Playground Innovations What’s New in Fun

Most kids these days have never had more options when it comes to fun: video games and electronic entertainment of every kind are ubiquitous, and all sorts of mobile toys, too. But amid a national childhood obesity epidemic, the need for children to play and exert the energy that builds up in fast-growing little bodies has never been more critical. Active, outdoor play is crucial not only for the physical exercise and fresh air, but to make friends and build social skills, in both city and suburban communities. 

How children play is important, too—it should be fun, safe and healthy for them. These and many other things keep parents of each succeeding generation bringing their kids back to playgrounds, and make having a playground or some well-chosen pieces of equipment a real asset to a condo, co-op or HOA community. 

More Access, Less Concrete

A playground is a desirable amenity with any number of social and health benefits – but we’re also living in a very litigious society, and a badly designed or poorly maintained play area is a liability, not an asset. Avoiding accidents on your building or association’s play equipment is an obvious way to keep your smallest residents safe, of course – but it’s also imperative in order to  avoid lawsuits. There’s quite a lot that’s new in play equipment materials and design, and regardless of whether they themselves have kids of their own, board members and other residents should know something about these play systems. 

A few decades ago, playground equipment was pretty basic, and kids were mostly unsupervised as they played. Equipment usually consisted of swing-sets, teeter-totters, some metal monkey bars and a sharp-cornered metal slide or two, along with basketball hoops and maybe a tetherball set-up. In recent decades, playground equipment has come a very long way; the colorless pieces of welded metal set on heat-trapping, unyielding black asphalt is long gone. Today, children play on all sorts of neat interactive equipment, and if they happen to take a spill, their fall is usually softened by industrial-grade foam padding instead of asphalt or pea-gravel. 

Asphalt and concrete bases for foundations of playground areas have been getting phased out since the late 1970s and replaced with more user-friendly ones. But not until the 1980s was there a truly concerted push to improve the safety of playgrounds and equipment in them in the US. Industry experts say the newer, more safety-conscious regulations were the result of thousands of reports from emergency rooms and hospitals across the nation about fractures and other injuries suffered by kids who’d slipped, fallen, or gotten cut on old-school play equipment.

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