An Evaluation of Playground Management

By Christiansen, Monty | Parks & Recreation, April 1999 | Go to article overview

An Evaluation of Playground Management


Christiansen, Monty, Parks & Recreation


In the United States, playground management is viewed in terms of four distinct processes: planning/designing, constructing/installing, inspecting/maintaining, and supervising. Since the release of the 1990 edition of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Handbook for Public Playground Safety and the American Society for Testing and Materials' Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use, originally published in 1993, there have been significant changes in playground management in this country.

To promote a better understanding of the success of playground management, a simple rating scale has been developed. Normally represented as symbols--stars, crowns, keys, snowflakes, orange blossoms, and so forth--for this article, a smiley face is used to represent ratings.

**** -- Highest level of performance.
*** -- Above-average performance.
** -- Average level of acceptable performance.
* -- Lowest quality of performance.

The ratings are subjective, but are based upon nationwide observations over the past nine years.

PLANING PLAYGROUNDS AND DESIGNING EQUIPMENT

The initial process, the conception of the play environment, involves two procedures: the planning of the site and the design of any apparatus to be placed on the site.

Site Planning

The quality of the playground site plan is determined by a number of factors including the overall play value of the playground, the layout and spacing of play components, circulation patterns, ground surfacing, accessibility, variety and function of the landforms and vegetation, drainage, health, sanitation, and safety.

In the United States, various individuals perform this function of playground management:

**** Certain professional playground planners will limit their design practice to this facility. Firms use a team of specialists (such as child-development professionals, landscape architects, color experts, health and sanitation experts, or other creative specialists) to design playgrounds. These planners are creating stimulating, practical, and innovative playgrounds that represent the cutting edge of playground planning; unfortunately, each of these creations is generally unique and location-specific.

*** Playgrounds planned by general site planners, such as landscape architects, as well as those planned by child-development specialists who plan playgrounds and perform other separate design services, constitute the next rung down on the creativity ladder. Included in this category are the "community playground planners" who work under the direction of a design professional. While the majority of these planners do not weave all the aforementioned interdisciplinary expertise into a site plan, many are capable of creating a suitable playground.

The top two categories of playground planning, which involve the talents and expertise of professionals, are complex and expensive and are used only by clients who can afford their fees: large park departments, high-budget school districts, and commercial enterprises.

** Playgrounds in most small towns and villages, rural schoolyards, and unlicensed child-care centers have been planned by lay volunteers, committees of interested parents, or willing employees. These playgrounds generally consist of small clusters of play apparatus with perhaps a nearby playing field or two. These sites often become instilled with local pride and ownership, causing inherent resistance to later change and upgrading.

* There are many "unplanned" playgrounds in the United States, which evolved as various pieces of equipment were added to a public commons, schoolyard, or unlicensed child-care facility. Equipment at these sites--usually selected without much prior consideration--includes gifts, components of other sites, or low-budget pieces. This equipment tends to remain until--and sometimes after--it structurally falters. …

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