Feature Article - January 2008
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The Play's the Thing

Innovation and Safety Meet on the Playground

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Playground Profile:
Delta Kelly Elementary School
in Oakland, Mich.

About six years ago, Delta Kelly Elementary School got a new building, and as part of that project, they also got a new playground.

"We have two playground areas because our building has two wings—lower elementary and upper elementary," explained Principal Marsha Andres. "One playground is designed for the needs of kids in kindergarten through second grade, and the other is third to fifth grade."

Both playgrounds have a set of tire swings and a set of conventional swings, "but the ways kids are required to sit are different because of the size of the students," Andres said. "The lower-elementary playground has a few more things that rock and are not as high—slides are adjusted to be a bit lower, and platforms are lower to the ground and a bit larger."

Along with age-appropriate equipment choices, adequate play space was also a consideration in Delta Kelly's playground plan. During recess, the playgrounds are used by a full grade level (about 100 students) at a time, "so we focused on how we could design it in a way that there was enough for 100 to do and stay busy, with a flow that wouldn't cluster them all in the same space at the same time," Andres said.

Several of the equipment suppliers the school spoke with wanted to design a centralized main structure, but ultimately, they chose a "more linear approach" that gave kids more space and a better way to flow through the equipment. As a result, each playground has a main structure with "a lot of slides coming off," Andres explained. "There's a monster slide, a circular slide, and there's a slide that kids can climb up. They always want to do that, so we just made one." Tree climbers build arm and leg strength, and there's a zip line on the upper elementary playground that kids seem to love.

"Our gym teacher was involved in the playgrounds' design and was particularly interested in promoting elements that provided upper-body strength for kids," Andres said. "She felt they get a lot of lower-body action with running and playing," but might need some extra (fun!) incentive to use their upper bodies.