This Q&A is the latest in a blog series featuring questions submitted by some of the parents (and even grandparents) who reach out to us on a daily basis. We've started documenting our answers and the subsequent conversations for you and other parents out there who might be asking the same questions about choosing, buying, setting up, maintaining, and enjoying a wooden swing set for their family.
For today's Q&A Paul is asking about spacing in his backyard, what measurements to take and what he should look for when considering the placement of his swing set.
Q: Our backyard is large, but surrounded by trees. We want to make sure we won’t have any difficulty fitting a swing set into the space, considering the tree roots, rocks, and so on. Would you please advise us regarding what we need to look for, and what we need to measure before we buy? Thank you very much.
- Paul R. - Fresno, CA
A: Thanks for getting in touch! Before we even get into the details, let me say that you’re doing the right thing by thinking about these issues before you even select your swing set. Too often, people choose what they assume will fit well, and then are stuck doing all kinds of reconfiguring.
Basically, we recommend that you consider the placement of your swing set based on safety and supervision – or two different kinds of safety, if you will. As a rule, you want to a make the swing set as accident-proof as possible…and you want to be able to oversee your children when they are using the playset, just as a precaution.
Supervising the Kids
Unless your children are very young or you live in an urban area, the odds are good that you will be able to sit at some distance from your swinging kids. The idea is that you want to be close enough to monitor them, in case you would have to jump to their side, and far enough from them that they can play without you getting in their way (younger children obviously require more hands-on supervision, and the risk in an urban setting is more from strangers than from swinging). Practically speaking, that also means putting the swing set at some distance from the house to prevent collisions between the swinging kids and whatever foot traffic you might have.
There are some basic rules of thumb that will help you determine how to choose a good spot for your swing set. For starters, it’s important that the swing set rests on flat ground (not a sloped surface). If your yard slopes, don’t worry. It’s easier than you think to level out an area for the swing set. You can easily do this in an hour or two using just a simple yard shovel. After a flat surface, another important item to consider is the safety space around the play set. You want 6’ of space in every direction surrounding the entirety of your play structure, and even more space in the swing zone – where the children swing forward and back.
Also pay attention to the area above the swing set – that’s an area that is often ignored, and to people’s chagrin afterwards. For example, a swing set with no shade above can be a very sunny proposition (see below), and not necessarily desirable when it comes to young skin. But a tree overhead may hang too low for your structure, so you need to find the right balance. Moreover, hanging branches may interfere with the kids’ ability to see their families – or they might be tempted to swing from an unsafe branch that would have been better trimmed before letting the children loose. A swing set’s overhead space is therefore more important than many realize.
Note that being under a tree may also protect against extreme heat, depending on the shade it offers, but at the same time, you may risk decorating your swing set with leaves, twigs, sap, and bird droppings from those who make their home in the tree.
Finally, make sure that your swing set is situated ON material that protects injury in the case of falls. For example, wood chips, shredded tire, mulch, and sand all cushion the adventurous child’s fall. Concrete, asphalt, and even grass do not absorb the shock of a fall sufficiently, and should not be the surface on which your swing set stands.
Be sure to check out our handy guide, The Ultimate Swing Set Guide for Parents, which will address the question of placement, as well as many other concerns you may have about your swing set.