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Published: Wednesday, 6/8/2005

Backyard fun: Children's play sets range from the basic to the elaborate

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Joe Assenmacher watches his 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, swing on the play set the family bought
last month.  There has not been a day we have not been on the swing set,  Dr. Assenmacher says. Joe Assenmacher watches his 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, swing on the play set the family bought last month. There has not been a day we have not been on the swing set, Dr. Assenmacher says.
SCHUKAR / BLADE Enlarge

The backyard play set that Joe and Ashlee Assenmacher of Sylvania Township bought last month for their 2-year-old, Olivia, has been a hit.

Maybe just a little too successful.

"When we try to bring her inside, she has these huge temper tantrums," Mrs. Assenmacher confessed. "She loves it. We have to carry her into the house."

The set includes a clubhouse, a rock-climbing wall, swings, and a slide. They bought it from Playground World of Maumee, one of the area retailers that carry elaborate residential sets that can include ramps, rope ladders, colorful wave slides, rings, and two or three types of swings as well as such accessories as steering wheels and telescopes.

Such play sets can easily run into the thousands of dollars. But parents like the Assenmachers think the benefits outweigh the expense.

"There has not been a day we have not been on the swing set," Dr. Assenmacher said two weeks after it was installed. And when he says "we," he includes adults in the family and extended family.

Dr. Assenmacher said he considered several factors in deciding what kind of play set to buy. He wanted high-quality components that offered a variety of age-appropriate challenges, could be expanded as Olivia and her infant sister grow, and could be taken apart and reassembled if the family decides to move.

Using the set properly is a consideration for all parents, the orthopedist warned.

"The big problem is unsupervised play in young kids," he said. "We see numerous forearm fractures and elbow fractures from falls" off play sets.

The injuries peak in the 2-4 and 10-12 age groups - the younger children because of falls and the older children because "they tend to do things that are inappropriate," Dr. Assenmacher said.

David Hill, vice president of sales and marketing for the Swing-N-Slide brand play sets, said in a telephone interview from Chattanooga, Tenn., that manufacturers recommend "minimum use zones" for safety. For example, he said, "you need six feet at the end of every slide."

Swing-N-Slide retailers have brochures that spell out safety guidelines for the sets, he said. The company and Home Safety Council also have a safety checklist at www.playsetsafetycheck.com.

Mr. Hill said other key factors to consider in choosing a play set include how many children will be using it, and how much parents want to spend.

Swing-N-Slide produces primarily do-it-yourself play sets and swing sets - kits with plans and hardware for which the homeowner buys the lumber separately.

Another residential option is a ready-to-assemble set, which includes pre-cut, pre-drilled lumber.

Justin Tracy, a salesman at Carter Lumber on North Reynolds Road, said putting a set together requires "some handiness on the homeowner's part." Carter sells Swing-N-Slide sets.

"If you're the average homeowner with just a little bit of knowledge, with a couple of guys you can do it in a weekend," he estimated. "If you're a contractor or a carpenter and have some good knowledge, you can do it in an afternoon, depending on the size of the project."

Options range from just a couple of swings on a beam to various types of slides, gymnastic rings, climbing walls, and more. "You can really go anywhere with these," Mr. Tracy said. Prices range from $400 to $3,000 or more, "just depending on how serious you are about your playground."

Mark Luse, manager of Playground World in Maumee, said he sells four models as boxed kits, but that most customers want the larger sets that can be customized and expanded. "It's really kind of endless. You can keep adding on and connecting," he said.

He said he recommends that parents think four to five years into the future when they're considering their options, so the kids have something to grow into. The size and slope of their yard also have to be considered, he said.

Decisions don't stop there. Parents also should think about what they put down around the structure to soften landings.

Playground World sells a bagged, shredded tire mulch. Alternatives include play sand and wood mulch.

The city of Toledo's wood lot on Elmdale Road, off Hill Avenue between Byrne Road and Westwood Avenue, sells a double-ground playground mulch that meets federal standards for use under playground equipment, said manager Dan Plath. It's the same mulch that's used in the city playgrounds, spread 12 inches deep, he said. "For most applications in yards, it's normally 6 to 8 inches," Mr. Plath said.

The city charges $15 per cubic yard for its mulch. "Two cubic yards would cover 100 square feet, 6 inches deep," he said.

Linda Herman, a physical education teacher at Whitehouse Primary School, expressed mixed feelings about backyard play sets as exercise.

"It's enjoyable for the kids to go out there, but along with some fitness it's also social. I don't know that it's comparable to riding a bike or taking a walk. It's not cardiovascular."

She noted, though, that the structure and various accessories may encourage creative play - kids pretending to be a pirate or an explorer, maybe.

Play sets also can be a good place for families to interact. "I can tell the kids whose parents play with them and the kids whose parents never play with them," Mrs. Herman said. The children who play with their family "are more excited to play when they come to school," she explained.

She suggested that parents think about what style of play is the best fit for their child. Rather than a pricey play set, "some might be happier with a ball."

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.



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