Supplement Feature - April 2019
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Choose Your Own Adventure

Assess Needs, Get Input to Select the Right Play Equipment

By Deborah L. Vence

One of the most important things to do when selecting playground equipment is "gathering input to ensure the playground meets the needs of the community," said Anne-Marie Spencer, corporate vice president of marketing for a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company that offers a wide range of brands focused on play and recreation products and services.

"Holding community meetings to help understand their needs and preferences helps ensure the space meets the widest appeal possible as well as get community buy-in, create a sense of ownership and build community capital," she said.

"Be sure to have some images of possibilities to share with the community, which you can obtain from your playground supplier. Many people are visual when it comes to products they aren't familiar with, so sharing images of options may help move the conversation in meaningful ways," Spencer said, adding that it's also helpful to determine the ages of the children who will be using the space.

For example, children younger than 5 "will benefit from activities that test motor skills, strength, agility and creative thinking, such as climbing over, under and around things, traversing smaller steps, and having crawl spaces that promote exploring," she said. "This age group is also forming social skill development, so offer areas where children can begin to interact with others. Play equipment might include crawl tunnels, small slides, enclosed play spaces, activity panels for fine motor skills and decks of modest height, low platforms, ramps with pieces attached for grasping, tricycle paths and sand areas."

Children ages 5 to 12 are ready for bigger challenges—both physically and intellectually—and will benefit from play equipment with higher platforms and swings, more challenging climbers, larger slides, rope and net climbers, monkey bars and upper-body equipment.

"This equipment should be separate from the younger children's play area," Spencer said. "For all ages, be sure to address equitable play experiences for children of all abilities so there are integrated opportunities for all children to play instinctively."

Sarah Lisiecki, CPSI, marketing communications specialist and play educator for a Fond du Lac, Wis.-based commercial outdoor playground equipment manufacturer for schools, daycare/childcare, and parks and recreation, agreed that the first step in selecting equipment is conducting a needs assessment.

"Figure out the age and number of children you are looking to accommodate," Lisiecki said. "Also, take into consideration the space you have to work with, the budget and the objectives of the project. Work with a partner that can help you through this process and that will assist with all of the other guidelines you need to comply with—ADA being one example. Make certain the manufacturer's products are IPEMA certified.

"Here, the design process, the fun part, begins!" she continued. "It's important to have a variety of play components that help children develop in all areas—social, emotional, physical, cognitive and sensory.

"In addition to play variety," she said, "areas where all children can play together without barriers are extremely important. They foster empathy, understanding and reduce stigmas that are often present in classrooms or other settings. With about 15 percent of children having some sort of differing ability, be it vision-related, neurological (e.g., autism), hearing-related, cognitive (e.g., Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome) or ambulatory, having a fully inclusive and universally designed play space is more important than ever.

"When we think about playgrounds, we tend to think about children, [which is] definitely logical," Lisiecki said. "However, caregivers—sometimes parents, grandparents or others—are the ones who accompany children to the playground. Making sure they are comfortable and engaged means children get to spend more time playing, and that is the best possible scenario. Having integrated seating for these caregivers allows them to supervise and be part of the experience while still allowing children to play.

"Also," she added, "products that are geared toward intergenerational play are key to building those relationships."