The 10 Best Play Structures
This wiki has been updated 29 times since it was first published in August of 2015. Think back to when you were a kid, scrambling around the playground with your friends until daylight ran out, only to do it again the next day. Isn’t that something you’d like for your children to experience, away from smartphones, tablets, and television screens? With our selection of play structures, your little ones will be getting some much needed fun and exercise. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
May 02, 2020:
Before we get into anything else, let it be known that even the safest of these structures can still pose a risk to your kids. A lot of them feature elevated surfaces that can see young children in a position where they could easily get hurt if they were to fall. Investing in things like gym mats and other soft materials to place around the structures is a good idea, but nothing beats good old fashioned adult supervision.
Availability issues have hit this sector pretty hard in recent weeks, causing a number of models to become painfully scarce. We also found that certain structures were simply too compact, like the ECR4Kids Buccaneer Boat which would be a tight fit for a single child, let alone several. In replacing these, we wanted to make sure that our selections offered fun for as wide an age range as possible, with models like the Gorilla Chateau Clubhouse boasting a 3-11-year-old coverage.
In addition to the Gorilla model, we also included an offering from Rainbow in our special honors section that you should look to if you have a lot of money to spend and a wide swath of flat land in your yard. It's an absolute behemoth, but you might be able to charge the neighborhood kids to come play on it.
October 02, 2018:
Replaced age-specific items with more rugged and diverse offerings suitable for multiple age groups.
Rainbow Castle King Kong This lineup is among the largest in the world designed for installation on private property. If offers long slides in both open and closed configurations, with wide rock walls and plenty of shade from the company's signature red, yellow, and blue canopies. Nothing here is remotely inexpensive, but everything is built to last for years. rainbowplay.com
How To Choose A Play Structure
Many homeowners choose wood because it blends in with the landscape better and lends an old-fashioned charm to your outdoor space.
Maybe you've just purchased your first home and are envisioning a new backyard haven where your children can play without anyone having to take them to the park. Or perhaps your toddlers have outgrown their first little playhouse and you're looking for something more adventurous that your family can grow into. Either way, choosing a play structure for your backyard will entail more than just measuring how much space you have.
If you're springing for one of the more elaborate structures that include a full-blown swing set, monkey bars, and a cool clubhouse, be sure to budget for assembly and installation costs. Even if you decide to play weekend warrior and endeavor to assemble one of the larger units by yourself, you're going to need at least some high quality tools and a couple of strong, really good friends to complete the process.
The biggest decision you'll have to make is whether you want a wood, metal, or plastic structure for something that will probably be one of the most prominent features in your backyard. Keep in mind that whether you choose wood or metal, most of the accessories (such as the slides, swings and any other riding toys) will be comprised of high density plastic for maximum safety and comfort. Many homeowners choose wood because it blends in with the landscape better and lends an old-fashioned charm to your outdoor space. These units can come finished with an attractive stain, or you may need to finish it yourself. At a minimum, you'll need to apply a sealant yearly to protect your investment from the elements. For a nearly maintenance-free option, you can choose a metal design, and some parents with a more modern aesthetic might enjoy the sleeker, contemporary lines of a steel frame.
If all your of children are still pretty young, or you think you might move in the near future, you might not be ready for such a large investment. You can find plastic play structures that include low slides and even small swings, but are still light-weight enough that you could easily take them with you when you move. This smaller option is ideal for little ones who want to climb, but still need to stay lower to the ground for safety.
Playset Safety Tips
Most parents invest in a backyard play structure to encourage their kids to jump, climb and hang upside down just like we used to do at the neighborhood parks when we were kids. Many of the larger units are modeled after professional playground equipment, so you need to make sure you follow all the professional advice you can find to help prevent the most common playground injuries. Any play structure you buy should come with its own set of safety guidelines, but here some generally important safety factors to consider with any play set you install.
Many parents under-estimate the amount of loose-fill required for proper cushioning under the larger structures that can tower as high as 12 feet off the ground.
Careful evaluation of the site is the most important part of planning a safe area for your children to climb, swing and slide. For maximum sturdiness, the ground should be as level as possible. It might be necessary to have a contractor level the ground if your yard is especially lumpy. Something parents might not realize when measuring the site is that you need to add-on a minimum six foot safe zone in all directions, and don't forget to measure upwards. There should be no obstacles such as fences, low-hanging tree limbs or wires within six feet, or possibly more for certain types of swing sets.
If you have a budding Olympic gymnast or circus acrobat on your hands, you can be sure they will find a way to climb or crawl all over every surface of their new play space. Many parents under-estimate the amount of loose-fill required for proper cushioning under the larger structures that can tower as high as 12 feet off the ground. For instance, most people would be surprised to find out that you need at least nine inches of loosely packed cushioning for just an eight-foot-high play set. Some acceptable loose-fill materials include wood chips, engineered wood fiber, and shredded rubber.
Reasons To Encourage Outdoor Play
Proper and safe installation of a play structure might seem like an overwhelming under-taking, but it's likely to pay off in ways you wouldn't expect. A backyard swing set is more than just an expensive way to keep rambunctious kids out of your hair for a couple of hours each day; it can also be a vital part of your child's overall physical and mental health. Because one in five school-aged children suffers from obesity, parents need to be proactive in providing their kids with easy access to a safe outdoor play area.
The benefits of regular fresh air are also well-documented in the mental health field.
While reading plenty of books and practicing math are effective ways to prevent the summer learning slide, research has also proven that physical activity has a positive impact on the development of important brain connections. Although there is no direct link between IQ and outdoor play-time, it's a vital component of a child's overall development that often gets overlooked with today's over-scheduled child.
The benefits of regular fresh air are also well-documented in the mental health field. A study in Australia found that children who spend time outdoors for 30 minutes a day experienced better mental health, including lower stress levels and increased feelings of happiness.