Guest Column - October 2003
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High-Performance Playground

By Lynn Pinoniemi


Harville also met with safety managers from the district, and interviewed several municipal parks and recreation professionals in Florida. In previous years she had even visited playgrounds overseas during travels to England, Japan and Australia.

"I wanted to learn from others who had gone through the process, so I asked lots of questions and took a lot of pictures," Harville says.

In time, a general picture of a prototypical playground began to emerge. Harville and Brown went through many playground catalogs from start to finish, identifying events that would challenge kids and allow them to be creative both physically and socially. Harville's list of specifications covered everything from IPEMA certification of all events and price parameters to the diameter of the play structure posts and recommendations on color (yellow handholds for better visual acuity). Above all, Harville wanted the playground to be both safe and challenging.

"A playground must encourage a certain amount of risk taking," she says. "It should get kids moving and motivate them to try new things."

Harville and the playground committee met to review the proposals from companies and select a manufacturer. After that, the playground and wood fiber safety surfacing were installed in July, and on Aug. 7, the school was officially opened to students.

To students and teachers alike, this playground looked different than many of the other playgrounds at Brevard County schools. Carl Brown also recognized that the children played on it differently.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF LANDSCAPE STRUCTURES INC.

"I think it is a combination of the newness of the playground and its challenging design, but I was immediately struck by the number of kids using the equipment," Brown says. "When I walk out there and watch a grade level of 80 children enjoying recess, 75 to 80 percent of them are playing on the new playground equipment. And that is true of first graders as well as the fifth and sixth graders. I find that to be most unusual because by that age, they are typically on to other things like basketball and soccer. This percentage is much higher than was typical at my other school, but we'll have to wait and see if that trend holds."

Though by no means large, the playground is spread out and can accommodate a large number of children at one time. According to Brown, the playground can also be used in other ways.

"This playground has also been designed for use by the P.E. department if they want to hold classes out there," he says. "The events are laid out so that the kids can move from event to event in a circular fashion."

Another barometer of success is the safety inherent in the design itself. Even though there are large numbers of children at play on the equipment, the playground is so well spread out that there is little crowding around the events.

Another key factor in minimizing playground injuries is supervision. Benches are placed so that playground supervisors who choose to rest their legs do not have any children playing behind them. Instead, they always have a clear view of the action on the equipment. Harville also made sure that these supervisors understood how to monitor the play.

"We wanted to make sure that teachers and playground supervisors knew how each play component should be used and what was considered to be unsafe behavior," she says. "We therefore made it part of the playground supplier's package that they would make a formal safety and maintenance presentation to the school staff."

When all the dust settles, Harville is hopeful that this type of playground will serve as a model for all new and replacement playgrounds in the district.

"This playground is by no means the biggest and the best out there," she says. "In fact, I purposefully designed it to be a rather basic playground. But I am hopeful that other playground planners at other elementary schools will embrace the concept of creating playgrounds that safely challenge kids to do more."

Lynn Pinoniemi is communications manager for Landscape Structures Inc. She can be reached at Lynn_Pinoniemi@playlsi.com.