Supplement Feature - April 2009
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Play Date

Trends in Playground Equipment

By Hayli Morrison


PHYSICAL EDUCATION

Unfortunately, funding cutbacks in a tight U.S. economy have been another primary agent of change in modern playgrounds, particularly on school campuses. Frost, Hendy and Kutska agreed that recreation is further hampered by additional pressure on schools to perform well in government-mandated high-stakes testing. Altogether, very little time or money is left over for free play during the school day, partially contributing to a virtual epidemic of childhood obesity.

Hence, the Voice of Play initiative, launched by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA). The goal of this initiative is to reach out to communities, teachers, parents and children to stress the urgency of childhood recreation. The initiative offers a "Play Pledge" for parents to sign, promising to provide their children with at least one hour of outdoor play each day at home or school. The Play Pledge even suggests specific outdoor activities to get kids moving. To encourage hands-on involvement, Voice of Play offers Parent and Community Group Kits with resources like playground safety checklists and tips for building a successful playground.

It's a timely initiative, in light of the fact that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of overweight school-age children (between 6 and 11 years old) is about 17 percent.

"The main goal of Voice of Play is to educate about the importance of play," said Lesley Sillaman, a spokesperson for the IPEMA initiative. "We want to make sure kids are getting out to play as much as they can. It's not a luxury—it's a necessity, from our point of view, and we use research to back that up."

Until funding loosens up, some schools are getting creative by multi-tasking. There is an increasing integration of recreation with school curriculum, in subjects ranging from physical education to science and even music.

Some manufacturers of play equipment have gone so far as to create play elements that can be integrated with the school curriculum. One manufacturer provides curriculum suggestions that can be used with its newest playsysten. The curriculum was created in conjunction with the National Program for Playground Safety and provides step-by-step instructions for the play events to help kids achieve defined results. Games and activities geared toward various fitness levels are also suggested, along with information for kids with disabilities.

"It talks specifically to help the kids achieve results for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels," said Tina Spritka, marketing associate with the Wisconsin-based manufacturer. "The kids can become fit and more confident with themselves, and they can use feedback to create new ways to use the equipment."

The playsystem is geared toward the 5-to-12 age range, with the goal of making physical fitness a way of life early on.

"I think if we start off at this age with the physical aspect and get the kids moving, then they can learn more about diet and nutrition later," Spritka said. "This is an entry-level way of getting them on the right path to a healthy lifestyle."