Problem Solver - August 2008
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Challenging Kids on the Playground

Park and recreation facility managers are faced with many challenges, but two have been at the forefront in recent years: helping to combat the growing number of children struggling with weight and obesity, and lessening the environmental impact of their facilities. Tackling these two challenges at the same time might not seem feasible, but carefully selecting the right playground structure from a manufacturer focused on sustainability can help you kill two birds with one stone.

Q: What should I look for in play structures if I want to challenge kids physically, and simultaneously get more kids onto the playground?

A: When you're competing with video games, favorite television shows and other "wired" activities, finding ways to attract more kids to the playground can seem like an insurmountable obstacle. But you can inspire them to get off the couch by providing an innovative playsystem that offers something unexpected.

Some of the newer playground structures on the market are revolutionizing the way kids play, while helping them stay fit. For example, you might consider one of the new freestyle structures. These out-of-the-ordinary designs will immediately catch kids' eyes, and will keep them coming back for more as they figure out new ways to play.

One leading designer and manufacturer of playground equipment for schools and municipal parks has turned the traditional playground on its ear with a refreshing twist. Instead of providing set entry and exit points, these newer structures feature a central structure with arches supporting a variety of play events, from horizontal ladders and climbers to slides, spinners and more. Instead of starting at the steps and ending at the slide, kids can enter and exit the system at any point. This makes for more creative play.

School administrators, parks and recreation directors and landscape architects have all praised the new playsystem for its ability to continually offer new physical, mental and creative challenges to kids. Offering self-directed play, the structures allow children to start at one skill level, then continually challenge their minds and bodies as they grow into further challenges—getting stronger all the while.

To keep kids continually challenged physically, the structures don't have expected platforms. Instead, kids must find places to balance, slide and climb. When they're ready to move from one play event to the next, they need to use their physical strength and coordination—working their core and upper-body muscles to get around the playsystem.

Q: Once we have a play structure in place, how can we continue to offer additional challenges for the kids?

A: Manufacturers these days are offering innovative playsystems that allow for the addition of play events. This makes them ideal for phasing. If you have a limited budget, or if you want to add new challenges to keep kids coming back for more, you can add new play events into the mix that will offer kids new ways to explore and grow.

If you want to move beyond traditional playgrounds and the newer innovative playsystems, you might consider adding play events like rope climbers and climbing rocks. Rope climbers feature a web of tightly strung cables, allowing kids to climb in any direction and challenge themselves by finding creative new routes to the top and back down. Climbing rocks made of glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) also inspire kids who can't resist climbing, providing a realistic look and feel.

Q: We're also very concerned about the environmental impact of our facilities. How can we incorporate our "green" mission into our playground purchases?

A: Start by researching the various manufacturers, and you'll quickly learn which ones have a strong commitment to sustainability. A quick way to check on their commitment is to ask if they have been certified to ISO 14001 standards for environmental stewardship.

For example, one manufacturer offsets the carbon dioxide CO2 produced in the manufacturing of each of its playsystems through a partnership with American Forests' Global ReLeaf initiative, which has planted more than 25 million trees since 1990. This manufacturer also compiles and publishes the amount of CO2 produced in the manufacturing of each of its playsystems, so you'll know your impact when you make a purchase.

By purchasing playground equipment through a manufacturer committed to sustainability, you get the chance to minimize your park or school's carbon footprint as you build or refurbish your playgrounds, and have the opportunity to educate your community.

Landscape Structures Inc.:
888-4FUNLSI (438-6574)