Playgrounds are a childhood staple. They are intended to provide physical challenges to a wide range of ages within a safe environment. They are a typical destination for exhausted parents looking for an outlet for their children’s excess energy. From a planning perspective, along with schools, they are typically the only public places designed with children in mind. Given that playgrounds serve such an important role in childhood, their provision and design must be taken very seriously.
However, at the risk of committing a parental sin, I’m going to make a confession: I really dislike visiting playgrounds.
Perhaps I should be more specific.
- I do not like that most playgrounds look the same.
- I do not like that most playgrounds fail to provide shade.
- I do not like that playground designs have taken safety standards to an extreme, eliminating adventure, excitement, and physical challenge.
- I do not like that most playgrounds lack moveable parts.
- I do not like that most playgrounds serve to further separate children from nature.
In sum: I do not like playgrounds that look like this
When standards associations started regulating playground equipment, it became more and more difficult to design and build playgrounds up to code. It was easier and cheaper to pick standard designs from a catalogue, follow rules to the letter, and eliminate all possibilities for injury and lawsuits.
As a result, I do not believe that most playgrounds are serving children in ways they could. Fortunately, people are starting to think about alternatives.
Alternatives to traditional playgrounds:
- Natural playgrounds: These playgrounds integrate built play elements into the natural environment, and use natural materials to create spaces and play features. See: http://www.naturalplaygrounds.ca/
- Adventure playgrounds: These playgrounds provide rich and varied play experiences. For example, they may lay out an abundance of various building materials and allow children to build their own adventures. See: http://www.playengland.org.uk/media/112552/pathfinder-adventure-playground-briefing.pdf
- Playgrounds that think outside the box: With a little creativity, playgrounds can take much more interesting forms. Some examples include: Playgrounds that incorporate technology: http://www.lappset.com/global/en/Products/SmartUs.iw3 or Playgrounds that incorporate unique shapes and designs: http://www.playlsi.com/Explore-Products/Product-Lines/Outdoor-Playsystems/Evos/Pages/Evos.aspx
- Woods, fields, streams: Research shows that natural spaces can serve as excellent playscapes, providing opportunities for a full range of physical challenges, and loose materials for building and manipulating. Obviously, on top of this are all the countless benefits of spending time in nature.
- Backyard: Instead of putting up a slide and swing set, consider creating your own adventure or natural playground. Why not give children loose materials to work with, build play kitchens, let them plant their own gardens, and incorporate sand boxes, water features and club houses?
All of these types of playground alternatives easily balance safety concerns with opportunities for physical challenges. With all of these alternatives available, why do we keep seeing identical, uninspired structures popping up everywhere?
Where do your children play?
If you have examples of beautiful, creative, and inspiring playgrounds from your community, please send me a link. I would love to see them.