Feature Article - September 2004
Find a printable version here

Go Play

Making playgrounds appealing, safe and challenging enough to keep kids interested

By Elisa Kronish

Attention to prevention

In St. Charles, Ill., each of the 70 city-managed playgrounds gets inspected once a month.

"We try to see problems occurring early, before an accident happens," says Dave Johnson, assistant superintendent of St. Charles parks and recreation. "We do a lot of preventive maintenance."

While he understands that his community is fortunate to have the financial resources to provide such services, he also notes that St. Charles simply makes it a priority.

"If [safe playgrounds] are not important to a city, then the community won't dedicate the resources necessary to support it," Johnson says. Every 10 years or so, the St. Charles playgrounds get a major overhaul, and improving safety is always taken into account.

"We tend not to use swings too much anymore at school sites," Johnson says. "You may have hundreds of kids running around who may not watch where they're going, and supervision is lower at school playgrounds."

Plus, when swing sets are installed, they hog up a lot of space for required safety zones. Slides do too.

"You need a lot of room for kids to be able to come off the slide without interference," Johnson explains. In terms of height, forget about the roller-coaster-like slides.

"You don't see things going very high anymore," Johnson says.

A lot of the changes have to do with liability, King admits. If safety were up to risk managers, he says, "they'd have you build a foam box on ground level."