A Focal Point for Fitness

The initial decision to invest in a playground for your camp can be an easy one. Just the thought of campers swinging, climbing, dangling, spinning and challenging friends to match their acrobatic feats can bring back childhood memories of hours of carefree play.

Is a playground a good addition for your camp?

There are also many health and developmental benefits children gain from playground activities. While they are enjoying free play, they can improve flexibility, muscular endurance and strength, and even challenge their aerobic capacity during extended bouts of continuous effort. Playground activities can raise children’s metabolic rate, and develop a healthy level of body fat. In fact, one hour of vigorous activity on playground equipment can burn an average of 400 calories. There is also strong evidence that participating in these activities helps children develop perceptual motor and critical-thinking skills, as well as intellectual abilities, particularly in mathematics.

So how can there be a downside to invest in a new playground? If you are not focused on making it a safe environment, injuries and the lawsuits that can follow may be an expensive lesson for a camp business owner.

Playgrounds can be the center of attention for campers, especially if the areas are well-designed and constructed. Paying attention–both before the purchase and during installation–can make a playground a star attraction of the camp’s facilities. For instance, many states have strict regulations and requirements to optimize a playground’s safety. The most common hazard that leads to injuries has nothing to do with the equipment–it’s the surface under it. Grass, asphalt, concrete and dirt are not safe surfaces. Loose synthetic materials like artificial turf are shock-absorbing, and can significantly reduce falling injuries.

Research What Works

It is ideal to have as many opinions as possible in making the final decision. Consider having a small group of stakeholders (staff, parents, even campers) be part of a playground “research team.” Visit several playgrounds and talk to camp directors, maintenance staff and camp counselors who plan and supervise the camp activities. Be sure to ask:

· What is the incidence of injuries, and how do they occur?

· Are there required maintenance and inspection schedules?

· Are the playgrounds accessible for all children’s capabilities, and do they address the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines, including accessibility to ramps, a proper reach for overhead components, swings with special straps, etc.?

· How did the owners decide on signage for safety regulations and assumption of risk?

· What is the experience when contacting the manufacturer with questions and concerns?

· What are the costs above and beyond the purchase price (site preparation, signage, security, required supervision, inspection and replacement costs)?

· Which pieces of equipment get the most use and the least use?

· What pieces of equipment do they wish they had bought?

· Is it possible to add more apparatuses within the existing playground’s framework?

· What supervision and security are required?

· What problems have you had?

· How did the playground affect the cost of liability insurance?

· Was consideration given to the materials and the location being environmentally friendly?

· If you had a chance to go back to the day you purchased the playground, what would you do differently?

Next, watch the playground in action, and answer these questions on your own:

· Are the campers enjoying the equipment and each other?

· How long are they engaged in one piece of equipment?

· Are there lines of campers waiting to use equipment?

· Is it developmentally appropriate (e.g., a slide’s first step low enough for the smallest campers)?

· Can everyone participate (e.g., children with disabilities or high body-fat composition)

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