As a kid, if I wanted to swing or slide I just walked across the street to the neighborhood park.
A fortunate few of my friends, however, had their own gym sets that consisted of metal poles that supported swings, slides, and gliders. If we pumped hard enough, we could pull those poles right up out of the ground – and of course, that’s how you won the swing contest.
Growing up and having my own kids, I wanted them to share those same experiences.
We purchased a pressure-treated pine model playground for right in the backyard. I also took out a contract to have it tightened and inspected each year, and it was well worth the peace of mind.
We’ve come a long way, with playgrounds and swing sets having grown to sprawling (and safer) configurations of mythic proportion!
Are you looking to buy your own playtime centerpiece, and spark a new generation of wonderful childhood memories for your own kids?
Read on to learn what you need to know to pick a system that will rock your kids’ backyard adventures!
First, we’ll discuss what’s available. Then we’ll consider the decisions you’ll need to make, so you can pick the one that’s best for your family. After all, play sets come in several different materials with a wide array of options!
Bottom Line Up Front: Our Top 10 Home Playset and Swing Set Selections
1. Kids Creation Redwood Circus 3
Check out this Kids Creation Redwood Circus 3 Swing Set. Made in the USA with real redwood, the quality of this set is way above that found at most garden centers.
Kids Creation Redwood Circus 3 Swing Set available on Wayfair
Besides the three swings (which have weight capacities of 115 pounds), this kit includes a playhouse zone with a climbing rope (250-pound weight capacity) along with a colorful green plastic slide that allows for “quick escapes.”
Although the playhouse or “fort” area can be entered via a ladder, a climbing wall provides an additional entrance.
A wooden sandbox encircles the base that can be filled with either sand or a rubber mulch.
Made with nontoxic materials including natural redwood, this playset will provide hours of backyard fun for your elementary age children and their friends in an attractive addition to your outdoor space.
2. Backyard Discovery Woodridge II
The Woodridge II by Backyard Discovery has every kind of activity your elementary age kids could want in a play system, and you can feel good about the quality of this set.
The wood parts are 100 percent cedar that’s decay resistant, durable, and pre-stained, and the plastic is UV resistant.
Woodridge II by Backyard Discovery, available on Amazon
The company stamps components with part numbers to facilitate easy assembly with their own Safe-T-Fuse hardware that maximizes safety.
Able to handle the vigorous play of up to nine children at a time, this full-scale set has an upper fort with a wood roof, open lower porch, sun deck, crow’s nest, and a high-rise tunnel accessed via a rock-climbing wall.
A sandbox and bench nestle in the shaded lower level, and two belt swings and a trapeze complete this extensive system of fun.
Made in China. ASTM compliant.
3. Step2 Clubhouse Climber
Perfect for the younger kids ages two through five, the Step2 Clubhouse Climber accommodates up to four children for a fun play date.
Step2 Clubhouse Climber, available on Amazon
Kids can climb the stairs to the playhouse where they’ll find a porthole and steering wheel, then cross the bridge to a tower where they can peer out opposite portholes, before sliding down the slide to do it all again.
Crawlspaces below the bridge and tower add to the fun! Made in the USA.
4. Step2 Naturally Playful Lookout Treehouse
The Step2 Naturally Playful Lookout Treehouse is a terrific choice for toddlers.
Children love to repeat tasks that please them, and with broad stairs, a platform, and a slide, they can take turns climbing up and sliding down, over and over again.
There’s even a nifty periscope for peering out onto the world around them.
A roof provides shade and the cozy security little ones crave. It’s a great place to snuggle up with a picture book when their batteries wind down!
Maximum weight is 50 pounds. Made in the USA.
5. Lifetime Monkey Bar Adventure Swing Set
The Lifetime Monkey Bar Adventure Swing Set with 9-Foot Wavy Slide has features elementary age kids love.
There are three belt swings, a trapeze bar with gym rings, a wavy slide, and a fire pole, to keep kids busy for hours.
Galvanized, powder-coated steel and high-density polyethylene and UV protection make for a durable product that contains no lead. Made in the USA.
This model is available on Amazon in either brown and green earth tones, or bright primary colors.
6. Backyard Play Systems Castle Rock Swing Set
The Castle Rock Swing Set by Backyard Play Systems is available from Wayfair, and it is perfect for elementary age kids.
It’s constructed of high-quality premium preserved southern yellow pine.
And it has a 10-foot scoop slide, generous play deck, captain’s wheel, telescope, tire swing, rock wall with rope, two adjustable swings, a trapeze bar, a rope ladder, and a canopy for shade. Wow!
UV resistant and made for years of outdoor play, this model is made in the USA.
7. Meadowvale II Wooden Swing Set by Big Backyard
The Meadowvale II Wooden Swing Set by Big Backyard is a playset with a profile that’s just what you need in a small backyard, and it’s available at Wayfair.
Within a footprint of 12’10” x 10’6” this system is packed with play areas including an upper clubhouse, rock wall, high rail wave slide, oversized sandbox, two swings, and an acrobat bar.
This set is made in China of 100 percent premium cedar. And it can accommodate up to eight children, at a max weight of 110 pounds each.
8. Step2 Game Time Sports Climber
Here’s a model that’s sure to be a hit with preschool sports fans, and it’s available on Amazon.
Climb the ladder ramp to a landing and swoosh down the slide! Grab the ball and make a basket, or crawl through the tunnel and up the climbing ladder again for a cycle of rollicking good times.
Holds up to 60 pounds. Made in the USA.
9. Ridgeview Deluxe Clubhouse Wooden Swing Set by Big Backyard
The Ridgeview Deluxe Clubhouse Wooden Swing Set by Big Backyard will make your home the most popular one on the block.
Geared toward the elementary age group, it can hold up to nine children at a maximum of 110 pounds each.
The manufacturer notes that the slide is removable, and swings may be exchanged for baby swings – a customizable model that can grow with the kids!
Ridgeview Deluxe Clubhouse, available on Wayfair
This is the system of your child’s wildest dreams. It has an upstairs clubhouse with a roof, window, and flower box, and a lower clubhouse with an awning-covered snack counter and two stools.
Kids can write messages on a chalk wall, climb a rock wall, and swing from monkey bars. There are two swings, a glider, and a high rail wave slide.
This product is constructed of 100 percent premium cedar (Cunninghamia lanceolata), and is coated with a child-safe stain. Made in China.
10. Little Tikes Hide and Seek Climber and Swing
Our final top pick is for the under two age group. It’s the Little Tikes Hide and Seek Climber and Swing, and it’s available from Amazon.
Features include a molded seat swing with three-point harness, junior rock-climbing wall, clubhouse landing with peek-a-boo windows, and steering wheel.
And for ground exploration, there’s a soft fabric tunnel for baby to crawl through while you take the sweetest pictures ever!
Matching Age to Equipment
Your first consideration when choosing a play system is age appropriateness.
Children’s physical stature and motor skills vary by age, and matching their characteristics to those of the equipment is essential not only for enjoyment, but for safety.
As you explore options you’ll find that equipment falls into one of three age categories: toddler to age 2, pre-school ages 2 to 5, and elementary ages 5 to 12.
Toddler to 2 years:
Keep things close to the ground with baby swings, ramps, and simple stairs. Children who crawl soon take their first steps, and then begin to climb, with no fear of falling.
Help kids experience the joy of movement with equipment made especially for them.
What to Buy?
A terrific choice for toddler to twos is the Step2 Naturally Playful Lookout Treehouse, available on Amazon. Fun for climbing and sliding, over and over again!
Pre-School (2-5 years):
Systems in the preschool group resemble those of the elementary age, but are constructed on a smaller scale with proximity to the ground.
Pre-schoolers have come a long way. They’re stronger and more limber, learning to balance, and feeling very confident in their movement.
This means that they can negotiate narrower steps and ladders, and shorter slides. They shout, “Push me!” as they tighten their grip for a swing ride. Not babies anymore, these kids are in constant motion, eager to master a task and put their own spin on it.
What to Buy?
For the preschoolers at your house, consider the Little Tikes Clubhouse Swing Set, available on Amazon.
With two saddle swings, two ladders, a slide, clubhouse platform with steering wheel, and roof, the kids are sure to have hours of fun and fitness.
It can accommodate up to four children, and is made of durable plastic that’s easy to clean. Made in the USA.
Elementary (5-12 years):
Think monkey bars, cable walks, tire swings, and fire poles. Children from five to 12 years are building agility and body awareness, so give them a little challenge with some activities to master.
Kids at this age are energetic, and their movement is fluid and confident. They’ll race around with their friends for hours, and then, just like the little ones, will find a cozy retreat in the clubhouse platform. Large systems may accommodate 8 or more children.
Systems for this age group come in wood and metal, and can accommodate the weight and wear-and-tear of several children using multiple activity zones at once.
What to Buy?
Gorilla Playsets makes an excellent cedar system called the Frontier Swing Set, available at Wayfair.
It features a wave slide, ladder, picnic table, sandbox, rock wall and rope, tic-tac-toe board, steering wheel, and telescope, in addition to ramp, tire, belt, and trapeze swings. So many fun things to do!
This is a great choice for a quality system to promote exercise and imaginative play for elementary age children.
Managing Various Age Groups
Matching ages to equipment is useful when shopping for a play system, but what do you do when your children are in multiple age brackets?
You could purchase more than one system, and create a custom play area for each age group. This is a terrific investment for a large family, or where the children’s ages are widespread, and is much safer and better for your sanity than trying to keep little ones off the big kids’ play equipment.
Or, you can purchase a quality system with interchangeable accessories. For example, standard swings come in three types: buckets for the youngest, back-supported for preschool, and belt-style for elementary age children. Switching them out as a child matures is an easy way to let your kids’ playset grow with them.
Custom modular systems, not only offer interchangeable accessories, but they may expanded structurally as your children grow.
Are you with me so far? Great!
Once you’ve gotten some idea of your age group, take a look out the window at your yard.
Where do you have the best line of sight to keep an eye on your kids when they’re outside? Wherever that is, that’s the very best location for your new playtime setup.
So you’ve found that perfect viewing spot – but maybe the ground’s not completely level?
This can usually be remedied with some installation adjustments. Be sure to consult the manufacturer of your selected system to learn what’s possible with your chosen model.
Safety First: Home Playground Safety Tips
This brings us to our next and most important subject – safety.
There’s a lot you need to know about your playground choice, such as its need for level ground, clearance for swings, and how far apart railings should be.
So read on, and let’s find out what you need to take into account for the safety of your kids.
Protective Ground Surfacing
For Stationary Climbing Equipment and Slides:
Ensure a minimum of 6 feet around the perimeter, surfaced with soft, protective ground for safe use and prevention of injuries from falls.
A minimum of 6 feet of protective surfacing should be laid out from the support structure on either side – and even more extended from the front and behind the set, at a length about twice the height of the swing from ground to support beam.
Swing Set Spacing
Ensure a minimum of 8 inches between swing and support structure, and between swings. A minimum of 16 feet should be maintained from swing support frame to pendulum see-saw. Minimum clearance from the underside of swings to the ground should be 8 inches.
Platforms more than 30 inches above the ground should have guardrails to prevent falls.
Potential Entrapment Standards
Openings that are closed on all sides should be less than 3 1/2 inches, or greater than 9 inches.
Be sure to close “S” hooks as tightly as possible, and eliminate protrusions or any catch-points on equipment.
9 Tips for Playground Maintenance
Keep the following in mind, to maintain a safe and fun backyard play space:
1. Inspect protective surfacing and maintain proper area and depth.
2. Replace or repair any hardware that is loose, worn, or protruding.
3. Maintain equipment footings, and remedy any potential tripping hazards.
4. Keep the area free of debris, toys, and litter.
5. Be sure that the children’s area is free of natural obstacles, like branches, weeds, rocks, and tree roots.
6. Keep metal components free of rust and chipped paint.
7. Remove wood splinters if possible. If wood is cracked or decayed, the structure may be unsafe. Stop use and contact the manufacturer.
8. Inspect for deterioration and corrosion on structural components that connect to the ground. Stop use if found, and contact the manufacturer.
9. There should never be missing or damaged equipment components, such as handholds, guardrails, and swing seats. Repair or replace as needed.
So far, so good. Now you know:
- How to dedicate an area of the yard for safe fun
- What to look for when you select a system
- What to expect in terms of maintenance
Get Out Your Tape Measure
Now, you’re ready to mark off the area for your playground!
Watch out for tree roots, and make sure that there are no branches over the area. If you want shade, consider the shadows cast by your home at various times of day. Or, consider a system that casts its own shade with UV protected canopies.
Plan to place a cushioning layer or protective surface beneath the structure, according to the safety clearances recommended in the previous section.
Rubber mulch or rubber tile are highly recommended for soft landings. Grass and dirt surfaces, on the other hand, are just too hard and unsafe.
So Many Options
And now for the exciting part – shopping for the new playground that your kids are going to love!
It’s a lot of prep, I know, but it will pay off. I promise you.
As you scroll through these photos of happy kids swinging, sliding, climbing, and having a fabulous time, you’re going to see that playgrounds are available in several materials. And prices can vary widely.
In a nutshell, equipment might be made predominantly of either wood, metal, or plastic. Simple enough, right? But wait – which is the best?
Way back in my day, it was metal all the way. While that’s still a tempting option, wood and plastic are some of today’s most popular choices, if your budget allows.
My favorite sets are made of wood, so let’s begin there.
Here are the basics on some wood options you’ll see:
- Consistent top-notch quality
- Strong and durable
- Naturally resists insects, decay, and rot
- Minimal shrinking/swelling
- Great appearance
- Most expensive
- Requires routine cleaning and staining/sealing to preserve appearance – otherwise color fades to gray over time
What to Buy?
The Kids Creation Redwood Circus 3 is one of our top 10 products.
This top-quality redwood playset is made to last. It’s available from Wayfair.
There are several grades of cedar to choose from, most being more affordable than redwood. This option is also naturally resistant to decay, rot, and insects, like the former.
Cedar varieties include Pacific, Western Red, Alaskan Yellow, and Northern White.
Known for its aromatic scent, cedar quality does vary – with both good values and high quality options available.
- Less expensive than redwood
- Strong and durable
- Naturally resists insects, decay, and rot
- Not as likely to warp as pressure-treated lumber
- Aromatic scent
- Quality varies
- Requires routine cleaning and staining/sealing
- Without routine maintenance, color fades to gray over time
What to Buy?
The Backyard Discovery Woodridge II All Cedar Wood Swing Playset is one of our top 10 picks, and it’s loaded with activities for years of outdoor play. This model is available on Amazon.
Also called Chinese Cedar, this is actually a type of cypress that naturally resists decay, pests, and rotting. It varies in color from yellow to white, with attractive red highlights.
- Unique and beautiful colors not found in other woods
- More affordable than redwood
- Small knot structure
- Soft but durable
- Smoother than cedar woods
- Less likely to warp than pressure-treated lumber
- Naturally resists decay, pests, and rotting
- Pleasant scent
- Softer than redwood and true cedar
- More prone to bowing and splitting than other options
What to Buy?
The Grandview Twist Complete Swing Set by Swing-n-Slide is available from Wayfair.
Per the company website, most of their kits that are stained a redwood color, such as this one, are crafted of imported cedars.
This model features two swings, two slides, a rock-climbing wall, covered play deck, open deck, monkey bars, and a glider swing, making it great fun and exercise for elementary age children.
Installation is also available with purchase, depending on your location.
The quality of pine may vary, since it is a cheap and very readily available soft wood.
Look for “Premium Preserved” pine to ensure a top quality variety. There are other types of pressure-treated pine structures on the market as well, deemed safe and reliable for playgrounds. Also be sure to buy “green” treated wood that’s child safe if you go with this material.
Beware models made of “wood” with a pine finish, as they are poor imitations.
- More affordable than redwood
- Premium Preserved has an excellent reputation and guarantee
- Premium Preserved pine advocates say it rivals redwood in durability
- Premium Preserved pine requires no staining/sealing
- PVC wrapping may cause water accumulation and deterioration
- Pine quality varies
- May warp, crack, or splinter
- Pine is not naturally decay, pest, and rot resistant
- Chemically pressure-treated
- Older chemically-treated pine contains arsenic
- Preserved Premium usually more expensive than cedar
What to Buy?
The Backyard Play Systems Castle Rock Swing Set is available from Wayfair, and it’s one of our top 10.
Professional assembly is available, provided by Porch’s network of experts.
Sets can also be made from heavy-duty, high-carbon steel pipes – each powder-coated or oiled to resist corrosion, discoloration, and heat retention.
- Strong and durable
- No splinters or rough edges
- Powder-coated or oiled for weather resistance
- Low maintenance
- Gets hot to the touch
- Requires anchoring in concrete
- Considered old-fashioned or unattractive to some
What to Buy?
The Lifetime Monkey Bar Adventure Swing Set with 9 Foot Wavy Slide is available on Amazon. This elementary age set is one of our top 10 picks described above.
It requires no anchoring and is a great value in a galvanized steel product. Expert assembly is available in some zip codes if you purchase on Amazon.
Like metal, plastic components also pose no danger from splinters or rough edges, and are quite low-maintenance.
Equipment for small children these days is usually made from plastic, as are slides and activity pieces in structures for older children.
Be aware that plastic parts do get hot in the sun! There doesn’t seem to be a particular color that stays cooler than the rest, although some will tell you that yellow is preferable.
The bottom line with any plastic playground material: unshaded equipment can reach temperatures in the 100s, sometimes even up to 200°F! So shading recreational areas at least at some point in the day is highly recommended.
- Easy to maintain
- Plastic is cooler than metal
- May fade
- Becomes hot to the touch in direct sunlight
- May deteriorate in extreme heat
- May crack in extreme cold
What to Buy?
An excellent example of a durable and easy to clean plastic model is the Little Tikes Clubhouse Swing Set, described in the preschool category above.
Depending on the location of your residence, this model is available from Amazon.com with or without expert assembly.
Modular components may also be constructed with a combination of wood and plastic called a “composite” – a mixture of two materials, or of unspecified wood treated with a polymer coating to increase its weather resistance.
- Low maintenance
- More expensive than wood alone
- May fade or stain
- May crack
- May trap moisture and promote mold growth
- Mold leads to deterioration over time
What to Buy?
If you’re interested in this type of model, consider the Congo company’s Monkey Play System with Swing Beam, available on Amazon.
It has many fun zones including a fort, rock wall, wave slide, fire pole, sandbox, two swings, and a trapeze bar to delight elementary age kids.
This product is available with or without expert assembly, depending on your location. And, you can opt for green accessories instead of the blue version pictured above.
Next, let’s take a look at the basic structure of your playground, and outfit it with fun features for perfect playtime and outdoor memories!
What are your kids into? Twisty slides, tire swings, rock walls, and themed modular sets (like pirate ships and clubhouses) only barely scratch the surface of what’s available.
Here’s a partial list of the many options from which to choose, for initial installation or adding on later:
- Wavy slides, tube slides, double slides
- Gliders, spinner swings, tire swings, infant swings
- Acrobat bars
- Fire poles
Super Spinner Swing in Purple, available on Amazon
Gorilla Playsets Steering Wheel in Yellow, available from Wayfair
- Crow’s nests
Pirate Telescope Swing Set Accessory, available on Amazon
- Monkey bars
- Picnic tables
DIY or Pay to Install?
Still with me? We’re almost finished.
Are you handy and ready to construct this baby yourself, or will you have it professionally installed? Most kits are pre-drilled and come with everything you need, so it’s completely up to you.
The most important part is the safety of the kids, so keep that in mind if you take on this project yourself.
Here’s what you need to do…
If you go the DIY route:
1. Upon the arrival of your unassembled playground equipment, read the entire owner’s manual.
2. Take inventory of all parts and their condition.
3. Contact the manufacturer immediately if there are any missing or damaged parts.
4. Gather all tools recommended by manufacturer, and have additional basic tools handy including a tape measure, a level, twine, ground stakes or other markers, a hammer, flat head screwdrivers, Phillips screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. Be prepared for a trip to the hardware store, in the event that you do end up short a nut or a bolt.
5. In a level location, mark off the area required to install your playset (bearing in mind the necessary safety clearances).
6. Clear away all debris from the area.
7. Enlist the aid of a strong family member or friend, and read all of the manufacturer’s instructions again.
8. Begin assembling the upright support structures and cross beams as per manufacturer’s instructions. Level as needed. Tighten as recommended.
9. Attach all activity accessories such as swings, slides, and ladders.
10. Attach canopy, if included.
11. Frame play area as desired and fill with soft-landing mulch of your choice.
If You Choose Professional Installation:
1. Select the location for installation, and be ready to show the pro exactly where you would like your equipment to be constructed. They will usually charge by the hour, so you can save some time by doing a little of the prep work yourself.
2. Mark off a level location, and clear away all debris. If you feel up to the task, you can even mark off the area required for your set using twine and stakes, bearing in mind the necessary safety clearances.
3. With your installer, participate an inventory of all parts and their condition, and contact the manufacturer immediately if there are missing or damaged parts.
4. Supervise installation, leveling, tightening, and adding of accessories and canopy.
5. Thoroughly inspect all aspects of your product before signing off on the installation and permitting the installer to leave.
6. Frame the play area as desired and fill with soft-landing mulch of your choice. Depending on who you hire to install, this service may be included.
7. Set up appointments for regular maintenance if this is offered.
I’ll leave you here with some final advice, and then you’ll be ready to make the best decision!
5 Useful Tips for Playset Installation
1. Always buy products for children from reputable manufacturers who adhere to high standards for quality and safety, and warranty their work.
2. When selecting a modular system, investigate how components are fastened together. Wood should be smoothly sanded and bolted – it should not be glued, nor should there be laminated layers.
3. Hardware should be recessed, not sticking (and posing a potential hazard).
4. Look for models that have met the highly respected safety standards of an organization such as the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM).
5. Consider professional installation and a maintenance contract to ensure expert installation and upkeep. The life of your system depends upon both.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Your new apparatus is likely to be a neighborhood sensation!
That’s right: if you install a stellar playground, it could attract many kids from all around your community, not just your own.
So take my advice for the safety of all, and remember to do the following:
Police the set for hazards before allowing children to enter.
Have your children’s friends get parental permission to use your new set.
Fence It In
Fence in your home play area to keep out uninvited guests. If a child is drawn to your playset and plays without your permission and supervision, he or she could get hurt – and this could be your responsibility, especially if the playset is in disrepair.
It’s Go Time
Use this guide to choose a system that will provide your kids with many happy hours of fun. As you search online or discuss your thoughts with a salesperson, keep the following in mind:
- Age-appropriate features
- Solid construction
Okay, people, it’s time to get this project off the ground! Armed with information about what to look for and how to maintain your new set, it’s time to get out there and have some fun.
What will you build in your backyard? What have been some of your children’s favorites over the years, and what models and materials have lasted the test of time? Let us know in the comments!
Photo credits: Shutterstock and various playground equipment manufacturers.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!