Feature Article - September 2010
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Fun For The Whole Family

Waterpark Options for All Ages

By Dawn Klingensmith

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Splash pads, or spraygrounds, often are set apart from the main park with landscaping and fencing to create a sense of safety and serenity for toddlers and their supervisors. However, with careful product selection and placement, splash pads can accommodate and engage the whole family, including teens.

Picture the splash pad's layout as a series of concentric zones. From the outside in, you'll first want to provide a sizable zone for shade structures and seating, followed by an outer edge of "small, gentle, nonaggressive water-play features" geared to toddlers, said Amy Altman, sales manager for an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based manufacturer of water play equipment.

These first two zones should be arranged so that parents can keep an eye on and actively engage with their children without necessarily getting wet, she said.

The tiniest members of the family "want to touch and feel textures, whereas bigger kids want the wow factor along with interactivity," Altman continued. "The littler ones like misters and bubblers and little foaming mounds of water. They basically just squat over them and play with them. They don't want anything taller than they are, they don't like to be sprayed in the face, and they don't like to be surprised."

By contrast, older kids like to soak one another with water cannons and dump buckets. These opportunities can be found by progressing toward the center of the splash pad, sometimes with Mom and Dad in tow.

Altman's company, along with several others, manufacturers design interactive features that encourage kids to play cooperatively with their parents, siblings and fellow patrons. With one such piece of equipment, players can plug up water nozzles, thereby building up water pressure that ultimately leads to the formation of a geyser.

"There's interactivity, there's an educational component, there's anticipation and there's a reward at the end," Altman said.

Increasingly, designs specify that the heart of the splash pad be a multilevel structure with climbing elements and slides. "These are nice centerpiece structures," Altman said, "and each is internally plumbed" so you save on construction, supply lines and mechanical systems.

A Canadian manufacturer provided a similar concept for Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Theirs is a multilevel structure with several platforms connected by slides and net climbs.

One potential downside to this concentric, or layered, design is that older kids must go through the toddler area to get to the bigger attractions and centerpiece, which requires some consideration and grace on their part.