Feature Article - March 2011
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Play It Safe

Improving Safety for Your Play Spaces

By Kelli Anderson

According to the Voice of Play, a group within the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA), finding the balance between safety and fun is a legitimate concern. "Safety is always a top priority for everyone in the industry, and safety advocates' concerns are justified," the document asserts, "but should be balanced with the value of play in children's learning and development."

In an effort, for example, to remove all hazardous elements, many playgrounds in years past made the mistake of being too predictable—with too many prescribed routes and too much narrative, leaving little to the child's imagination or freedom to keep play new and challenging. Once a child is bored, they will quickly turn their attention to finding more creative (i.e., unsafe) ways of using play equipment.

"For many years, the characteristic playground was a composite structure of posts, climbers, slides and platforms with clearly defined routes that would be fun for a period of time," said John McConkey, market insights manager with a manufacturing company. "At a certain point, however, they're going to want to do what they shouldn't because they want to challenge themselves. They need it. It's wanting to know can I climb on the outside? Can I hang from the roof? If they're not challenged, they'll find things to do."

Selecting equipment or designing play elements that can keep a child's attention for long periods of creative play is one way to decrease the likelihood of boredom leading to misuse and injury on the playground. It starts with knowing what you want, what your community wants and getting well-trained designers who know kids and know safety.