IF YOU'VE EVER seen a group of young Tarzans and Janes climbing all over one, you know that jungle gyms are well-named. Manufacturers of back-yard jungle gyms offer a number of play options, all sturdy enough to survive several generations of use.
Parents can custom-design a play system tailored to their yard, their budget and their children. For toddlers, begin with the basics--such as swings and sandbox, adding a slide, climbing net or playhouse as children grow. The site should have an adequate safety zone around the play area, clear of trees, fences and other obstacles. Most reputable firms spot-check the yard before beginning an installation.
Watch for splintering, protruding bolts or toggles, and chains that might pinch. Slides need special attention. Select a shady spot or choose a plastic or laminated wood model that won't overheat. For younger children, a slide that ends on the ground rather than a foot or so above it is best.
Look for hands-on display areas where children can try out the equipment. Parents can see their children in action at Swings N' Things in El Toro and at Sennergetics in Northridge. At Wishful Thinking in Glendale, parents can make an appointment for their children to test the English Garden Toys heirloom playhouse. "Parents are often surprised at what their kids prefer," says owner Nancy Woodka. Play equipment will be part of the back-yard for years, so it's worth it to choose something that children like.
For back-yard play equipment contact Mack's Play-Yard Equipment Co. in West Los Angeles; Play-Well in Pasadena and in Capistrano Beach; Wishful Thinking Co. in Glendale; Sennergetics in Northridge; Swings N' Things in El Toro and in Calabasas, and Children's Playtime Inc. in Escondido.