Safe Play

The trouble with climbing nets has always been fall height. In fact, the CPSC estimates that falls account for at least three-quarters of playground injuries. Modern climbing-net designs protect against falls by using a widening structure for support, and significantly decrease fall height. If a child loses his or her grip at the top of the net, the child will be supported by the surrounding net layers and regain balance without further incident. Limiting the size of underlying net openings ensures that kids are safe, no matter how high they climb.

Use Of Electronics

Electronic components are increasingly common in playgrounds. Electronics offer a simple, safe way to stimulate children based on the same kind of incentives we find in computers. This is not one of my favorite trends, however, as it relies heavily on technological components; I’m an advocate of more natural forms of play that stimulate movement.

Surface Design

Surfacing is an extremely important part of playground safety. Early playgrounds had shallow, low-quality surfacing. When kids fell to the ground, there was little impact absorption to protect against injury. Today, surfacing features deep impact-absorbing layers. Different solutions–from loose fill to rubber to synthetic turf–have come to focus on impact absorption as the main safety goal. The result is taller playground equipment with better protection.

Surfacing design also has become integrated into playground fun. Hopscotch, race-car tracks, tic-tac-toe and other creative designs are now embedded in the ground at children’s feet. Surfacing has been a fundamental factor in transforming playgrounds into both safe and fun places for children.

Add-On Play Structures

Recently, add-on play structures have become increasingly popular as designers have learned to safely map playgrounds within confined spaces. This is in large part because breakthroughs in movement engineering have allowed designers to predict the pattern of falls in more controlled ways. In the past, a child could fall from a swing and hit his or her head on a nearby steel structure. Now, a better understanding of movement-based dynamics has virtually eliminated this possibility.

In addition to increased safety, add-on play structures also offer financial benefits in this down economy. Park and recreation directors can choose to finance a single, elaborate play structure, and gradually invest in add-ons over time. Add-ons are great for kids because they diversify the stimulation they get on the playground. Different structures can offer varied play options, like rocking, turning, or swinging. They also allow for different groups to play in different areas, creating space for more children.

It’s been great to see the face of playgrounds changing as designers wake up to play-value. After all, playground design should be about thinking outside the box. People in the industry are realizing that safety is not the only part of playground design and that creative solutions can breed fun and secure play structures for children.

Keep an eye out–I think we’ll be seeing more innovations in the years to come, and more “play” in the playground.

Serge Morin is an award-winning industrial designer. He has patented several playground product designs, and is president of ElephantPlay, Inc., a playground-equipment company focused on innovation and safety. With over 15 years of experience in the playground industry, Serge continues to develop safe and fun play structure designs. He can be reached at info@elephantplay.com

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