Problem Solver - August 2008
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Adding a Playground for Tots

Long gone are the days when facilities such as schools, parks and child care centers just built a playground and expected kids of all ages to play on it. These days, savvy planners know that the safest playgrounds are divided by age group, so many facilities offer separate play areas for kids ages 2 to 5, and for those from 5 to 12.

If you want to ensure your playground is safe, you also should give some consideration to what's age-appropriate, while still challenging young bodies and minds.

Q: We want to offer a playground at our child-care center for the preschool-age kids. What should we know before we get started?

A: Playgrounds at child care centers, elementary schools, parks and other facilities can provide a space where children will exercise and build strength—all while having fun. You should carefully select playground equipment that meets the needs of younger kids' growing bodies and minds.

Keep in mind that play areas for younger children ages 2 to 5 should offer places to climb, but should not be as high as play structures for older children. Remember that their bodies are smaller, and they'll need smaller steps, shorter ladders and handholds suitable for their smaller grips.

According to the National Program for Playground Safety, the most appropriate play areas for children ages 2 to 5 can include areas for crawling, lower platforms with multiple ways to get up, including ramps, climbers and ladders, shorter slides (usually no more than 4 feet tall), and other ways to play, such as spring rockers, covered sand areas, tricycle paths and low tables for manipulating sand and water.

Once the playground is installed, you should direct children—and their parents—to the age-appropriate structure with signage.

Q: We take the children in our daycare facility for a walk around the block and allow them to run in the fenced yard during playtime. Since they're already getting plenty of exercise, why should we add a playground?

A: In addition to offering a fun way for children to grow physically, play structures give children opportunities to develop emotionally, socially and intellectually. Appropriate play structures for this age will encourage pretend play as well as social interaction.

Children will learn to negotiate and cooperate with others, and appropriate play structures give them the chance to play in groups or individually. You can help encourage this growth by getting involved in the play, too.

An adult should always be present to supervise kids at play on the playground, but in addition to watching out for trouble, you can facilitate games and compliment kids on new achievements.

Children will also learn new ideas about how the world works when they have fun on the playground. Kids will incorporate problem-solving skills as they work out how to get from here to there, in addition to countless other lessons.

Q: How can we be sure our playground is safe for the kids?

A: In addition to providing appropriate supervision and making sure the equipment is age-appropriate, you should consider what lies beneath the playground. A resilient surface is a must to ensure kids safety. This can be an inexpensive alternative like sand or wood mulch, or you can rely on poured-in-place surfaces and rubber tiles.

Also, be sure to ask your playground manufacturer about what you should do to maintain your playground. Then, keep a checklist to ensure you're not missing any crucial maintenance steps.

Q: What should we know about accessibility?

A: Playgrounds are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and there are specific guidelines that specify the minimal level of accessibility. But beyond being a legal requirement, providing accessible play is just a smart thing to do, as you will allow kids to play together and build lasting bonds.

ADA standards cover playground surfacing as well as access to play equipment, including how that equipment is designed and configured. Again, ask your manufacturer about the accessibility of the play equipment you purchase, and you'll be sure to cover all your bases.

Playworld Systems Inc.: