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A Parent’s Guide to Building a Safe and Fun Backyard Playground

It’s no surprise that spending time outside benefits children significantly. Studies show that playing outdoors minimizes kids’ stress levels, reduces their risk of childhood obesity and may even help increase their attention spans. However, with the prevalence of technology today, many parents struggle to help their children achieve a healthy balance of screen time and outdoor play.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children get at least 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. Age-appropriate activities for younger children include running, jumping and climbing exercises. All of those exercises can be achieved through activities such as playing tag, engaging in team sports, bike riding, swimming or even just having fun on a jungle gym.

A recent Gallup survey showed that 62 percent of parents with children aged 2-10 want their children to spend their free time outside. Despite this high number, many parents are hesitant to let their kids play outdoors due to traffic fears or a lack of nearby play areas. They naturally want to keep their children in a safe, secure and supervised play area. Installing a safe backyard playground is an easy way to create a secure and fun outdoor environment that the whole family can enjoy.

Although there are many different backyard playground products available, not all of them are the same. There are several important safety features to look for that make all the difference. When considering safety in backyard playgrounds, you want to be sure you’re choosing products that have been rigorously tested and are constructed of high-quality materials. A quality play set is built to last for many years and minimize the chance of injury.

Many parents welcome the idea of designing a custom backyard playground but aren't sure where to start. With so many factors to consider, including yard size and age and ability level of their children, it may seem overwhelming to choose from the wide selection of custom play sets available. Fortunately, with today’s versatile backyard playgrounds, pieces can be mixed and matched, and sets can be expanded and changed as your children and family grow. In fact, customizing your own set can be achieved in a few easy steps.

First, let’s talk about safety.

The Importance of Safety Features

Safety is always at the forefront of any parent’s decisions regarding their children, especially when it comes to choosing a backyard playground. When selecting a backyard playground, you’ll need to consider many safety features before making your decision. While some backyard playground sets may be less expensive, it’s worth it to pay a little more for the safety features that will keep your playground sturdy and your children safe. Even a small injury is unnecessary and can easily be avoided by buying safer playground sets.

Important safety features to consider include:

  • Solid Beam Construction: Backyard playgrounds can be made out of many different materials. Many companies use wood beams that are pieced and glued together from different cuts, making them susceptible to warping, cracking and buckling. Many playsets are constructed of wood that is either untreated and vulnerable to pests, buckling and fungus, or treated with toxic chemicals that are harmful to children, pets and the environment. You want to look for companies that use solid beam construction and wood like cedar, which is naturally durable and resistant to decay, pests and mold.

  • Sturdy Hardware: While the wood that is used on your backyard playground is extremely important, so is the metal that is used to connect the set and fasten the different pieces and components together. You want to be sure that these essential pieces are made of hot dipped galvanized metal, which resists corrosion that could cause your playground to weaken and not be safe. Multi-beam joint connection means that joints stay tight, which ensures a sturdy and safe play set.

  • “Ouch-less” Features: Other important safety features will serve to minimize injuries such as pinched fingers, splinters, snagged clothing and sharp pieces. These include:

  • Textured and powder coated grips, ladders, handrails, handles and swing chains, which decrease the chances of little hands slipping off. They also make swing chains a little cooler to the touch on hot days.

  • Snag-free and recessed hardware-bolts and other hardware won’t stick out and snag, cut or pinch. Snagged clothing is a huge safety risk and causes many injuries each year.

  • Double wall reinforced slides are smooth and have no bolts or wood reinforcements that can cause cuts, splinters or snags.

  • Ropes that are soft and splinter free and treated to resist UV damage that can cause them to weaken and break.

No matter how safe and well-designed a backyard playground is, every parent and supervising adult would be wise to observe the following recommended safety rules. There are some basic safety recommendations for keeping your backyard playground and children safe that include:

  • Safe Playground Space: The space where you build your backyard playground should be checked and deemed safe and appropriate before building. This means having a level yard with solid ground underneath. Your playground space should be clear of any electrical wires, overhanging branches, fences, pools and other potential hazards. Swings, slides and other components must be placed with enough clearance to operate properly.

  • Regular Observation: Adults should check every two weeks for loose or broken hardware, frayed ropes and chains, ladders, swing seats and any other damaged areas that could cause injury to children or weakness of the play set. Any affected areas should be repaired or replaced if necessary.

  • Periodic Maintenance: Periodically, it may be necessary to tighten the hardware on your playground. Once a year, you should treat it with a non-toxic sealant. Areas that have high exposure to direct sunlight should be touched up periodically as well. In cold climates, where temperatures may reach 0 degrees or below, plastic components such as swing seats should be brought indoors or not used, as they could crack under extreme temperatures.

  • Adult Supervision: Children should always be supervised by a responsible adult while enjoying their play set. Teach children how to properly and safely use each piece of equipment and how to stay safely clear of other users. Make sure that each child meets the proper height and weight requirements for safe play and that the number of children playing on the set doesn’t exceed safety guidelines. Be sure that children are wearing properly fitting (not loose) clothing when playing, and proper footwear for traction. They should be taught not to jump from platforms, lofts, slides or swings or play in a way that could put themselves or others in danger.

Selecting Products With Top Safety Features

When choosing a company to purchase your backyard playground from, you want to choose one that stresses safety and quality over everything else. These companies have an expert team of engineers, designers and installers and their products have undergone a rigorous testing process.

When selecting a company for your backyard playground, consider those that:

  • Have products that can be interchanged and expanded and are big enough for the whole family. You want to be sure that play sets are customizable and come with many different options including deck height, platform size, swing beam height, slide length and price point.

  • Have talked extensively with parents and children to see what they really want in a play set. These companies take that feedback and use it to continually improve upon product design.

  • Have fun add-ons such as tunnels and bridges and safety features available such as handles, handrails and safety steps and who have these and other replacement parts readily available.

  • Will help you choose a product that is the right size for your yard. You also want to use a company that has top local installers that know how to build a safe playground and will come out to evaluate your yard.

  • Have knowledgeable local dealers with showrooms where you and your children can see and test out many of their products. These dealers provide you with local service and can help you take advantage of any savings specials that are being offered.

  • Cover their products under a comprehensive warranty and can stand behind their quality. High-quality materials mean that your play set will continue to be sturdy and safe for many years to come.

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