Feature Article - September 2004
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Go Play

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

By Elisa Kronish

Component and material considerations

In terms of design and layout, it's typical now to see platforms, walkways and bridges that connect various sections of the play structure. These allow kids to move smoothly from one area to another and give them various access points to each area, so there's less crowding as kids get on and off the equipment.

Another top issue is sun exposure.

"Since UV protection is so important, another big thing you see is a lot of overhead canopies for shade," Johnson says.

Materials also have gone through changes. Once almost exclusively made out of heavy metal, options for equipment materials have expanded to include aluminum, wood and especially plastic, though each one has its pros and cons.

"We have almost no metal on our playgrounds because a slide in the sun gets pretty hot, and with wood, you can get splinters," Johnson says of the St. Charles playgrounds. "For the actual areas where kids are climbing, we generally use plastic."

On the other hand, plastic may not always be as durable as metal.

"A lot of manufacturers have gone to plastic components, but being a large urban parks department, we tend to shy away from a lot of plastic because of threat of vandalism," says Steffen of Grand Rapids, Mich. "People will try to cut or burn or graffiti plastic, so it's harder for us to maintain. We try to go for aluminum or steel. The aluminum and steel are typically more expensive but in the long run, it's more cost-effective for us."

Contact Play

For more information on how to build the best playground, check out these resources: