Paul Canton is well known for his beautiful homes that have been featured on television and home tours. Two years ago, he showed that his skills can be used for playground building when he helped his hometown rebuild the beloved playground at Fullerton Park, also known as Zelley Playground, just outside of Philly. His kids already knew about his talents — he built a backyard tree house for them that looks like a mini version of a real house. To help parents create something special for their kids, he has provided tips that add flair to backyard play without sacrificing safety.
Paul Canton, Jr.
Canton Custom Homes
243 W. Main St.
Moorestown, NJ 08057
(856) 235-7582
Tip 1 – The Right Tree

If building a tree house, parents should use a sturdy tree, like a maple or oak tree. A tree that sways in the wind will not support the weight of a house and kids. The structure needs to be carefully attached to the tree so that children playing in the house are safe. Pine trees — although they may seem sturdy — should not be used because the amount of sap they leak may weaken them and make the play area a sticky situation. If a safe tree is not available, most kids will be happy with a ground-level playhouse.

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Tip 2 – Material Things

There’s a variety of building materials available to parents wanting to build in their backyard. While many use pressure-treated wood, Canton said the chemicals used are something parents wouldn’t want around their kids. For longevity, he recommends using a natural-looking synthetic or plastic composite material. If using wood, he suggested the stronger cedar or mahogany.

Tip 3 – Leftovers

Parents with leftovers from home projects can use those items to create some backyard magic. In fact, Canton built his kids’ tree house using shingles and windows left over from other projects. The items do not have to be used so literally, though. PVC pipe, for example, can be a telephone, allowing children to communicate from two areas of the yard, or it can be a raceway for small toy cars.

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Tip 4 – Size Matters

Canton said size is a matter of preference. Parents can choose to make their entire backyard a play oasis or simply carve out a small corner for play, leaving room for the adults, too. The kids would obviously push for something as large as possible. However, to keep kids safe, parents should leave at least six feet of space around playground equipment like swings and slides.

Tip 5 – Cushion

Canton said 12 inches of mulch was required at Fullerton Park because it was for public use. Parents do not have to go to those extremes, unless they want to, he said, adding it would be safest. Natural colors blend better with landscape. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends at least nine inches of loose surface materials (like mulch) underneath. For more safety information, read the CPSC’s Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook.

Samantha Sinclair is a freelance writer who lives in South Jersey. She has two boys who love “adventuring.” Her work can be found at