Make your backyard kid-friendly with the hottest trends in swing sets, jungle gyms, tree houses and more
With school out for the summer, many parents are looking for ways to keep their kids entertained at home. There are only so many things to do inside, most of which are sedentary, and sending the kids outside provides a much-needed break. And as childhood obesity has become a national health issue, keeping kids active is now more important than ever. Backyard play sets give kids a natural way to stay healthy and active and parents peace-of-mind about safety concerns.
“While the play set itself may or may not directly affect a child’s ability to maintain an ideal weight, it helps develop good habits of staying active and appreciating what the outdoors has to offer and is an alternative to the Xbox,” says Brian Pound of Dreamtime Designs.
Al Adkisson of Superior Play Systems agrees, adding that, “Putting fun items on the play sets like rock walls and rope ladders makes the kids exercise, but in a fun way. It’s a great way to get the kids away from the television and outside exercising.”
Today, there are more options than ever for creating a dynamic outdoor-play experience.
Imagine the Possibilities
Backyard play sets have transcended the old-fashioned metal slide and swings, becoming modern outdoor entertainment centers offering high-quality wood construction and features such as decks, tunnels, rock-climbing walls… even trapezes for the budding aerialist! Designed for kids and families to enjoy together, today’s backyard play sets provide a range of adventurous habitats, from high-tech playhouses with intercoms and solar panels to Thoreau-like retreats with quiet nooks for reading, drawing and wishing upon a star.
“Children love the rock walls, tire swings, steering wheels, telescopes and more,” Al Adkisson of Superior Play Systems says. He also says that kids really seem to enjoy engaging features located inside a play structure or fort such as tic-tac-toe panels and chalkboards.
Play sets can also include solar-powered lights, periscopes and spiral slides, which are a great complement to traditional “wave” and “scoop” slides and offer the thrill of your local park right in your own backyard, Ali says. Functional periscopes allow kids to see the world from new angles, and solar-powered lights are an eco-friendly and cord-free way to illuminate a play system at night.
When choosing features for a backyard play set, consider the ages of your children. “What kids like really depends on their age,” says Pound. “A toddler is most often enthralled by the slide, while kids over the age of seven tend to love monkey bars more than anything.”
Be sure to include a variety of features and activities to create a play set designed for years of fun. Providing variety is also a way to establish priorities when determining your budget.
Adkisson recommends Superior Play Systems’ Outback 5’ Combo 2 with Rung Ladders, featuring an adjustable A-frame and redwood construction. “It comes with two swings, a trapeze bar, a rope disc, two rung-ladders, a rope rung-ladder, 360-degree tire swing, 10-foot double-wall wave slide, two pairs of safety handles, a periscope and a steering wheel,” he says. The play set offers “versatility on a smaller scale,” according to Superior Play Systems and is ideal for uneven or small yards.
Bark Up the Right Tree
Kids dream of escaping the confines of their parents’ house and into a fantasy world of their own with no crown molding or hardwood floors they can’t drag chairs across. They want to explore and use their imagination, and a tree house could be just the antidote.
“There are no standard models with a tree house because each one is designed with customer input to fit their budget goals and space,” Pound says. Other factors affecting the construction of a tree house are the slope of the area, the tree that it is going to be built around—specifically its size, type and growth rate—and, most importantly, as Pound says, “the imagination of the child whose outdoor kingdom it will become.”
Pound is also finding that more and more customers want play structures to blend with their backyard environments. “One customer’s set overlooked his tropical-pool environment, so we surfaced his play set with hand-cut, locally grown bamboo complete with a thatch roof,” he says. Pound has also used native-tree limbs for the slats of tree house railings in order to make the structure blend in with its surroundings.
Have Fun. Stay Safe.
Cliché but time-tested and nonetheless true is the saying, “You live, and you learn.” But as a parent wanting to give your child everything they ever wanted while dealing with your own concerns about safety, you can protect them by selecting the best-quality safety features for your outdoor play structure.
“The most important aspect of safety on a playground has less to do with features than it does with the heaviness of the structure,” Pound says. “Most kits or suspiciously inexpensive play sets use thinner, lighter weight boards with much smaller bolts and cheap accessories that may only last a few years. Look at the thickness of the slide. Would you, as an adult, consider going down it? If not, it will break before your kids outgrow it.”
Making sure your backyard play set will stay secure and intact is first and foremost, but you also want to think about more than just the nuts and bolts.
“We only use redwood, which is free of chemicals and is ideal for outdoor play sets,” Adkisson says. “It’s naturally immune to insects, decay and deterioration. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends natural wood like redwood for outdoor play sets as opposed to treated wood.” Superior Play Systems also uses safe, non-slip flat-steel safety rungs, which provide more surface area and make it easy for small hands to grip, while a non-skid coating helps prevent slips when the structure gets wet.
In the event that a fall or slip does occur, safety surfacing can provide an additional layer of protection. “Having a resilient safety surface under your play structure is extremely important. Getting a serious injury from falling is no fun,” says Andy Erler of Spread Tech.
“There are two main types of safety surfacing: loose fill and unitary,” Erler says. “Loose-fill surfacing includes wood playground mulch, also known as Engineered Wood Fiber, and rubber playground mulch. Make sure that you use mulch that is designed for playground use and not just for landscape use. Unitary surfacing includes Bonded Rubber, Poured in Place Rubber and Synthetic Turf over a foam pad. Unitary surfacing costs more up front, but requires very little maintenance.”
Questions To Ask
Al Adkisson, sales manager at Superior Play Systems, suggests asking yourself and a professional just a few questions before purchasing an outdoor play structure:
• What type of wood is the system made of?
• Is it chemical-free?
• What is the warranty?
• What kind of maintenance is required to keep the warranty valid?
• Is the system designed for adults as well as children?·
• Is customer service offered?
Stay away from
sets that have age
and or weight restrictions.
“The one feature that kids and adults always come back to is swings. We once installed belt swings for a 35 year-old woman with no kids who just loves to swing.”
—Brian Pound, president, Dreamtime Designs