Planning a Kid's Play Set

If you’re of a ‘certain age’ you probably remember old style kid’s play sets. Built mainly from metal tubes bolted together with some stakes at the corners to stabilize them. Swings were on chains and lots of metal nuts and bolts holding the parts together. Plus, if you had a couple of kids swinging at the same time the play set tended to rock and threaten to fall down. They were an accident waiting to happen.

Luckily ideas about play sets have changed a lot over the years and people are now paying a lot more attention to the safety of any play sets their kids get to play on. Since the first step to ensuring your kids safety on a backyard play set is proper planning, here’s some ideas on how to plan your kids play area so it’s a safe and stable area for them.

Spacing and design

  • Whether you’re buying or building the play set you want to make sure the spacing is right. This means any open spaces between structures should either be less than 3 ½” or wider than 9”. This spacing will ensure even a small child’s head won’t squeeze into any gap or the opening is so large it’s impossible to trap anyone.
  • You also want to be sure there’s at least a 6 foot ‘fall’ zone around the play structure, free of obstacles like bushes or trees.
  • Also make sure play zones don’t run into each other. For example, you don’t want a slide ending in the same area where other kids might be swinging.
  • Your play set should be built on a soft level surface. Soft surface means fine sand, wood mulch or chips or a rubber ‘mulch’ surface designed specifically for play sets. Obviously you don’t want to construct your play set on a hard surface like concrete or asphalt but even grass is considered a hard surface.


  • You want to build your play set with strong quality materials, and for practical reasons you also want it to last long enough for your kids to enjoy it as they grow up. In general this means sturdy long lasting 4 X 4 and 4 X 6 wood as well as heavy duty stainless steel bolts and screws, - you don’t want any nails or staples.
  • Up until a few years ago the consensus lumber for building play long lasting sets was pressure treated wood in which the active ingredient was a preservative called chromated copper arsenate (CCA). However, because of the presence of arsenic in the formulation the lumber industry voluntarily moved to halt consumer sales of CCA treated lumber by December 2003 and the federal government reinforced this action by banning all sales of CCA treated lumber after January 2004.
  • Alternative building materials for your play set includes redwood, cedar and some of the alternative man made woods. You can mix and match your materials to suit your budget as well as give your play structure a unique appearance, just keep in mind the composite wood substitutes aren’t strong enough for structural framing - for that you need real wood.

Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer with over 500 articles published on the web as well as in print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada. He writes on a wide range of topics and is a regular contributor to He can be contacted at [email protected].