Designing Child's Play Takes Serious Planning: Safe, High-Quality Public Playgrounds Lay the Foundation for Healthy, Active Lifestyles. Consider Equipment Selection, Placement, and Maintenance to Limit Liability and Create a Safe and Sustainable Playground

By White, Nancy B. | The Public Manager, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Designing Child's Play Takes Serious Planning: Safe, High-Quality Public Playgrounds Lay the Foundation for Healthy, Active Lifestyles. Consider Equipment Selection, Placement, and Maintenance to Limit Liability and Create a Safe and Sustainable Playground


White, Nancy B., The Public Manager


Playgrounds are at the center of most neighborhoods in America and play a vital role in the lives of children. Children need access to open areas and facilities where they explore, develop, and challenge themselves as part of their physical, intellectual, creative, and social development. Providing safe, high-quality public playgrounds represents a valuable investment for organizations and society as a whole by laying the foundation for healthy, active lifestyles. Accessible equipment and surfacing is essential, so children have the opportunity to grow and develop through different types of play experiences.

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To increase safety and operational effectiveness, key team members in public agencies need to make informed decisions regarding playground location, design, accessibility, equipment, surfacing, and maintenance.

Location

Planners must consider safe access to and from the playground site. Create a barrier such as a fence or dense hedge to keep children within the playground if there are nearby hazards such as roads, bodies of water, or other dangerous conditions. Consider adequate slope and drainage to reduce the loss of loose-fill surfacing materials, limit the potential for standing water that could create health hazards, and prevent rusting or rotting of playground equipment and surfacing. If the site is not naturally shaded, install appropriate plants or shade structures to protect playground users and supervisors from direct exposure to the sun and reduce the potential for skin cancer. Shade also helps to prevent playground components and protective surfacing from becoming hot and causing burns.

Age-Appropriate Playgrounds

Planners need to design a playground based on the ages of the intended users. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provides guidelines for age-appropriate public playground equipment for three age groups: toddlers (6-23 months), preschoolers (2-5 years), and grade-school-age (5-12 years).

Providing playground equipment specially designed for the different developmental levels of each age group can reduce the potential for injuries. For example, a track ride that requires the user to have the upper body strength to hang on while the ride moves is appropriate only for children five years or older. Children younger than five who use it may not have the strength to hold on while gliding over a distance, and could become seriously injured. Creating a butter zone or physical separation with benches or landscaping between structures designed for older and younger children can help reduce injuries.

Accessibility

Planners must ensure the playground is accessible in accordance with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law sets rules to include accessible routes to a variety of age-appropriate components at ground level and in elevated areas, such as those accessed from a transfer station, or platform. ADA also sets the minimum number of individual play components required to be accessible based on the total number of components provided in each play area. Revisions to the ADA standards became effective March 15, 2012.

While following the standards is essential, planners also must learn from feedback of playground users. For example, Santa Fe Public Schools installed engineered wood fiber in a playground with access to a variety of different play components. The school system was surprised to receive a report that a child was having difficulty moving an electric wheelchair across the ADA-compliant surfacing. After officials further compacted and added moisture to the surfacing material, the child was able to move easily throughout the playground.

Equipment Selection

Deciding what type of equipment and components to include on a public playground can be overwhelming. Purchasers should select commercial-quality playground equipment that is certified by the International Play-ground Equipment Manufacturers Association. …

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Designing Child's Play Takes Serious Planning: Safe, High-Quality Public Playgrounds Lay the Foundation for Healthy, Active Lifestyles. Consider Equipment Selection, Placement, and Maintenance to Limit Liability and Create a Safe and Sustainable Playground
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