swing should be hung at least eight inches off of the ground and at least eight inches apart from its neighbor or the end of the structure’s frame. Flexible, lightweight swing seats are best. They mold to a child’s bottom for the most comfort and safety.
To prevent the bumps and scrapes that could happen with a slip or fall from the set, make sure to install a shock absorbing protective surfacing below the set and extend it out by at least six feet from the perimeter. There are a number of different products on the market. Fill the surface to a foot deep, and periodically check the debt, refilling or redistributing as needed.
When we installed our set, we made sure that it would be placed in the shade, within a good site line, so we could keep an eye on the kids, even from the house. Obviously, it should be far away from roads and driveways. It is also a good idea to place it away from sheds, fences and other outdoor structures.