Feature Article - April 2015
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How Refreshing!

Updating Splash Play to Meet New Demands

By Dawn Klingensmith

Little Squirts

Designing age-appropriate sprayground "zones" is now considered a best practice; however, the toddler-to-teens target demographic may be too broad.

Many communities have found out that kids who play at splash play areas "are probably younger than people think," said Benck, adding that kids tend to lose interest past age 10.

Bigger, wetter attractions could possibly help with retention, but those do nothing for the young children who dominate splash play areas, if only in numbers. "Teens are the minority of users, partly because they don't want to be in that environment, with little kids in swim pants," Benck said. And the swim-pants set prefers gentler sprays and sensory experiences made possible by different textures of water, from soft to pleasantly prickly.

"Everyone makes the big dumping buckets, but if you ever look at pictures of people standing underneath those things, there aren't very many young kids," Benck said.

That doesn't mean older kids should not be provided for. Besides dumping vessels and water cannons, "older kids like things that require a physical challenge," said Hamelin, citing as an example his company's product that consists of a pattern of water jets that kids use hands and feet to cover "sort of like Twister."

The preponderance of babies and toddlers sometimes comes as a surprise, but once it's apparent how young regular users are, it becomes clear as well that parents are always nearby. If there is not enough seating or shade, you might find that providing for their comfort with a little splashpad makeover is enough to reverse a decline in attendance.

Restrooms are another addition or upgrade to consider not only for comfort but also to reduce health risks as much as possible.

Splash play area improvements should also address any security problems and vulnerabilities. Perhaps a fence is needed to prevent access by skaters and cyclists. Maybe something can be done to deter vandals.

In Federalsburg, Md., a vandal destroyed a foot pedal controlling the sprayground, which left the water running nonstop and shortened the season as officials had no choice but to shut the sprayground down. The community pulled together to raise money to repair the switch and add a security camera.

These sorts of practical additions won't make the same splash as a new water feature; however, they will make for a more positive experience that guests will want to repeat.