Forever Young

Outdoor Play Areas

I’ll never forget the amazement and delight when my parents drew back the sliding door curtains to reveal a magnificent wood playhouse that Santa miraculously delivered and built one Christmas Eve many, many years ago.

“When can we go outside and play?” were uttered within seconds.

There’s nothing quite like getting a home playground as a kid. The scale, the privacy, the ownership; it’s like getting your first home without a pesky mortgage to worry about. While these structures of fun and frolic may be nothing but a delight to the kinder, it’s the parents left with the research, cost and installation. But don’t let those details dampen your fun. Here are a handful of tips to consider before purchasing a play system for your family.

GAUGE THEIR AGE

If you check the fine print on most play systems, you’ll discover that most are designed for children ages three to 12. Considering that each child develops at a different pace, it is not uncommon to see families purchasing play sets for children who are only 18 months to two years old. According to Scott Schulz, president of Backyard Fun (a.k.a. Rainbow Play Systems of Sacramento), a family needs to take into consideration that the children are only going to get bigger. “A family should choose a play system that can grow along with their children,” he says. “Many families make the mistake of buying a smaller system only to find that in two to three years the children have outgrown it.”
Modular systems are a good bet, allowing families to add on age-appropriate activities over time. Purchasing a unit that includes too many advanced features for a child could result in unnecessary injuries.

SET YOUR SIGHTS

If you plan to purchase a play set at a “Big Box” store or through their catalogs and online offerings, make sure you know the size of the unit that your outdoor space can afford and also research the actual quality of the materials before closing the deal. “Physically seeing the structure in person will help parents determine whether the system is right for their family,” says Scott. “I also recommend having all of the family members climb inside the play set to truly see how much room is inside and how stable it is. Using the ‘grab and shake’ test while shopping is also a good test of how well the system is constructed. If the system moves around now imagine how it will after a few years of use.”

SET THE SCENE

For forts and climbing structures, six feet on all four sides of the system is recommended for space. For swings, double the height of the swing beam on either side (for example, eight-foot tall swing beams need 16 feet on either side). Scott says one of the biggest mistakes parents make is building a play area before they know what play set they are going to buy. “If possible, I recommend installing the play set first, then landscaping around it to ensure proper safety space. Using common sense here is important – keep the system away from concrete, sidewalks, retaining walls, windows and trees.” Positioning the system close to where it can easily be seen from the kitchen or family room allows parents to keep a watchful eye on their children if they have to step inside for a moment.

MAINTAIN AS THEY MATURE

Scott also notes a play set should be inspected two to three times each year, to ensure items like ropes and swings aren’t wearing out and no bolts have loosened due to weather changes. To keep your play set looking new, it is recommended to lightly power wash the entire system – just enough to clean off any dirt, debris and stain that is no longer effective.

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