Feature Article - November 2012
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Finding the Way to Play

Trends on the Playground

By Dawn Klingensmith

Find the Way to Have Fun

"Boring" playground equipment is just as likely to be abused as ignored. Over the years, playground architect Ron King has interviewed some 6,000 children, and more than 95 percent of them say the type of playground equipment they typically encounter is boring.

"Schools can spend a million dollars, and on the first day, kids are very excited—there's all this new stuff. But, before long, it gets boring," said King, president of a Concord, N.H., playground company. "So they begin using the equipment in ways it was not designed to be used. They climb way up and jump off, trying to be a helicopter. They run up the slide backward. They do that because they're bored."

Manufacturers are trying to address this, and by and large seem to recognize that no matter how colorful or thematic their equipment, kids have begun to perceive an unrelenting and off-putting sameness from one playground to another. The centerpiece or entirety of many playgrounds is a modular post-and-platform structure, which encourages repetitive, "flow-through" movement by design: Kids climb up, negotiate a series of decks, and slide down the other side.

Individual elements like spring riders, freestanding climbers, spinners, monorails and reinvented slides (including one with aluminum rollers) are making a comeback, giving children a wider range of activities to choose from.

One manufacturer boasts an entire line of freestanding basics, including carousels and merry-go-rounds, overhead events, seesaws and teeter totters, swing sets and tire swings.

Electronic play systems designed for playground use were introduced to the market a few years ago, promising to bring the excitement of videogames outdoors while adding an aerobic workout comparable to jogging or playing soccer. With one of the newer systems, kids playing alone or in teams race the clock or each other in an effort to keep up with a series of lights and sounds.