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Swing Set Play Features Guide

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There are a lot of options these days when it comes to play features that swing set models include. There are models with rock walls, clubhouses, playhouses, multiple decks, tire swings, spiral slides, scoop slides, wave slides, monkey bars, rope ladders... and the list goes on. It's great to have this many available options, but it can also be a bit daunting to figure out which model is best for your family and your backyard. We've created this guide to help you through that process. We'll go over each common feature and talk through why you might consider it for your swing set purchase.

First Thing, Go To The Park

If you're struggling to figure out what your kids will enjoy most in a swing set, the first thing you should do is take a few trips to the park. You'll want to be observant of how they play and the types of things that they gravitate to. Do they love to climb? Do they have big imaginations when they play? Do they gravitate to equipment with a little more height? Do they love to slide? Those play experiences at the park will provide valuable information about what engages them the most and will help inform your decision-making as you look for an outdoor playset.

Imaginative Play Features

The imagination is a very important part of play and is something that actually grows and develops as children get older. Engaging in pretend play gives kids a safe place to experiment with social skills and ironically learn more about their real life situations through the things they act out. There are several play features that are specifically catered to stimulate inventiveness and the possibility for discovery.

Playhouses: We usually refer to a playhouse as an enclosure on the bottom ground level of the fort. This breaks up the play space and creates an area for pretend play. It may be a school house, a hide out from bad guys, or even a place for a tea party.

Clubhouses: We usually refer to a clubhouse as an enclosure on the fort level of the swing set. It functions much in the same way as a playhouse by creating a separate space that kids can use through pretend play.

Sandboxes: Sandboxes give kids the opportunity to manipulate material and fulfills the need to explore through touch. It also inspires creativity by giving kids a way to build and make something.

Periscopes, Telescopes, Binoculars, Steering Wheels: These may seem like small features, but they are great for pretend play. They give kids an actual thing to touch or look through as they put their imaginations to work.

Multi-Deck Design: Multiple decks serve a few purposes, but when it comes to imaginative play, they help create a more interesting atmosphere and add a little mystery to the play space with more nooks to explore. Multi-deck designs are also a great option in situations where kids of varying ages will be playing on the structure. You might have a 5' deck that is accessible and engaging for younger kids and an attached 7' deck that adds more height and more exciting features for older kids.

Bridges:Bridges also add quite a bit to the atmosphere of the play area and inspire a greater sense of exploration by connecting multiple decks. It also gives kids more structural elements to latch onto in pretend play.

Picnic Tables:Picnic tables can serve quite a few purposes. They create a place for social interaction with other kids, they are a place kids to play make believe house or host a tea party, and they are even a place for parents to hang out while they watch their kids play.

Popular models that are great for imaginative play:

  • Gorilla Nantucket – The Nantucket has a lot of features meant to spur on imaginations in a smaller compact design. To start the deck feels like a clubhouse or playhouse with the working shutters, wood roof, and dormers. The main deck also has steering wheel, tic-tac-toe panel, and telescope which seam like small touches but in the mind of a child can turn the deck into a boat on the seas or a race car on the track.
  • Gorilla Treasure Trove – This set has a lot of divided up play space with it's three decks and connecting clatter bridge. This provides a lot of areas for kids to discover and explore. The divided up space also gives their imaginations something to take hold of. Gorilla Playsets does an excellent job of creating unique play structures and this is a great example of that.

Climbing Features

Climbing offers a lot of opportunities for physical development. Children are able to build perceptual skills like body and spacial awareness as well as fitness skills. In addition to the physical aspects of climbing, there are also a lot of cognitive skills at work like memory, problem solving, and thinking ahead.

Step Ladders: Just about every swing set has a step ladder because it's the safest entry to the fort. Step ladders are also one of the most basic climbing features available and are an excellent way for younger children to develop the skills necessary to move on to more challenging climbing features. Some swing set models even include a few different types of step ladders such as a flat step ladder and a metal rung ladder for a varied experience.

Rock Walls: Rock walls offer a higher level of challenge and difficulty as children navigate the rocks and determine the best way up the wall. We like to refer to them as the “bread and butter” of climbing features. They are engaging for older kids but also accessible for younger kids as they develop their climbing skills.

Monkey Bars: Monkey bars help develop upper body strength and coordination. Some kids spend a lot of time on overhead equipment which is something you might notice as you observe them at the park. If you've got a climber in the family, you'll definitely want to consider monkey bars.

Rope Ladders: Rope ladders on swing sets usually don't actually lead to anything. They are primarily designed for children to climb to the top and then back down. They are unique in that they require a good bit of balance and planning to move up and down them but still offer stability with the many places to hang on. They are a fairly common feature especially with models with an angled base design.

Climbing Ramps: Climbing ramps offer a moderately difficult climbing experience and a unique way up into the fort. The challenge is in the balance that they require combined with the incline.

Popular models that are great for climbing:

  • Gorilla Pioneer Peak – This set has three primary climbing features: climbing ramp, rock wall, and rope ladder. Each of these features offers a unique experience and develops distinctly different skills while remaining accessible for younger kids. In addition, the clatter bridge also compliments the other climbing features by encouraging balance and giving the sense of climbing from one fort to another.
  • Gorilla Navigator – This model features monkey bars which require quite a bit of upper body strength. This makes it an excellent challenge for older kids or even for younger kids to grow into. The Navigator also has a rock wall and rope ladder for a diversity of climbing options.

Slides

Kids love the sensation of sliding. Slides are one of those tried and true features that can be enjoyed by everyone. The thing to consider when thinking about slides is that they are dependent on the deck height which is also dependent on the structure and design of the playset. A 5' deck with a 10' slide is typically viewed as the standard deck size and is a great option for kids of all ages. 4' decks are excellent for smaller kids or for a smaller footprint while 6' and 7' decks are great for larger slides and play features.

Spiral Slides: Spiral slides usually come off a 5', 6', or 7' deck and offer a unique adventurous sliding experience.

Wave Slides: Wave slides are probably the most common type of slide on a swing set. Most wave slides are used on 4' and 5' decks.

Straight Slides: Straight slides don't have any bumps and are great for all deck sizes.

Scoop Slides: Scoop slides are very similar to straight slides but have a little bit more of an initial drop to them that makes them a little bit faster. Scoop slides work well on all deck sizes.

Popular models that are great for sliding:

  • Gorilla Mountaineer – The Mountaineer has two slides: one wave slide and one tube slide. This provides two unique sliding experiences in the same set making it a great option for kids that love to slide.
  • Gorilla Double Down – As the name suggests this model has two side by side wave slides. This configuration makes them perfect “racing slides”. Some kids absolutely love to race down the slide. You'll see side by side slides quite a bit in commercial playground equipment. This is one of the few swing set models that puts that feature in your backyard. It's an excellent pick for siblings that are close in age.

Swings

Swings are a very dynamic play feature. Over stimulated kids might seek out swings for a place to rest while under-stimulated children might look to the swings for challenge and excitement. There are many attachments and swing accessories available to accommodate children of all ages and developmental stages.

Standard Belt Swings: Belt swings are what most people think of when they think of swings. Belt swings are the most universal option for a swing set.

Baby/Infant Swings: Babies love the smooth motion of swinging and is often their first introduction to outdoor play before they are mobile. There are several different types of baby, infant, and toddler swings available. The most popular is a full buck swing which is often what you'll see at the park. Another type of swing in this category that is becoming more popular is a molded plastic swing that has full back support, kind of like a high chair.

Gliders: They offer a little more support and stability than a standard belt swing, however, the experience is uniquely different due to the back and forth motion of the glider. Most gliders can accommodate one or two children giving the swing beam a little bit more capacity and allowing children to play together.

Trapeze Bars: It's not immediately obvious how to play on a trapeze bar, which requires kids to use their creativity to figure it out. It can be very challenging or relaxing, making it an excellent feature for kids to grow into.

Popular models that are great for swinging:

  • Gorilla Frontier – The Frontier is a pretty unique model because it has two swing beams. One is the standard swing beam with belt swings and a trapeze bar, the other is for a 360 tire swing! It seems like kids are always drawn to that swing They're a bit difficult to incorporate into a swing set design because they take up so much space but they made it happen with the Frontier. It's the perfect swing to relax and twirl around on or grab a friend and get it going.
  • Gorilla Sun Palace – This is another set featuring the 360 tire swing. It's got a very clever A-frame design that makes space for the tire swing below the main deck. This gives it a compact foot print with a lot of swinging options. The Sun Palace is just one example. Gorilla Playsets has a whole “Sun Series” with the same A-frame design and different options for wood roofs and monkey bars.

Sources:
http://www.beststart.org/OnTrack_English/4-importanceofplay.html
http://www.ooeygooey.com/the-developmental-benefits-of-playgrounds/
http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-05062011-114155/unrestricted/Parsons_AE_T_2011.pdf