Feature Article - March 2011
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Play It Safe

Improving Safety for Your Play Spaces

By Kelli Anderson


Pay to Play

Part of designing a fun, safe playground, is making sure you know what you want as well as what your community and its children really want. When Shaani Splaver, a mother of several children attending a private elementary school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., got involved in the design of a new playground, she invested her money, her time and her opinions in creating the space best suited to the children's needs.

"My husband and I wanted to make a donation to the school and decided to earmark it for the new playground," Splaver explained. "We knew from past experience, from our child who broke their wrist twice on monkey bars, that monkey bars were a definite 'no'."

A self-described over-protective mom, Splaver knew what elements on the playground she didn't want, but also, after interviewing other parents and kids, talking extensively to manufacturing representatives and visiting other playgrounds, she knew what she did want as well.

"Things are going to happen, but I wanted the safest playground possible. I picked certain things that you can't easily fall down or off of and my friends helped decide all of the features—we kind of did that together. The playground opened last year and the kids absolutely love it."

When Learning Circle Montessori Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., was ready to replace an aging playground, the school invited designer and trained playground safety inspector, Ron King, to help assess their needs.

"We were sold on the concept that kids get bored on standard equipment and will use it improperly like jump off jungle gyms and swings," said Dani Stern, principal at the school. "Ron took us through an interview of kids and parents' favorite things they like to do that didn't involve standard equipment and it was really neat to see their responses were very similar: making forts, digging holes, building snowmen and igloos and rolling down hills."

What Learning Circle created, as a result, was a playground containing elements that are enormously popular, but not necessarily traditional. An embankment slide, cave, fort, stream, rain garden, sand area, nature trail, sledding hill and willow tunnel, are just some of the natural-based features that have made the school's play area a showcase for others interested in this growing trend in playground design.