Make a swingin’ play area for your kids

Rebecca Pacifico pushes her children Ben, 8, and Sadie, 4, on their swing set in West Manchester Township (Photo by Kate Penn)

Rebecca Pacifico pushes her children Ben, 8, and Sadie, 4, on their swing set in West Manchester Township (Photo by Kate Penn)

Out with treehouses. In with clubhouses.

Many families live in housing developments that are, well, lacking trees, said Scott Hittie, co-owner of Shrewsbury True Value.

So parents are building backyard playgrounds with twisting sliding boards, bridges, rock walls, ropes and towers.

Rebecca Pacifico special-ordered a swing set for her two children about two years ago. She said their West Manchester Township yard was large enough to accommodate it, and she wanted to give the kids an opportunity to entertain themselves.

The Pacifico family’s set includes three swings, a two-person glider, bridge, rippled sliding board and a beloved clubhouse.

“My son likes sleeping in the clubhouse overnight,” she said of Ben, 8. Her daughter, Sadie, 4, prefers the slide and swings.

Hittie said he built a swing set for his son years ago. It took him a month to assemble — though he said it was probably about 40 hours total. (True Value will install kits — in fewer than two days.)

As his son got older, Hittie said, the swing set “sat there for a few years. He didn’t use it.”

Then one day, during house remodeling, Hittie was able to pass it on to a contractor who mentioned he had a child. Hittie said he was glad to see it repurposed.

That’s the beauty of swing sets: They can be moved, and accessories can be added or nixed. It’s the ugly side of treehouses: They need constant care as a tree changes shape in order to stay sturdy and safe.

“(Treehouses) seem to be on the decline,” Hittie said, noting he still thinks they’re fun, but are too challenging to maintain.

Similarly, a wooden swing set requires more upkeep than one made out of vinyl. Wooden sets need maintenance every so many years, similar to a deck, said salesperson Amy Martin of Penn Dutch Structures in Shrewsbury Township.

On the other hand, vinyl sets, made out of recycled plastic, require no maintenance except for the occasional wash. They’ll hold their retail value, and, Martin notes, they won’t give your little ones splinters.

Wooden playgrounds are significantly cheaper than vinyl sets, with about a $1,000 to $1,200 price difference. A wooden set with two swings, a tower, slide and installation starts at $655 at Penn Dutch. (Do-it-yourself kits retail for $299 on for three swings, one slide and a whole lotta elbow grease.)

Pacifico said she picked a wooden set for the appealing price, but also because her kids will have outgrown the play area by the time maintenance is required.

Safety tips

Each year, about 50,000 U.S. children are treated in the emergency room for home playground injuries. Follow these tips to make your child’s play area safe:

    1. Do not place playgrounds on asphalt or concrete. Grass is better; bark mulch, wood chips, fine sand and fine gravel are best.

    2. Climbing equipment, slides and swings should have a space perimeter of 6 feet on all sides.

    3. Platforms more than 30 inches above the ground should have guardrails to protect against falls.

    4. Look at all moving parts of the swing set and make sure there is no opportunity for pinching or crushing.

    5. Inspect on a regular basis for loose hardware, rust and chipped paint or splinters and decayed wood.

— U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Smart tip

The size of the set and where you want it in your yard are important to consider before buying. Most companies will list a set’s exact dimensions, said Amy Martin of Penn Dutch Structures in Shrewsbury Township. Keep in mind slides and swings will need additional space. Some yards might need leveling before a set is installed.

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