Feature Article - September 2003
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Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

Playground design trends mix excitement with accessibility and safety

By Kelli Anderson

Swinging into action

Playground design, having also benefited from the earlier focus on safety brought on by the CPSC, is now turning its attention to excitement—fun that includes height, motion and a thrill factor. Safety and fun are no longer mutually exclusive.


"In the past playgrounds were homogenous to the point that we took all the fun out," Derk says. "Playgrounds became low and all the same. The guidelines caused all of us in the industry to overreact but—while the guidelines are still there—we can have elements of perceived risk."

Perceived risk is an element of play event design that is bringing excitement back to many old staples of the playground and helping to invent new ones. Manufactures and designers are finding ways to create physical challenges—events that have a thrill factor and take time to master, which keeps kids coming back for more.

Climbers, for example, are about the hottest item these days with styles and multidimensional shapes to suit all age groups, followed by a succession of physically fun events like funky-shaped balance beams that tilt as the child progresses along or slides with steep twists and turns and features that allow multiple users with double and triple chutes. Manufacturers are coming out with events that involve bouncing, swaying, swinging and centripetal motion. New materials are also making a debut as manufacturers and designers continue to make play features that swing into action.

A child-focused playground is all about fun—fun that comes from interacting with other children, from the thrill of accomplishing something challenging at all levels of age and ability. It's physical, mental and social. It's play that manufacturers, designers and communities need to ensure, keeping in mind what really matters: KIDS.

First Contact

For more information on understanding ADA compliance and universally accessible playground design, the following organizations are a good place to start:

Boundless Playgrounds, www.boundlessplaygrounds.org

Shane's Inspiration, www.shanesinsperation.org

Hadley's Park Inc., www.hadleyspark.org

Siskin Children's Institute, www.siskin.org

Foundation for the Junior Blind, www.fjb.org

Americans with Disabilities Act, www.ada.gov