Feature Article - March 2012
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Safe and Secure

Balancing Safety and Fun on the Playground

By Deborah L. Vence


When it comes to playground apparatuses, playground manufacturers are making equipment safer today by following the ASTM standards, and some are even following the suggestions of child care development experts and meeting the needs of children.

"More of them need to use child development specialists in the design of their equipment," Thompson said. "Recreation facility individuals need to keep that information in mind when choosing equipment. They also need to review the ages of the children who use their facility and select equipment that meets their needs. One piece does not fit the needs of children ages 0 to 12. They may not need as much equipment for older children since they tend not to visit the park area as much."

Most equipment, though, that was IPEMA certified within the last decade and installed per the manufacturers' instructions meets the current ASTM F1487 standard.

"Minor railing upgrades to non-climbable barriers on stepped platforms and changes to stepped platforms and stairs above 48 inches can be retrofitted by most manufacturers," said an IPEMA representative. "The addition of signage outside the play area can be accomplished easily if this is not already a risk management practice for the agency or owner. The most important action that an agency and or owner can perform would be to audit for compliance with ASTM F1487-11 and the Department of Justice's 2010 Standards for Accessible Design. Once all non-conformities are identified and prioritized, reasonable and prudent compliance transition plans can be made and implemented."

To take it a step further, Spencer said that by following the established standards, you are ensuring that the play adventures you create are captivating.

"A good play experience isn't about the height of the equipment, it is about engagement. A truly beneficial playground infuses adventure along a continuum of development, ensuring that children have exciting experiences, while also providing design elements that challenge their current level of skill, so that they continue to build strength, confidence and move to the next skill level," Spencer said.

"A great example is a play space we observed in Germantown, Tenn. It's themed like a great big tree house, so right away, you have children drawn to it by virtue of its design," she said. "Included in the overall plan are slides at a variety of heights, a variety of climbers that utilize and develop upper body strength in a variety of ways, and a large footprint that encourages cardiovascular engagement as children move about the play space from one adventure to the next."

She went on to say that "The space also contains under-deck cozy spaces, sound-making elements, and design details to facilitate imaginative play—creating additional ways to keep children engaged with the environment. It is designed for children of all abilities, and at any given time, you will find children thoroughly engaged in their play, interacting, playing independently and having a great time. At the end of their play time, they don't want to leave, always the mark of a great playground."

Other play spaces that demonstrate this point are the PlayTrails that were built in Springfield, Mo., and Chattanooga, Tenn. Many play components along the trail are ground level, but they are stationed along the path in related topic groupings: bees, butterflies, ants, trees, etc.

"Each grouping offers signage with fun facts about the grouping, like how many stomachs bees have, how fast a dragonfly can fly, and how ants live in colonies, etc. Entire families play on and among the equipment groupings, reading the signs to each other and playing games," Spencer said.

"They are engaged, getting exercise, enjoying nature and being a family," she added. "It's the overall design of the path, the unique nature of the equipment, and the continuum of adventure that keeps them active and engaged."