Feature Article - July 2018
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Destination: Playgrounds

Modern Playgrounds Create Fun Family Outings

By Rick Dandes

Unlimited Play is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that helped design and fundraise for the playground. The St. Charles County Developmental Disabilities Review Board's support and funding was also instrumental in making this playground a reality. Many local businesses and organizations made contributions to the project as well.

Zachary's Playground opened in 2007 with specially designed play features, a rubberized surface and, later, a splash pad. The playground was one of the first of its kind in the St. Louis area and became a "destination" attraction for local families and those from other parts of the country.

The playground includes the following: a castle and boat theme for imaginative play; traditional, toddler and ADA-accessible swings; a fully accessible splash pad for those hot summer days; a music selection for auditory stimulation and creativity; fully ramped toddler and 5-to-12 play sections; a climbing net complete with custom seats; a rollerslide and metal slides for those with cochlear implants; and an accessible "flush to floor entrance" merry-go-round.

It is a destination playground, Noelkin said. "I've talked to families from as far away as a 45-minute drive, who came to spend the day at Zachary's. There are many times throughout the year that area schools or day care facilities bus their children over to enjoy the playground and our park. The pavilion has a charcoal barbecue pit, eight picnic tables and electrical outlets. It is near the playground, spray pad and heated restrooms."

The Future of Play

To validate the physical, cognitive and emotional developmental benefits of play, Chandler explained, "our company takes a multi-disciplined approach to research. We partner with both scholars and experts to evaluate evidence-based findings that not only help inform product designs, but also provide communities with tools to help them develop meaningful, research-based projects."

Challenging play events will continue to emerge in the coming years as play manufacturers strive to maintain engagement.

At the brand level, Chandler noted, "we use the research to observe designs in use, including evaluating anthropometrics, measurement of primary dimensional descriptors of body size and shape, creating full-size models for child product testing, and observation in the field for user experience. All these factors, coupled with empirical data, help us to produce components and structures that generate challenge and enjoyment, along with sustained use."

Roschi suggests doing research with different partners. "As we start to prototype different ideas," he said, "we'll bring children into our facilities and have them try out new things. In that way you can have the pulse on what kids like, and the best part of all of that is they are not going to lie and tell you something is fun if it isn't. They are very honest. If they don't like something, they will tell us that is the case."

But Roschi's company also partners with the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorders in Denver, and one of the key things they are doing is studying children on the autism spectrum. The STAR Institute uses play as part of therapy.

"With their partnership," Roschi said, "we have been able to look at how important play can be in helping these children develop through play, and that has been done partially through observing videos of children participating with the caregivers, and in many cases, their parents. We know how play is important from a physical standpoint, but are really starting to see how play helps development in some of those other skills has been an important influence on the design we do, both from a product design standpoint and how we lay out playgrounds for a community. We try to bring all of that knowledge back to every project we do."

Where do we go from here?

Chandler believes challenging play events will continue to emerge in the coming years as play manufacturers strive to maintain engagement with an ever-growing population of tech-savvy kids who increasingly look for stimulating activities that keep their interest. The onus will be on manufacturers to design these activities with the right balance of excitement, risk and safety.