1 Choose equipment that suits your climate. If you live in an area that gets a lot of hot weather, remember that redwood cracks and shrinks less than pine. Metal equipment, which rusts, is a poor choice for a beach area where there's high humidity and moist, salty air. For all areas: Sturdy double-wall plastic doesn't splinter, chip, or peel.

2 Plan your installation carefully. Easily maintained synthetic resilient surfacing (tiles, poured-in-place surfaces) cannot be displaced by children, doesn't create a mess, and is simple to clean. Good drainage will prevent standing water from rotting or rusting equipment.

3 Provide maintenance training sessions. Manufacturers' representatives can offer suggestions to help staff members learn to spot and handle problems. Train children to have sharp eyes too!

4 Keep to a maintenance schedule. Document when the area is examined. Cite any problems. List when repairs are ordered, then check them off as they are completed. Daily: Check for debris or vandalism. Weekly: Note loose fittings. Rake and replace decomposed or compacted cushioning (pea gravel, sand, mulch) beneath the swings and climbers to a depth of eight to 12 inches. Monthly: Check out frames and piping and tighten hardware. Seasonally: Search for and remove poisonous plants or wasps' nests and repair holes from soil erosion.

5 Think of safety first. Watch for sharp edges that might cut tender skin and for protruding bolts that can snag clothing. Check tripping hazards such as exposed concrete footings and roots. Look for breaks in fencing.

6 Maintain smaller, loose items too. Sanitize the water tub. Check the water toys for rust, cracks, or broken pieces. Store movable equipment in a weatherproof shed. Put symbols on the wall to show where to hang garden tools and lines on the floor to indicate where to park wheeled toys.

7 Pay close attention to your infant/toddler area. Make sure that it's free of choking hazards and that it has enough shaded areas. Climbing equipment should be stable.

8 Stay up-to-date with standards. Order the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner's Handbook for Public Playground Safety (301-504-0580). Have manufacturers' toll-free numbers handy so you can call with any questions.