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How to Keep a Home Playground Safe!

When my kids were in elementary school, I thought they were safe once I escorted them to school. But I never stopped to realize that accidents can happen there - like at every recess and at lunch. Wouldn't you know it, the one day I'm a little late to pick up my 4th grade daughter, that's the day she comes walking out with a broken hand! She had been pushed down onto the asphalt during a basketball game by another student.

But even though accidents do happen at school and at the nearby park, the fact of the matter is that there are more deaths to children occurring in backyards than on public grounds. With back-to-school on the minds of most parents, it seems a good time to address the issue of safety at home - in the back yard.

From 1990 to 2000 there were 150 deaths of children under 15 from unsafe equipment, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The staggering statistic is that 90 of those deaths happened at home. And about 3/4 of those occurred because of hangings from ropes, homemade swings, cords and things of that nature.  That's just the statistic for deaths.

Injuries are a whole other ballgame. More than 200,000 injuries were reported in playgrounds. Nearly 47,000 of those were at home for kids under 15. 

This is why it is important to install and maintain protective surfacing on your backyard equipment. You want to remove unsafe ropes, hooks and sharp edges on slides and swings.

Don't place playground equipment on dirt or grass because it doesn't protect children from serious head injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1/3 of all playground-related injuries are severe - fractures, internal injuries, concussions, dislocations, and amputations.

Here are some tips they recommend to help protect your children:

  • Bring in and lay down about 9 inches of mulch, wood chips or shredded rubber around equipment that is up to 7 feet high. For a covering of sand or pea gravel, install about 9 inches of surface for equipment up to 5 feet high. There are also mats made of safety-tested rubber that you can put down.
  • At least 6 feet in all directions from your equipment, put down protective surfacing. If you have swings the surface should be even larger, both in back and in front, and it should be twice the height of the suspending bar.
  • Never attach anything to the playground equipment that could cause strangulation, such as ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines, or pet leashes.
  • Buff out any sharp edges or corners.
  • Don't use S-hooks at all. But if you do, at least cover them over.
  • Check the equipment for spaces that could trap a small child. All spaces should be at least 3-1/2 inches wide or larger than 9 inches.
  • Allow plenty of spacing between swings. Here are some guidelines: 8 inches between suspended swings and between a swing and the support frame; at least 16 inches from the swing support frame to a pendulum seesaw.
  • Make sure there are at least 8 inches between the ground and the underside of the swing seat.
  • Securely anchor all swing seats.
  • Always assemble your equipment using the instructions. Cap all screws and bolts.
  • Always be there to supervise children when using the equipment.
  • Do not allow children to use a metal slide when the weather is extremely hot. You want to prevent them from getting burned.
  • Finally, don't let kids twist the swings, swing empty seats or walk in front of moving swings.

Our children should be enjoying life, not sitting in an emergency room. And remember, it's not just your child you are protecting. It is any child that comes on your property. If another child gets injured on your property and it is proven that your were negligent, you can be sued. A word to the wise should be sufficient.

Blending Child Safety
and Style

Following is the text for a question and answer segment for an article I was asked to contribute to. It will appear in a decorating magazine soon.
1. Your full name and name of your biz?
Barbara Jennings, Author/Consultant/Artist

2. How long in business? What do you offer?
I've been doing redesign and art consulting since 1983. Prior to that I was in graphic design for 12 years.
I offer training in how to professionally arrange the furniture and accessories you already own, just the way an interior designer would do.  I also offer training in how to start your own redesign business, how to start a corporate art consulting business, how to design wallgroupings, how to hang art, how to decorate for parties and have a long list of free decorating tips available.
3. Are you a designer or a decorator?
I am a decorator, corporate art consultant, author of 6 books and a published artist.
4. How can parents decorate their home with style and have kids at the same time?
  • Having a stylish home AND kids are not a problem. Depending on the age, one simply has to make the home save and usable for all in the family. The degree and nature of safety will change as the children mature.  This may be revolutionary, but I believe it all starts with proper training and discipline of the children and includes some common sense precautions on the part of the parent. 
  • I was very careful to let my children know, kindly and lovingly, about what they could touch and what was off limits.  However, I have seen many homes where discipline was totally lacking.  i.e. parents letting their children jump on the sofas, chairs and bed; parents letting children run in the home, along the pool; parents leaving small children in a room unattended.  My children did not bother my accessories too much. Those that seemed to be too attractive to them were either removed totally or placed up high where they couldn't reach them. Velcro was sometimes placed under an accessory to keep it in place, especially if up high.
5. Are there certain types of furniture to look for?
Casual furniture that is rugged is great for children. If it gets dinged (and it will), it just adds more "character" to the piece.  Wrought iron legs on tables are very durable and ding free.  Wood is risky.  Wicker (not rattan) furniture is pretty great too as it is multi colored and textured anyway and will hide a multiple number of dings.  Look for rounded styles that don't have sharp edges.
Stay away from?
  • Stay away from leather sofas and chairs and cloth too. Get vinyl. It can be wiped easily and is pretty durable. Be sure that the vinyl is thick, however.  If very thin, it will not hold up.
  • Watch out for chests with heavy lids. If a small child gets one open and the lid falls down, it can be disastrous.  If you do have chests, put locks on them.
6. What about accessories?
  • Don't put out breakable accessories on low tables and shelves within reach of the children. Remove all glass. Use wood instead: wood figurines and sculptures. Artificial flowers. You can still have decorative accessories down low, just make sure they are unbreakable and harmless.  Artificial plants in baskets are a great way to decorate in areas where children might be active and you don't need many to "fill" the space full.
  • Fill low shelves with books shelved neatly and closely together (packed tightly).  They look attractive but are not the type of thing that interest children too much and are not breakable.
  • Put away all candles or at least put them up high.  Hide or lock up the matches.
  • Accessorize the yard with plenty of solar lights, especially around entries, for added security.
7. Is it possible to still get style with practicality? If so, please explain.
  • There are many, many furniture choices that are very practical because they serve a purpose that is more than decorative:  chests, armoires, shelf units, entertainment centers and so forth.  These give you added storage and that is always a good thing.  They also give you a way to store toys easily and keep them out of sight when not in use, yet handy.  Parents should teach children how to get them out and, more importantly, how to put them away.  Style is not just about "shape", but includes cleanliness and organized spaces.
  • Use window treatments that are washable: cotton, metal, plastic (blinds and verticals). Keep it simple. It's contemporary and very So. California and helps protect children.  Children are easily bored, so the more simple something is, the more obvious it is, the less they will be attracted to it.
  • PVC furniture is great for small children's rooms. It's inexpensive and practically indestructible.  By using bold colors, you get plenty of style together.
  • Designate specific areas for playing and specific areas for homework. If you are good about those types of rules, your kids will follow your lead. This helps immensely with keeping the home neat and stylish.  My rule was that all messes were banished to their bedrooms where the door could be closed.  Parents must use reasonable discipline (not punishment) to control the usage of the space. My children were rewarded with points or coins for keeping their rooms clean and orderly, starting with the bed.
8. Have you decorated any homes that have kids? Yes.
What did you suggest?
My expertise and service lay in arrangement design, using what the client already owned.  So I looked to create conversation arrangements that did not allow traffic to cross in the middle. This infringes on enjoyment, say of watching TV, but it also would reduce the chances of accidents.
  • I would look to arrange the room so that the parent still had good visuals of the play area from the kitchen.
  • I would look to arrange rooms so that the traffic lanes were a little wider to accommodate toddlers.
  • I would take out area rugs that would migrate or bunch or that were slippery.
  • I placed breakables up high or removed them altogether.
  • I would recommend gates at the top AND bottom of any stairs.
  • I recommended latches on the inside of all cupboards and drawers, especially in the kitchen, bath and garage.
  • Eliminate all weapons. That's a given.
  • Put built-ins in the child's bedroom, if possible.
  • Baby rooms should always have a working one-way sound intercom so that you can tell immediately when your baby or small child awakes from other parts of the house. This is especially important if you have a two-story home.
  • I recommended high door knobs, latches and bolts for added protection that are out of reach of small hands. I once found a toddler out in the middle of the street in my neighborhood, completely unattended. I was mortified. Since I did not know which home she belonged to, I took her home and called the police.  Someone did not do a good job of ensuring that the child was safely LOCKED in the home.  My children were NEVER allowed to play in the front yard and I walked them to school and picked them up afterwards, even though the school was only 2 blocks away.
  • If I'm going to err, it's going to be on the side of too much safety and not on the flip side.
  • As for sheer decor, I geared my kid's rooms to the kinds of activities and hobbies they had at the time. Both of mine were athletes, so their rooms included trophies, ribbons, photos, posters and such that were associated with their sports, their heros and/or musical taste.  Both of mine were also artists, so I took pains to make sure their art was matted and framed and displayed appropriately. (Fortunately for me they were pretty good.)  Try to get away with leaving all this kind of stuff OFF your refrigerator.
  • Colors chosen for their rooms did not HAVE to go with the rest of the home, but I tried to find tints and shades that achieved their goals and hopefully did not offend the eye compared to the rest of the home. Unity and flow are important concepts in decor, but not always that harmonious with all members of the family.
  • Bedspreads, window treatments, wallcoverings were chosen with their age in mind (plus a few years).
  • All crayons and art materials were closely monitored and controlled.
9. When can parents stop worrying about decorating with the kids in mind?
  • I think it's always good to remember that the home is for the ENTIRE family.  It should reflect as much as possible the family personality, not just the parents.
  • Having said that, I only consulted my children regarding their bedrooms.  But I had a strong understanding of what we all seemed to like in common, and I let that be my guide.
  • Our home is a "global" home with furniture and accessories from all over the globe, which also reflects our bi-ethnic family. It is the color blend that pulls it altogether. It is very eclectic which I believe is far more interesting than a definite "style".
  • Males tend to care less about decor than females. So they're not too likely to care no matter what you do.
A certain age?
When the children are little, they couldn't care less about color and style.  By the time they reach teens, they just want it to look "cool".  Obviously you can eliminate many of the safety precautions by then and before, but this is the time to be especially careful to make sure the home is neat, orderly and a nice, welcoming place to be. Your teens do not want to be embarrassed in front of their friends.  If your teen isn't inviting any friends over, chances are he/she is embarrassed, so get it fixed up!!!
10. Please add anything else that you think would pertain to the article.
  • Consider changing your furniture around periodically. Everyone enjoys the feeling of having something new. It's amazing how a total rearrangement of a room can make all of the furniture "feel" new and the space feel like a "new home".  Most rooms can be arranged 2-3 different ways, all equally nice.
  • Watch out for thread bare carpeting, dead plants, broken glass in frames, mold and mildew, heavy dust, urine or animal feces.  These types of things can be harmful and cause unpleasant odors and really ruin an otherwise attractive space.
  • In the end, work to achieve something that is both functional for the family and attractive to the eye.
  • Put toddlers on a "leash" when shopping for your decor, lest you get distracted by all those lovely products.
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Decorating Questions


Dear Barbara,

I have really been enjoying your book as I attempt to decorate walls that have stood blank for 2 years!!

Here's my question:
My house has a hallway coming in from the garage that measures 16 1/2 ft. on the right and 13 ft. on the left where a bedroom doorway is. I want to hang a grouping of family pictures on the long wall ( there is no other place to hang these pictures) so I placed all the pictures in identical 8x10 or 5x7 black frames. The actual measurement of the frames are 12 1/2x10 1/2 and 9x7. Some of the pictures are matted and some are not. Some will hang horizontally and some vertically. There are about 16 of each size frame. I have no clue how to hang this many pictures together - or deal with such long hall walls. Can you help me, please?

Donna Smith


Oh my gosh, Donna, that's a lot of pictures.

So if I understand you correctly, you have 32 all together?

That's way too many to put in one single grouping. It just will feel oppressive.

Here are my suggestions:

1) Divide the 16 foot wall into 4 equal sections (two halves).
2) Divide the opposite wall into 2 sections.

Divide the images into 2-3 groups.

If you go with 3 groups, which do not have to be equal in size or layout, put the largest grouping on the shorter wall. The largest grouping, if possible, should cover somewhere between 1/2-2/3rds of the wall for the best proportion. Then put the two smaller groupings on the 16' wall into two focal points. However, if it works best to keep all of the items on the 16" wall, then arrange them into 2 distinctly different groupings with plenty of wall space between them so that you really see there are two groupings. 

Use the middle of 1/2 of the larger wall as the center of one of the two groupings. Use the middle of 1/2 of the rest of the larger wall on the other side for the center of the other grouping. In other words, the two groupings should be placed about 1/3rd or slightly more in from the outer edges of the wall, but this is going to vary, depending on how many in each group and how much space they take compared to the width of the wall.

I suggest you take the two sizes and make paper templates. Make 16 of each. Lay each of the framed items on the floor and arrange them into 2-3 groups that are pleasing to your eye. 

When you have the groupings designed, try to tape or tack your paper templates in the same arrangements as you have on the floor onto the wall where they will go.

Stand back and check each grouping for balance, scale and proportion.

Design the groupings so that, as much as possible, the space between each element is the same. Don't allow any big gaps of wall to show in the middle of any of the groupings.

Ideally, if you were to measure from the outside left of the left grouping to the outside right of the right grouping, the measurement should be 2/3rds the width of the wall itself. This way the wall will appear full without being overdone or underdone. This is called proportion.

By using paper templates, you can easily check your arrangements for spacing, size, balance, scale and proportion. Make adjustments where needed. This will also help you immensely when you go to actually hanging the photos.

I hope this helps.

Please send me before and after pics.


Hi Barbara,

Thank you so very much! I'm going to do the 3 groupings using both walls. I have one other question, please. When you have a hallway and you can't put anything on the floor, what are the highest and lowest distances from the ceiling and floor I should hang any pictures? (Can you tell I'm a true novice?) I do understand the concept of the center point of the grouping with the horizontal and vertical lines crossing, but I want to make sure I do the best I can with this project.

Thank you again,


Unless you and hubby are giants, the average eye level is 5' 6". So if you put the upper HALF of the grouping above 5'6" and the lower half, of course, below that measurement, you should be good to go.

How high the wall is only becomes important if it is less than 8 feet. If the wall is not 8 feet or higher, then you have to be careful that the grouping does not "feel" as if it is crowding the ceiling.

If the wall is higher than 8 feet, you're going to ignore the height altogether. Many people take the height of the wall and split it in half. Don't do that. Another group of people tend to hang something too high, Make it "feel" a comfortable height to you. Here again is another value of the paper templates.

Best wishes,


The texture of your furnishings can brighten or darken a room. Glossy surfaces like satin, glass and tile reflect light and add brightness to a room. Surfaces like brick, carpet and burlap absorb light and make a room seem less bright. - From Sandy Finch


  • Always get at least two estimates for how much carpet you need. 
  • Insist that a flooring diagram be provided to you that includes all room measurements and carpet seam locations. 
  • Consider hiring a carpet installer to measure your home for you. If you end up hiring him to install your carpet he should credit you back the measuring charge. 
  • Unless you have experience measuring for carpet, never use your own measurements when ordering carpet. Properly measuring for carpet is not as simple as it seems. Trust me on this one, pay a pro to do it right and save yourself a giant headache later. 

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