Creating Custom Playground Work In A Manufactured World

The following is intended to open discussion over how to
survive being bullied by the commercial playground industry

Necessity for Playgrounds

Once upon a time, not so long ago, communities were our playgrounds where children could freely explore their environment under the watchful eyes of neighbors and family. The foundations of community are quickly disappearing and children are now presented with contained play areas as their only outdoor play experience.

  • 65% of households with children are working (including both parents and single parent households)
  • 63% of children under the age of five are in a regular daycare arrangement, 56% of them in non-relative care
  • 79% of the US population is living in urban areas

Manufactured Equipment as a Model for Playground Safety

It is a common perception that a playground is composed entirely of commercial equipment intended for physical outdoor recreation. Safety guidelines and industry standards keep the realm of possible play features narrow by placing undue liability on play features that do not succinctly follow them. Furthermore, the interpretation of these guidelines by insurance companies and state licensing agencies often results in a “one size fits-all” strategy which puts impossible limitations on anything that is not found in a playground catalog. The legitimacy of guidelines is also brought into question when:

  • There has been no follow-up study on whether safety guidelines have decreased the occurrences or types of injuries on playground equipment.
  • Strict adherence to safety guidelines often leads to the permanent removal of play equipment or ignoring real safety concerns due to the inability to pay for new equipment or surfacing.
  • Unquestioned legitimacy of guidelines to create “safe playgrounds” overshadows a greater need to concentrate on managed-risk methods to expose kids to their limitations.

    Customization of Playgrounds (discussion)

  • How does one introduce real-world experiences in a controlled play environment?
  • Is it possible to return to custom built playgrounds that predated the commercialization of play?
  • Can there be a symbiotic relationship between commercial equipment and custom play features?

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