Parents who want to pry their children away from the television or lure them from the video game console
might want to consider putting a playset in the backyard.
Commonly found in neighborhood parks and apartment complexes, playgrounds have evolved from a simple
metal swing set or a single slide to a complicated apparatus made of plastic with tunnels, climbing
walls, bridges, multiple swings and serpentine slides sticking out in a couple of directions.
Smaller versions of these playsets for the backyard can cost above $1,000 and be delivered and installed
by a company. Or an intrepid dad can buy a set of plans or a playset kit for a few hundred bucks and
build it with the kids.
Regardless of the approach, parents must make sure these playsets are safely built. Manufacturers, for
example, have eliminated the use of wood treated with potentially hazardous additives after an uproar
over the issue about a decade ago.
With safety in mind, parents and kids can enjoy backyard playsets together for years, adding on
accessories and equipment as the child ages. It’s a way for youngsters to engage in physical activity
and broaden their imaginations with their friends in their own magical castle or imposing battle fort.
"The big draw of play structures and play spaces outside is to make them a little wild and
mysterious while inside the safe circle of the family home," said Barbara Butler, owner of Barbara
Butler Artist-Builder Inc., a designer of custom outdoor playsets. "You’re creating a space for
imaginative play and physical play."
There’s a litany of companies that sell outdoor playground equipment: Some of the largest are PlayNation
Play Systems, Rainbow Play Systems, Backyard Adventures and PlayCore. Interested parents can visit
company Web sites for direction on where to find retail outlets that sell their products or order from
Meanwhile, independent operators like Butler can create a custom playset to match the family’ needs and
the dimensions of their individual back yards.
Considering the size is an important step in the process. The yard’s length and width should be measured.
Drastically sloped back yards may be a challenge. And make sure the chosen section of the yard drains
You want to make sure children have enough room surrounding the playground so they can frolic freely,
without having to worry about crashing into a fence, patio deck or mom’s flower beds.
Next, think about the age of your children. Younger kids might benefit from just a sandbox or a swing
set, until they get older enough to climb and slide. As the children get older and more athletic,
parents can add to the playset to fit the child’s need or interests.
Cost is an obvious factor in the process. The least expensive way is to buy plans from a company that
designs playsets for a few hundred dollars and build it yourself, but that requires the additional cost
of lumber, tools and other supplies.
"That’s for the real do-it-yourselfer," said Dave Seitz, executive vice president of PlayNation
Playground companies also sell kits that include the materials but require self-installation. That
approach is cheaper than playsets that are delivered and installed by a company – expect to spend from
$800 to a few thousand dollars under this strategy. The most expensive kinds of playsets are custom
built, rising to $5,000 or above with a slew of accessories to go with it.
Parents should know the materials. The pressure-treated wood industry discontinued the use of chromated
copper arsenate (CCA) as their primary preservative for residential construction projects because of
health dangers related to the compound. So, avoid any used playground equipment described as using
More affordable playsets are built of strong plastics, maybe with some redwood or cedar mixed in.
All-wooden sets will generally cost more than all-plastic products.
The area surrounding the playground should be free of dangerous obstacles such as low hanging branches,
sprinkler heads or large rocks.
The ground surface around the playset should absorb shock. There should be a minimum depth of 9 inches of
loose fill material such as wood mulch or chips, engineered wood fiber or shredded/recycled rubber for
equipment up to 8 feet high, and 9 inches of sand or pea gravel for equipment up to 5 feet high,
according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Some lighter play equipment may need to be anchored to keep it from tipping over while kids are playing
Accessories can be added onto the playset to add to the sense of adventure. A ship’s wheel turns a fort
into an explorer’s galleon. Binoculars, periscopes, telescopes, rope ladders, tire swings, crawl tubes,
hammocks, fireman poles and other add-ons enhance the experience beyond the slides or swings.
"If you put in a great play space in your backyard, you will become the place where kids want to
come to play in the neighborhood," Butler said.
As the fun and adventure begin, parents must know the safety risks involved and some ways to prevent
Each year, about 50,000 injuries occur on home playground equipment and are treated in an emergency room,
according to the commission.
Eighty percent of those injuries happen when children fall down. Other injuries occur when children are
hit by swings or other moving parts, or suffer cuts from protruding bolts.
Patty Davis, a commission spokeswoman, said several deaths occur yearly, with the most common cause being
strangulation on ropes, cords or leashes. Others die in falls or when their heads or necks get stuck in
Children, especially younger ones, should be supervised when they play, but injuries take place even
while an elder is watching.