Five things a playset needs for your family to love it and one surprising thing it doesn’t need

Expert Advice  |  3 years ago

Five things a playset needs for your family to love it and one surprising thing it doesn’t need

You’ve decided your family is ready for a playset, and you’re excited, but also a little worried. How do you make sure you get a playset the whole family will love?. Does it need to be huge or would a couple of swings suffice? What does a playset need to keep a family happy for years to come? Here are five things to keep in mind to make sure you get the right playset, and one surprising thing it doesn’t.

One, it should be safe. All nationally sold playsets in the U.S. meet ASTM safety standards, so if you are buying new from one of those companies, you don’t need to worry. If you are buying locally or building your own you should familiarize yourself with ASTM F1148, a set of voluntary standards that you can purchase online, or check out the Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Other things to think about in terms of safety: if you are buying a used playset, check it carefully to make sure it isn’t missing any parts, and that it is structurally solid. Also, check for splinters. CedarWorks uses Northern White Cedar which is naturally splinter free, but other kinds of wood will splinter as it ages, so you will need to keep a playset not made with Northern White Cedar sanded.

Two, It should encourage different kinds of play. Active play is the most obvious kind of play - and probably your main goal. Most families hope their playset will provide lots of opportunity for running, climbing, sliding, and swinging which is great for kids’ health and development, but a good playset can also encourage social and imaginative play - just as important for a child’s development. A playset that encourages different kinds of play is also a playset that is going to get used more and for a longer period of time.

To get a playset that encourages these different kinds of play, look for sets that have fort-style structures or playhouses. These kinds of structures provide ample opportunity for kids to come up with a wide variety of imaginative scenarios. Also look for accessories like telescopes, steering wheels or phones that encourage make believe games.

Three, your playset should be big enough to fit the whole family. Can adults play on it? A playset will get a lot more use, and everyone will have more fun, if it has enough elements to keep everyone entertained at once, and if it has weight limits high enough to hold an adult’s weight, so parents can play with their kids.

Four, you should like how it looks. When we talk about playsets, we usually focus on their fun features or how they are made, not on whether they are attractive, but a playset is big, and it’s likely to be a focal point of your yard for years. If you’re going to look at it for that long, there is nothing wrong with wanting it to look nice. If your budget is tight, and you are buying a used set, it might be as simple as making sure it is clean and in good shape. If your budget allows for it, and you have a plan for how you want your property to look, you should consider what playset material you think is most attractive - stained wood, natural cedar, vinyl coated, etc. Also, do you like the general design of a given playset? Does the style mesh with your house and yard? There are a ton of different playset styles available. It’s totally fair to prioritize choosing a style that complements your home

Five, it has to fit in your yard. Imagine finding or designing a beautiful playset with a fast slide, a variety of swings, and a load of fun accessories, then bringing it home and discovering that if your kids swing too high, they’ll hit the bushes behind them, or if they come down the slide too fast they could end up in the neighbor’s yard. Make sure you measure the area where you plan to put your playset, and be clear about how much space the playset needs beyond its footprint. You need to leave at least 6 feet all around the playset, more if you have swings (see the “Space Requirements” section of our playset guide, “Swingsets 101” for more information). 

If your yard is small, or irregularly shaped, you still have options. You just might need to be a little creative.

This may sound counterintuitive, but a swing set doesn’t have to have swings, particularly if space is an issue. In fact, there is probably no single accessory that a playset must have. As long as there is a structure with multiple ways to get up and down and there are a variety of fun accessories, your kids will enjoy it. We have worked with customers to design some of our favorite playsets  that don’t have any swings.

Recently, we designed a playset with a single gazebo structure. It didn’t have swings or monkey bars, but it did have two ways up to the second level and two slide options to get down plus fun small elements like a telescope and a steering wheel. The family also added color accents to one fence, to add a unique, playful look without spending a lot of extra money. In the end, they got a really striking playset with a small footprint. It has so many fun components, you don’t even notice that it doesn’t have swings, and, most importantly, their kids love it.

For more information on what you need to know when buying a playset and beyond, check out Swingsets 101