Supplement Feature - April 2008
Find a printable version here

Play Date

Planning Pleasing Playgrounds

By Richard Zowie

pring is now upon us, that time of the year when many Americans breathe a sigh of relief as we leave the frozen winter and begin the thaw that will, in a few months, lead to the warm summer. As the thaw removes the snow and ice, once again we are able to see the green grass and the flowers. Outside activities become more common again.

For many families, spring represents a time to partake of that warm-weather American ritual: heading to the nearest playground. It's a place where parents can relax and chat with their friends while their children can work off pent-up winter energy by slipping down slides, crawling through tubes, climbing chains and platforms or riding on a glide.

As communities grow, many find themselves working to keep up with the needs of growing families. This means building new playgrounds or refurbishing or expanding existing ones. And if you think that's an easy process that's as quick as snapping your fingers, think again.


Those who build playgrounds or have either had playgrounds built or refurbished say that it all starts with finding out what parents and children alike want. Stacey French-Lee, program director for Georgia State University's Lanette L. Suttles Child Development Center in Atlanta, said that when they recently refurbished their playground, they implemented some of the feedback they received. Gone are the sandy landing surfaces, which have given way to synthetic turf and rubberized matting. French-Lee said that the parents will probably appreciate the changes the most.

"They told us the children had been taking sand home in their shoes, getting it in the car and scratching up their houses' wooden floors," she said.

Having a rubbery surface also comes in handy as an effective cushion in case a child falls while at play.

"[The rubbery surface] is very safe and soft, especially in the preschool area," said Joni Scarbrough, public relations coordinator for Newnan Utilities in Newnan, Ga. (about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta), of Newnan Utilities' Carl Miller Park. (The utility owns the property that the park is on.) "If they run and fall, they don't get hurt."

French-Lee added that they also put in some changes to encourage children's artistic side, such as Plexiglas play panels that can be used as a dry-erase board to paint on.