Supplement Feature - April 2009
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Play Date

Trends in Playground Equipment

By Hayli Morrison


SENSORY PLAY

An Aspen, Colorado-based play equipment manufacturer is also working to integrate music with playgrounds, though in a slightly subtler, "more than meets the eye" fashion. Instead of adding auxiliary musical and sensory components to an existing playground, this company believes music can be the playground.

Co-founders Robert Tobias and Monty Abbott were college friends, both products of the 1960s culture and both career artisans. Their desire to shake up traditional playgrounds first took root in 2003, and they have been developing and patenting unique inventions ever since. All products are created in conjunction with major play equipment manufacturers to ensure compliance with safety standards.

"We happen to have found a niche in the industry that nobody has really serviced in a concerted way," Tobias said. "It was a creative idea to integrate music into the playground. People use the word 'interactive,' but our use of the word 'interactive' eclipses everyone else in the industry."

At first glance, the line consists of brightly colored swings, seesaws and seating, but a closer look reveals much more. A swing, for instance, features handholds that serve as wind instruments. By placing their fingers over three holes in the flute-like handholds, children can play simple tunes. In one of the swingset posts, a mechanical air compressor operates in conjunction with the swing's motion. The compressor charges an air system that forces air through the swing's tubing and out the handhold's air holes, which are tuned to notes of the scale.

"We originally started thinking just in terms of music, but very quickly realized there were more sensory uses that could be addressed with our equipment," Abbott said.

Enter a seesaw that engages the senses of sound, sight and touch while encouraging cooperation, teamwork and social interaction among children. The seesaw transforms a traditional playground concept, patterning it after the ancient aboriginal rainstick. Running the length of the seesaw is a clear, polycarbonate tube filled with colorful balls and chimes that create three different notes. As children move the seesaw up and down, they can watch the balls move, hear the resulting sound and even feel slight vibrations in the handholds.

"The children are engaged visually, in terms of watching the balls strike the chimes, and there's a whole cooperation element involved in getting the balls to strike the chimes," Abbott said.

Slightly more eccentric are parabolic reflecting dishes attached to sitting benches, which are sold in pairs. When placed across from each other, they allow sound to reflect back and forth.

"There's a lot for a kid to learn about sound waves and how they get focused," Tobias said. "We find our products appear a lot on school playgrounds, where the science teacher may go out and conduct a science class" based on one of the play elements.


Work It Out

In addition to playgrounds targeting kids ranging from preschool up to high school, savvy park planners can also find equipment that can get all ages active.

Many playground and fitness equipment manufacturers have also brought to market exercise equipment that is appropriate for placement outdoors in park settings or along fitness trails.

You can cluster the stations together to create an outdoor gym—put it next to a playground, and you've given parents a way to get a workout in while they're kids exercise. Or you can locate stations along a trail, which will encourage your parks' users to add specific exercises to their daily walk or run.