By Lynn, Andrea
Parks & Recreation , Vol. 45, No. 12
WHEN GREG A. WEITZEL, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and his team were brainstorming ideas for their new Destination playground, they knew they needed to take unique steps to entice kids outdoors. They opted to do this by installing the two versions of NEOS electronic playground equipment from Playworld Systems in the park, which opened this past October. So far, it has been a massive success. "Kids are excited to get off the sofa and go play. They are begging their parents to come to the park," says Weitzel, who counts his two children among the hundreds of kids coming to the playground every day to interact with NEOS.
A crossover between outdoor play and ever-popular video gaming, NEOS combines the speed and action of video games with the explosive movement of aerobic exercise. With its flashing lights and engaging sounds, NEOS is a multi-sensory experience that works the heart and lungs for an invigorating workout. "The NEOS 360 is a product that surrounds the player with buttons that need to be hit as quickly as possible in a certain sequence that changes with each game played," says Ian Proud, research manager for Playworld Systems. In addition, ambulatory players and children in wheelchairs can enter and leave without any obstacles, and there's no maximum to the number of kids who can play the game at one time.
Proud says that through the company's research, they discovered certain age groups are less inclined to interact with traditional playground equipment because it lacks the interactivity of video games. "We must engage them with an experience that is equally rich and deep, while adding agility and fitness," he says. "An hour spent on a video game is an hour not spent outdoors in the fresh air."
Weitzel agrees, saying that the electronic playground equipment gets the kids outdoors, which is just the beginning of their experience. "We put this close to a nature center, so they are playing games but then can be attracted to the lake by the path. When walking to the park, they might see a deer or hawk--they are getting outdoor experience that they might be lacking," says Weitzel. "Some would say connection to nature is more important than electronic equipment but this is getting them outdoors."
Brock Hill, parks superintendant for Layton City, Utah, says the park was planning to install KOMPAN playground equipment in their new Legacy Park because of its solid structure, when they were introduced to the electronic add-ins. "We installed the electronic component because we saw a niche in the playground environment for our citizens. We were looking for other ways to get kids outside the home--not just children but the teens 14 and up, and we felt like this was a good way." This electronic equipment cost about 20 percent more than traditional equipment, a cost that Hill says was well worth it for the amount of participation it garners.
Tom Grover, president of KOMPAN's North American headquarters, says that the ICON playground equipment is the result of 10 years of development: "We recognized the influence of digital media and gaming on kids and knew that in order to maintain the relevance of our parks and playgrounds, we needed to redesign our solutions in a whole new way." There's also the added ability the equipment allows for monitoring its use. "ICON includes a wireless feature that allows us to monitor the number, duration, and the frequency of games being played. Park and recreation departments can use this information to fine-tune the game selection and compare usage rates between various ICON playgrounds in their parks. …