How to Plan a Backyard Playground

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Planning a playground requires more than just buying some equipment and throwing it in your backyard. You need to account for a lot of things, including the size of the equipment, how it interacts with other equipment on the backyard playground, and whether or not the equipment provides a good range of age-appropriate activities for your kids and their friends.
When planning a playground, you need to keep certain factors in mind. In this article, we’ll cover how to first determine exactly what you need when planning for the DIY backyard playground, discuss the importance of choosing the proper area, outline how to pick the right equipment for the playground, and describe the different types of surface materials, a common playground requirement in many localities.

Think About What You Need for Your Playground

Before you start purchasing any equipment or making room on your property for a playground, you need to think about what exactly you want out of a playground and what your specific budget will look like. The following section goes into more detail about some of the important decisions you must make prior to planning a playground in your backyard.
Budget
You need to come up with a budget so that you have an idea of how much you can spend. Obviously you’ll need to include any equipment you’re planning to buy — like a traditional swing set, a playset, or whatever else you want in your playground. But don’t forget to also include any costs for shipping, the purchase of the land (if you don’t already own it), preparation of the site, and any additional items, such as a bench for you to rest on while your kids play.
A good way to install the equipment you want is to purchase items in phases. For example, to start, buy or make a swing set and some smaller items. The, later on, add a slide.
Questions to ask when planning a playground
In addition to your budget, you also need to ask some important questions when designing your playground, such as:
  • How many children will use the playground?
  • What are the age ranges of the children? Some elements of a playground, like a climbing wall, may be appropriate for older children but not younger ones.
  • Do you need to take into account any special needs? If so, you’ll want to make sure any equipment you buy for your backyard is inclusive, adaptable, and accessible.
  • What dimensions do you have to work with? What kind of space are you using? Think through the terrain of your backyard. Will it be difficult to anchor playground items securely?
  • What local codes do you need to keep in mind while designing the playground?
The types of activities
Many playgrounds offer a wide variety of activities to help develop important skills in your kids, and you should keep the same thing in mind when planning yours. Some developmental activities include:
  • Cognitive activities: Activities that provide auditory, visual, and tactile feedback fall into this category. A good piece of equipment to develop skills in this area includes a colorful or textured panel for your child to touch.
  • Communicative activities: Communicative equipment allows your child to practice using their voice and hearing the response of others. Musical items, talk tubes, and various interactive games represent just some of the activities you can incorporate into your playground to help your child develop skills in this important area.
  • Physical activities: Any equipment that encourages your child to be physically active fall into this category. Many common pieces of playground equipment, such as slides, swings, and ladders, encourage development of a child’s physical attributes.
  • Social/emotional activities: You should also buy equipment that encourages socialization among siblings or friends. This includes benches and other sitting areas, as well as areas they might retreat to when resting from play and interaction, such as under certain pieces of equipment.
You can use the following playground planner from pwap.com to help you determine what you can fit in the fun playground area you want to make.

Choose an Area for Your Playground

You need to choose a site on your property to place the playground. The site that you choose depends primarily on the equipment that you want to install. When choosing a site, keep the following factors in mind:
  • The drainage properties and slope angle of the site
  • The location of trees and shrubs
  • The location of utility lines, such as sewage, water, and electric
  • The line of site from your home

Choose the Equipment for Your Playground

Once you know that you have the space for the particular type of equipment you want to install, you need to look at available equipment and pick specific pieces that you want to buy. Before you order the equipment, make sure that the cost of the items fit within the budget you designated for the playground. This amount is minus anything you spent to acquire and prepare the land for installation of the playground equipment.
The chart below from cpsc.gov covers the minimum safe zone around a piece of equipment that you should take into consideration when planning your playground.
Common Equipment and Safe-Zone Consideration
Equipment Safe Zone Required
Slide At least three feet all around the slide, with no
overlap at the end of the slide with any other zones.
Swing set Twice the vertical distance to the playground surface
in front and back and at least six feet on the sides.
Climber At least six feet in all directions, though it can overlap
surrounding equipment if allowed and the recommended
distance away.
Merry-go-round A minimum of six feet around the perimeter. May only
overlap other safe zones if the adjacent equipment is
less than 20 inches in diameter and allows for overlapping.
Spring rocker Extends at least six feet from the at-rest perimeter of the
rocker. May overlap if the adjacent equipment allows
overlapping, is less than 30 inches tall, and is at least six
feet away.
You can use the following playground planner from pwap.com to help you determine what you can fit in the fun area you want to make.

Choose the Surface for Your Playground

Finally, you should keep local ordinances in mind when designing your playground, especially the laws that require the use of a specific amount of filler when installing a playground. Fillers give cushioning in landing zones and have been shown to reduce injuries suffered while on a playground. The more common types of surface materials include:
  • Loose filler: Loose fillers, such as wood chips, shredded rubber, and more. These usually require a depth of no less than nine inches to provide adequate protection. In addition, you must regularly check filler material to make sure it stays at a satisfactory level.
  • Recycled bonded rubber: Recycled bonded rubber represents a seamless surface of shredded rubber made from recycled tires. While not as cheap as loose filler, recycled bonded rubber does cost less that other surface types.
  • Poured rubber: Poured rubber comes in a variety of thicknesses and colors, but it costs more than other surface types. Durable, a poured-rubber surface more than makes up for its initial high cost over time.
As you can see, planning a playground involves a lot of factors, including coming up with a budget, picking where to place it, and choosing the equipment. In addition, you need to buy equipment that offers a wide variety of development opportunities for a child, including social, cognitive, physical, and communicative experiences.

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