As the weather warms up, kids are itching to get outside and play after a long winter. Their parents are looking forward to it, too.
If you've been thinking about installing a playset in your backyard, now is the time to start planning.
But before you run off to the lumber yard, you need to take a look around your yard with safety in mind. Each year, more than
200,000 children go to U.S. hospital emergency rooms with injuries associated with playground equipment. Whether the cause is old,
worn-out or low-quality equipment, improper surfaces or risky behavior, most injuries can be prevented. By using common sense, and with
the help of the guidelines below, you can make sure your kids stay safe while having fun.
Consider these factors when adding a playset to your backyard.
* Design and spacing
Make sure you are installing equipment that is appropriate to the age of your kids. Check all open spaces in the equipment.
"They should measure either less than 3 1/2 inches so kids can't fit their heads in or larger than 9 inches, so their heads won't
become trapped," explains Karl Jessen, president of Detailed Play Systems, a company that provides plans for build-it-yourself
The playset should have well-defined play areas that are arranged for safety. "You don't want kids who are going down the
slide landing right in front of kids who are on the swings or climbing up the ladder," says Jessen.
When locating the equipment in your yard, you should have a 6-foot fall zone in all directions. This means that the area around
your playset should be free of obstacles like fences or bushes or hard surfaces like sidewalks that could lead to worse injuries in case
of a fall.
Look for well-designed equipment made from durable materials and put together with high-quality hardware. Make sure equipment is
assembled properly and set on a level surface, anchored firmly to the ground. Install bumper pads for corner cushioning and non-skid
strips for places where little feet need a better grip.
* Protective surfacing
Almost 60 percent of all playground injuries are caused by falls to the ground. Asphalt, concrete and even grass are considered
hard surfaces not appropriate for use under a playset. Mulch, wood chips, fine sand and fine gravel are considered acceptable surfaces.
"The best options are synthetic soft play surfaces specifically designed for use with playsets such as shredded rubber mulch or
engineered wood fiber. These are non toxic to children and pets and one application lasts for years", says Jessen.
Playsets get a lot of hard wear and tear, so be sure to inspect your equipment regularly for anything that could be a hazard to
kids, such as loose nuts and bolts, sharp edges, rust or cracking and splintered wood. "Don't forget to check around the play area
as well. Make sure it is free from debris such as sharp sticks, rocks, toys and any other possible hazards," says Jessen.
* Teach safety
Last, but not least, parents need to teach their children playground safety. Kids need to know they shouldn't push while on
playground equipment. Teach your kids to look out for others when they're using the equipment. Even if your kids know all the rules,
parents should still supervise them on the playset at all times. "We have what we call the 'kitchen window rule','" says
Jessen. "We tell parents to erect the playset in a part of the yard where they can see it from the house."
Depending on the features they come with, wooden play sets typically cost between $2,000 and $3,000. For those willing to invest
a weekend building their own playset, Detailed Play Systems provides customers with complete building plans, hardware, swings and slides
for about 50 percent less than a comparable prefabricated set. The wood is not included, but each kit contains a Lumber Purchase Guide
that shows exactly what wood needs to be purchased.
The kits are fully customizable, a multitude of playground configurations can be built, and the sets are modular so they can be
added to over time. Accessories such as periscopes, telescopes, steering wheels, sandbox covers, and specialty swings -- full bucket or
flat swings -- can be added on to kits or purchased individually and used to upgrade an existing backyard playground.
To order a catalog, call (800) 398-7565 or log on to www.detailedplay.com. Shipping is available in the 48 contiguous United