by Michael Kabel

    The swing set has been a staple of childhood at least since the 1950s, when elaborate backyard "home gyms" became a must-have status symbol in suburban homes. With their combination slides, gymnastic rings, swings, and carriages, the backyard swing set hit its zenith in the bigger-is-better 1970s and 80s, when sets some became two stories tall and featured play nets, sandboxes, and elevated bridges. 

    Now the children who grew up with those perennial backyard favorites are buying them for their own kids, and the size remains large even as the same questions about assembly and use perplex them as they confounded their own parents thirty years ago. 

    Safety is more important now than ever, certainly even more than back then. For new and first time parents especially, making the backyard play equipment safe is a critically important concern. Swing sets are fun, but they'll often require complete supervision, at least with very small children. 

Shopping For The Backyard Swing Set

    Experts say the secret to building the perfect backyard play environment is selecting sturdy equipment that can be replaced as it wears out. Many modern sets and prefabricated backyard play areas are modular in construction. Rather than doing away with the whole ensemble, parents can take apart the deteriorating sections and replace them with fresher models or something else entirely.

    As a practical consideration, you should shop for a set in the age range just slightly above your child's present age. This will allow him or her to grow into the set, and enjoy the challenges the various features present. Again, be certain to supervise all play until the child comes of the relevant age, however, and don't let them play on it after dark or during and immediately after inclement weather. Preschoolers can be burned by hot metal slides and chains, so take extra caution on summer or hot weather days. 

Safely Assembling the Backyard Swing Set

    Sink the posts into concrete in the ground, using a posthole digger and burying any exposed concrete to prevent a tripping hazard. Some sets come with guide cables that affix at an angle to the set. Make sure these wires are well-sunk, as well, and paint them orange or affix safety flags so that children are less likely to collide with them while running. 

    Similarly, make sure all exposed nuts, screws and bolts protruding from the set are well covered, either with plastic or preferably with rubber foam. These protuberances present a poking and stabbing hazard if left alone. The nuts and bolts, like the swing set itself, should be made of stainless steel or heavy gauge plastic, resistant to rust. Do not buy sets that rely on S-hooks that can come off or be taken down by children. 

    The National Safety Council recommends the following guidelines for slides and swings: make sure that all slides have a 2.5-inch rail on both sides. The slide itself should be no steeper than 30 degrees, with a landing stretch at the bottom that stops children from flying off. Gymnastic rings should not have openings between five and ten inches wide, as small children can get their heads stuck with that circumference. 

    Keep the swing set clean by periodically oiling the chains and cleaning off any miscellaneous yard debris or insect nests. When the time comes to dismantle the set, do so completely in one session, so that children aren't tempted to play on an unsound, half-completed set.