Feature Article - March 2011
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Play It Safe

Improving Safety for Your Play Spaces

By Kelli Anderson

A hundred years ago, mothers around the country demanded a safer alternative to the city streets in which children often played and were sometimes killed or injured. The response was the invention of the urban playground. And, while the concrete-surfaced play areas of the 1900s were an enormous improvement over the dusty, traffic-laden streets, urban playgrounds, in turn, harbored plenty of dangers of their own.

More than a century later, our concept of a playground and "safe" play is still evolving and still improving. Open-ended play, play that includes natural elements, play that challenges the physical, social, emotional and cognitive functions of a child—all these and more—challenge today's designers and manufacturers to create play spaces that are more exciting than ever. And safer. But it's a tough balance.

While safety guidelines and licensed safety professionals in today's playground industry certainly contribute to make current playgrounds among the safest ever, safety is about far more than just purchasing certain kinds of equipment or installing certain kinds of surfacing. Some of the most engaging, safest spaces, in fact, may not contain a single manufactured element, but can be designed to be safe and fun if safety guidelines gleaned from traditional playground research are applied with common sense and professional know-how. Whether your playground is uber-traditional or one of the current trend toward alternative designs, when it comes to safety, it's all about what you know—and improving on what you don't.

It takes a well-planned, well-designed, well-supervised and well-maintained effort to make all the components come together successfully. Safety, in other words, is about applying a set of principles and guidelines that can make any play space a safer one.