Often when we think of the “good old days,” thoughts of a time before cell phones, Facebook and GPS come to mind, when kids played in public parks stocked with swing sets, monkey bars and maybe (if you were lucky) a basketball hoop and teeter-totter.
Time marches on however, and while there will likely always be a place in our collective hearts for the classic playground swing set, we've come a long way from the days of rusty swings with frayed canvas seats, splintered teeter-totters and faded hopscotch courts. The shift from plain metal-and-asphalt equipment to more colorful and exciting—and safer—equipment really began in the 1990s, and the field has been diversifying and evolving ever since. Today, chances are good that if Sally knocks Johnny off the monkey bars, those bars will be shaped like a DNA double-helix (or some other fanciful shape), and Johnny will not fall onto concrete or pea-gravel, but onto foam padding.
A New Age of Play
As Moira Staggs of NuToys Leisure Products in LaGrange notes, “The mid-1980’s is when composite structure playgrounds—a series of interconnected elevated decks with climbers and slides hanging off them—appeared on the market. Prior to that, composite structures were often a combination of wood and metal or plastic slides. Now people have many more options to create a design and color scheme that fits the needs of the user group either by age, level of challenge, or type of activities.”
John McConkey, market insights manager with Landscape Structures in Delano, Minnesota agrees, saying, “In the 1980s, the first composite play systems were created and quickly gained popularity. In the 1990’s, they became much more complex with incredible possibilities and variety.”
“Safety standards have become more robust and comprehensive over time,” Staggs continues. “Whereas guidelines used to be voluntary, now all playgrounds intended for public use must follow the standards. The three main playground safety standards are the Consumer Product Safety Commission Public Playground Safety Handbook and the ASTM F1487 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use, which cover the safety standards of types of equipment and layout, and the ASTM F1292 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment which covers the standards for safety surfacing. Over the years, these standards have made playgrounds much safer for kids.”