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Fun features on the Obama's new swing set

Want the same swing set as the first family? Here are the details you need to make your backyard as much fun as the White House lawn - or better (the Obamas could have spent thousands more). But beware -- swing set experts say the first family hasn't done everything right. At least not yet.

Obama swingset details:

Name: "Rainbow Castle, Package IV"

Manufacturer: Rainbow Play Systems Inc. of South Dakota,

Price: Estimated at $3,500

Size: 13 feet wide, 27 feet long, 8 feet high

Features: Buoy ball, Ship's wheel, Tire swing, Picnic table with presidential plaque, Rock wall

Evaluation: "I would have thought they'd get a bigger set than that," says Steve Spodek, general manager of Wood Kingdom's Farmingdale location. "What they got was what I might have got my kids. They live in the White House. You get something spectacular. " The Obamas did go for some engaging features, though, such as a rock wall, a tire swing and a cargo net. And there's plenty of room for the friends of Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10; Spodek estimates up to nine kids could play comfortably on it at once. If you want the same setup as the Obamas, don't forget the nearby picnic table, which has a brass plate engraved with the names of the country's 44 presidents.

How safe is it?

1. No ground cover is a no-no. "That's a lawsuit waiting to happen," says Steve Spodek of Wood Kingdom in Farmingdale. It's a smart investment for the Obamas because of the high likelihood they'd be sued if a child got hurt. "I would suggest loose-fill rubber or wood products underneath the swings and overhead ladder," says Donna Thompson of the National Program for Play-ground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa. "They give and they are more likely to prevent a kid from getting a broken arm." Thompson sent an e-mail to the White House urging the Obamas to make the area under the play equipment safe. A spokeswoman for the first lady's press office says the White House is addressing the safety concerns.

2. Spodek praises the Obamas for the vinyl-coated chains on their swings that prevent kids from catching their fingers.

3. Spodek also says he likes the commercial-grade swing hangers.

4. Other safety features some sets offer are recessed hardware covered by plastic caps so children don't scrape themselves on protruding screws and hand grips so children can hold on when climbing onto a slide, says Alan Koch, store manager for Creative Playthings' Jericho location.

5. "We strongly suggest they reduce the number of swings to two instead of three," Thompson says. That's because the child in the middle swing is likely to run into the swing on the left or the right when getting off the swing.

How to make a swing set more deluxe: While the Obamas chose the Honda rather than the Mercedes of swing sets, they could add more features later. "You could just keep adding bridges and towers and tunnels until you have Disneyland in your backyard," says Alan Koch, store manager of Creative Playthings' Jericho location. New features that have come out in the past couple of years also include vertical tire swings like those that swing from tree limbs, waterslide adapters and lunch counters. Some parents have been springing for newer, higher-end sets that have a sleeve of white PVC over them, giving them a modern look that's maintenance-free.

Test drive a swing set at these showrooms:

Creative Playthings: 50 S. Service Rd., Jericho, 516-334-1400; 1071 Rte. 109, N., Lindenhurst, 631-225-5800; 395B Jericho Tpke., Smithtown, 631-360-9496

Wood Kingdom: 111 Milbar Blvd., Farmingdale, 631-845-3804; 3060 Rte. 112, Medford, 877-475-4331; and 544 Middle Country Rd., Coram, 631-698-0212. Parents can bring children for playtime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Farmingdale and Coram locations for $8 a child. Wood Kingdom also offers on-site birthday parties.

Rainbow Direct: Distributors for Rainbow Play Systems, 1637 Rte. 110 S., Farmingdale, 631-752-1115.


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