How to buy home playground equipment
May 26, 2016 7:55 AM   Subscribe

My kiddo is turning three this summer and we are thinking about getting him a playground set for the backyard. I've been looking at some online and realize I'm not even sure where to start on this - the prices vary to a crazy degree and there are so many different options. If you have a playground set, what do you like or dislike about it? What should I consider when making this purchase? Was it worth the money, or is it just collecting dust?
posted by galvanized unicorn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We bought this last month:

I was able to build it myself but it certainly would have gone faster and easier with someone else helping. All the Backyard Discovery models use what I'd call a 'flimsier' cedar wood and the whole unit isn't braced very well for lateral movement but you're getting what you're paying for and for one child or two (7 y/o) playing on it there's no issue. It's sturdy enough that I (220 lbs) can sit on the swing or the play deck and I don't feel imminent collapse.

That said, the directions were thorough but at times not perfectly clear. If you follow it to the letter and organize the parts beforehand it will work.

It has absolutely been used the last few weeks. You absolutely need a level location to build it. <>
If money wasn't a concern, something from would have been a choice. Their sets are higher quality with better materials but for what we were looking for that would have been overkill.
posted by splen at 8:04 AM on May 26, 2016

We choose not to put one up. We used the park, where the equipment was awesome and bonus, kids to play with.
We did put in a sand box, which got a ton of use

Looking back, I think I"d probably go with a play house of some sort.
posted by Ftsqg at 8:07 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

We bought a pretty basic wooden Childlife set when my son was about that age. I don't remember what we paid for it, but I believe it was around a grand. We bought it on a tax-free weekend in MA and I think they threw in installation and delivery.

It had a couple of swings, a slide, and a climbing tower with a pole you could slide down. I think he used it for about six years, gradually trailing off in the last year or two. We kept it around for a couple more years because the neighbor kids used it as well.

In his later years he mostly used it to climb up and jump off, scaring the shit out of any adult who was watching. It helped train me to not worry so much.

Was it worth it? I think so. It was a pricey up-front purchase but we've always liked paying for quality. It was solidly built and it lasted for years. He got a lot of use out of it, it was a focal point in the yard, and it was a gathering place for a few neighborhood kids.

It wasn't designed to come apart and be moved. When it was time to get rid of it I put it on Craigslist for free and said "you have to take it apart." Somebody came and got it and I assume they were able to re-assemble it.

You need level ground, ideally an area with soft woodchips but we just set it up on the grass.

If you're looking for a way to keep your child busy for low cost, the biggest ROI is a sandbox. I think it cost me less than $100 in lumber and sand, maybe a couple hours of work, and I had a 6x6 foot sandbox that he played in constantly.
posted by bondcliff at 8:11 AM on May 26, 2016

We got a playhouse. It's awesome, but my daughter plays with a two-by-four balanced on concrete pavers instead. I would keep play equipment minimal, like, just a swing. Everything else will likely be ignored because kids are like that...
posted by The Toad at 8:12 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Various things to consider.
1) Are you near a park? We went with a very small swingset + slide because we're a block from a big school playground where they can go play in the summer/afternoons when school's out. If we didn't live within walking distance of a park, we would have gone with a bigger one.

2) How long do you expect to be in your house? If a long time, consider a larger permanent structure that can keep serving your kid up to high school. If not super-long, maybe a smaller, cheaper one intended to be temporary.

3) Resale value of the home. If you live in a kid-friendly area, check real estate listings -- expensive brand-name outdoor play structures are often listed by name in real estate ads and push the home's price higher. (Around here, Rainbow Play Systems is the big one that commands a home price premium.) These are the systems that START around $3,000 but have lifespans in excess of 25 years and are intended as very permanent professional installations.

We just have a little temporary toddler one that my kids are about to outgrow, but they love it and we'll certainly miss it when we have to get rid of it in the next couple years because they're too big for it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:17 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had a look at the wooden ones and realised they were all either thousands of dollars or made from ridiculously flimsy wood; I went with a "six-station" metal jobbie from the local hardware store, somewhere around CAD$200 six years ago when the kid was two, and it was certainly used at two -- the little slide at the side was very exciting then (but "don't bother putting it on" now).

I take the swings etc in for the winter and six years later it is still in very good shape, more than can be said for many of the sub-$$$$ wooden ones which look nice for a bit but which are not meant to stick around like the ones that are well into the thousands. I think we got terrific play value for the price with metal.

Getting one with spots for a lot of kids was a good idea despite just having one of my own; kids from all over the neighbourhood will find it and come to visit and you don't want a lot of "It's MY turn" whinging. We went through a lot of freezies, definitely got our money's worth; it still sees use at 8. The two-person 'glider' swing has always been the most popular part.

It did not need notably/perfectly level ground. (It got moved last summer and I was amused to notice that it had sunk into the ground several inches.) We also had a sandbox but it was only sort of interesting for two or three summers. And, "I don't like getting all sandy when there's no beach." Fair enough.
posted by kmennie at 8:25 AM on May 26, 2016

Get the biggest and best quality you are willing to spend.

We got a tiny swingset (two swings, slide, climbing wall) because our yard was small. The set only cost $399, but after only two years it's ready to fall over and the kids have outgrown it (one kid isn't even in school yet). I am trying to decide if I should just take it down or wait until it falls over.

If I did it again, I would spend no less than $1k or more on a swing set, honestly. Have a professional put it together unless you are better than average with DIY stuff. If you mis-align even one piece of wood or can't drill new holes for lag bolts and fill the old ones to compensate for warping before assembly, it will be magnified ten times by the time you are done. Some sets are literally just pieces of wood with no holes drilled or all cuts completed. Some sets are priced just for the equipment and you have to source your own wood! (So a $1k set doesn't include wood sometimes!)

We live across the street from a huge park, but we can't always go to the park with the kids, so they play in the back while we are busy doing adult chores and getting dinner ready; they aren't ready to go to the park alone, and it's very busy anyway. I see no waste in even a huge swing set with a park across the street. We have a neighbor with a $5k+ Rainbow playset, and they live 50ft closer to the park that we do!

One plus of the tiny swing set we have, though: when we moved, we tipped it upside down and put it into the bed of an F250, put flags all around it, and drove it to the new house 3.8 miles away.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:44 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

we bought one of the wal-mart ones splen linked for our last house, it was an incredible PITA to put together but functioned OK. It was never as solid as I would have liked and the wood was pretty brittle I ended up replacing several boards after they broke (which required planing dimensional cedar down to the weird size used on the play set). We gave it to a friend when we moved since it wouldn't fit in our new, smaller yard.

we bought another, smaller set used off of craigslist that was much sturdier for our new house that we're quite happy with and is very sturdy. If you keep an eye out there's some pretty good ones on craigslist for cheap or "free if you get this out of my yard". I've ended up helping with moving several used playsets for friends and family and all of them have been happy with the used ones. After a bit of power washing and minor sanding they can look almost new.

If you do decide to go the used route keep in mind that disassembling play sets has it's challenges. Fasteners that have been out in the weather might not want to come loose and no amount of kroil and swearing will get them loose (especially since you can't let it sit overnight when pulling it out of someone else's yard) and you will end up hacking them off and replacing them. Having a BIG pickup or a box truck makes this much easier since you have to break it into fewer pieces to move it. I'm lucky that I can borrow a box truck with a telescoping crane from work whenever I want.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:01 AM on May 26, 2016

Are you handy and do you have some basic tools? In my town you can find amazing (used) playsets for low cost or free if you will come take it down and take it away. Mr. BlahLaLa helped friends of ours deconstruct the fanciest playground set of all time (they took lots of photos first), load it into a truck, and then reconstruct it at our pals' home. It was free except the drinks and snacks they gave my hubby for helping.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:04 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

We got this metal dome thing about 6 years ago. It was easy to build, has withstood hard winters & summers, has never hurt the kids and gets lot of use. It will also be pretty easy to disassemble and get rid of when the time comes. We live in a place with a fair amount of black widows, its nice that there are no spots where they can hide - a play house would have been uninhabitable in a month or 2 for us.
posted by H. Roark at 9:18 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

We bought a wooden playset on sale from Costco two years ago. It doesn't look like they have the exact model we have anymore, but we paid about $1000. My boys are now 3.5 and 7.5 and they play on it all the time. For us it's an excellent alternative to the park when we only have 30 minutes or you just want them to play outside for a bit before lunch or something. Or maybe the weather can't decide whether it's going to rain or not; if you're at home it's no big loss if you only get 10 minutes outside.

It did take my dad and husband 2 5-hour days to put it together. Ours came with a dvd that they recommended watching beforehand and it was super useful.

Things I would do differently: I wasn't sure about removing part of the lawn beforehand, but I wish I had now. I would cut out the sod, lay down fabric, and then add ceder chips. I had planned on putting a weather finish on, but never did. That is probably worth your time to do to increase the length it looks good and maintains its finish.
posted by LKWorking at 9:20 AM on May 26, 2016

This is what public parks are for. Free playgrounds, safety and durability guaranteed, no need to worry about whether they outgrow it.

My grandparents had a swing set when I was a kid. I thought it was SO COOL that they had it, but we usually went to the playground anyway. I remember this one time where we were made to go out and play on the swings because our grandparents had hung on to it so that we could.

The long and the short of it is that I liked the idea of the swing set more than the swings themselves, even though I got plenty of use out of them.
posted by aniola at 10:54 AM on May 26, 2016

A jumprope and a hula hoop would have pretty much filled the same niche for me as a child.
posted by aniola at 10:55 AM on May 26, 2016

I love parks and my kids loved going to parks but sometimes the laundry needed to be done and I just wanted to hang around at home, you know? We got one of those kits from Home Depot and built it ourselves. It had a couple swings, a set of rings, a two-level sort of playhouse and a slide. That thing has seen SO MUCH use over the years. My kids played on it daily when they were little (even on park days!), neighborhood kids played on it, we'd have dinner parties and all the kids would end up outside on the playset, and while my kids are 16 and 19 now, EVEN STILL if we have family/friends over, they end up on the playset, idly swinging and hanging out in the playhouse. The neighbor's grandchildren played on that thing every time they came over.

We were about to sell it when our next-door neighbor moved and we found out the new neighbors have little kids. We're totally keeping it for them.
posted by cooker girl at 11:05 AM on May 26, 2016

We have a lot of great playgrounds in our city that are nearby. And a small-ish backyard. On craigslist, there is one seller in my area whose part-time job is to buy up used playground equipment from yardsales, repair them and replace broken pieces, then resell them. That's how we got our small climbing wall/slide dealie. We also have a plastic toddler swing (and a new kid swing to replace it) attached to a hefty tree branch. And a small kiddie pool (with matching kiddie pool for a lid) filled with sandbox sand we got for free from a county event. This seems quite sufficient for our almost 3 year old so far.

I remember being a kid and not having much interest in the metal pole with plastic slide swing set in our backyard - mostly because there were a lot of mosquitoes and spiders and there were no neighbor kids to play with.

From some of the houses for sale we've looked at with big wooden playsets in the backyard, many have the ropes and canvas and some of the wooden steps rotted off. But then again, these are decades-old houses where their children have grown and moved out.
posted by jillithd at 11:17 AM on May 26, 2016

We have one. We bought it from our next door neighbors who were moving, when kiddo was 2. It has a slide and swings and a small rock wall and a little clubhouse thing. Kiddo never, and I mean NEVER uses the clubhouse. Spiders, you see.

I think we also did not consider our lifestyle well enough. We're really not home much. Kiddo is in daycare fulltime, and on weekends we are mostly out. I thought it would be great to send kiddo out to the back yard to play on his own but he's only just starting to feel confident enough to be outside by himself (he's 5), and most of the time he really wants one of us out there to play with him because playing by himself is boring.

Even though baby number two is turning 1 soon, we just don't imagine the kids will use it much. We are currently trying to sell our play structure. In it's place we will plant a tree, suitable for climbing.
posted by vignettist at 12:44 PM on May 26, 2016

Only get it if you are planning on hosting lots of playdates. Children don't usually play on those things alone. I found that out the hard way. What they will play with alone is the box that the playhouse comes in. I always found it easier and much more rewarding to just give my kids a large box and some crayons. It is ridiculous how much more they enjoyed that.

They do all seem to like sand boxes and any sort of water play.
posted by myselfasme at 6:58 PM on May 26, 2016

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