Playground facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Childrens Game Park 01621
A modern-day playground
PlayEquipComboPlastic wb
Combination playground structure for small children; slides, climbers (stairs in this case), playhouse

A playground, playpark, or play area is a place specifically designed to enable children to play there. It is typically outdoors. While a playground is usually designed for children, some target other age groups. Berlin's Preußenpark for example is designed for people aged 70 or higher. A playground might exclude children below a certain age.

Modern playgrounds often have recreational equipment such as the seesaw, merry-go-round, swingset, slide, jungle gym, chin-up bars, sandbox, spring rider, trapeze rings, playhouses, and mazes, many of which help children develop physical coordination, strength, and flexibility, as well as providing recreation and enjoyment and supporting social and emotional development. Common in modern playgrounds are play structures that link many different pieces of equipment.

Playgrounds often also have facilities for playing informal games of adult sports, such as a baseball diamond, a skating arena, a basketball court, or a tether ball.

Public playground equipment refers to equipment intended for use in the play areas of parks, schools, childcare facilities, institutions, multiple family dwellings, restaurants, resorts, and recreational developments, and other areas of public use.

In some parts of the United States, the term tot lot may be used.

A type of playground called a playscape is designed to provide a safe environment for play in a natural setting.

History

Van Saun Playground
The playground at Van Saun Park in Paramus, New Jersey.

Through history, children played in their villages and neighbourhoods, especially in the streets and lanes near their homes.

In the 19th century, developmental psychologists such as Friedrich Fröbel proposed playgrounds as a developmental aid, or to imbue children with a sense of fair play and good manners. In Germany, a few playgrounds were erected in connection to schools, and the first purpose-built public-access playground was opened in a park in Manchester, England in 1859.

However, it was only in the early 20th century, as the street lost its role as the default public space and became reserved for use by motor cars, that momentum built to remove children from the new dangers and confine them to segregated areas to play. In the United States, organisations such as the National Highway Protective Society highlighted the numbers killed by automobiles, and urged the creation of playgrounds, aiming to free streets for vehicles rather than children's play. The Outdoor Recreation League provided funds to erect playgrounds on parkland, especially following the 1901 publication of a report on numbers of children being run down by cars in New York City.

In tandem with the new concern about the danger of roads, educational theories of play, including by Herbert Spencer and John Dewey inspired the emergence of the reformist playground movement, which argued that playgrounds had educational value, improved attention in class, enhanced physical health, and reduced truancy. Interventionist programs such as by the child savers sought to move children into controlled areas to limit 'delinquency'. Meanwhile, at schools and settlement houses for poorer children with limited access to education, health services and daycare, playgrounds were included to support these institutions' goal of keeping children safe and out of trouble.

Local Council of Women, Halifax Plaque, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Plaque to mark the spot where the Playground movement began in Nova Scotia (1906), Local Council of Women of Halifax, Nova Scotia

One of the first playgrounds in the United States was built in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1887. In 1906 the Playground Association of America was founded and a year later Luther Gulick became president. It later became the National Recreation Association and then the National Recreation and Park Association. Urging the need for playgrounds, former President Theodore Roosevelt stated in 1907:

City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl, as most children can not afford to pay carfare.

In post war London the landscape architect and children's rights campaigner Lady Allen of Hurtwood introduced and popularised the concept of the ’junk playground’ - where the equipment was constructed from the recycled junk and rubble left over from the Blitz. She campaigned for facilities for children growing up in the new high-rise developments in Britain's cities and wrote a series of illustrated books on the subject of playgrounds, and at least one book on adventure playgrounds, spaces for free creativity by children, which helped the idea spread worldwide.

Playgrounds in the Soviet Union

Playgrounds were an integral part of urban culture in the USSR. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were playgrounds in almost every park in many Soviet cities. Playground apparatus was reasonably standard all over the country; most of them consisted of metallic bars with relatively few wooden parts, and were manufactured in state-owned factories. Some of the most common constructions were the carousel, sphere, seesaw, rocket, bridge, etc.

Design

Playground design is influenced by the intended purpose and audience. Separate play areas might be offered to accommodate very young children. Single, large, open parks tend to not to be used by older schoolgirls or less aggressive children, because there is little opportunity for them to escape more aggressive children. By contrast, a park that offers multiple play areas is used equally by boys and girls.

Effects on child development

Playground at Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Colorful sheltered playground at Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan

Professionals recognize that the social skills that children develop on the playground often become lifelong skill sets that are carried forward into their adulthood. Independent research concludes that playgrounds are among the most important environments for children outside the home. Most forms of play are essential for healthy development, but free, spontaneous play—the kind that occurs on playgrounds—is the most beneficial type of play.

Exciting, engaging and challenging playground equipment is important to keep children happy while still developing their learning abilities. These should be developed in order to suit different groups of children for different stages of learning, such as specialist playground equipment for nursery & pre-school children teaching them basic numeracy & vocabulary, to building a child's creativity and imagination with role play panels or puzzles.

There is a general consensus that physical activity reduces the risk of psychological problems in children and fosters their self-esteem. The American Chief Medical Officer's report (Department of Health, 2004), stated that a review of available research suggests that the health benefits of physical activity in children are predominantly seen in the amelioration of risk factors for disease, avoidance of weight gain, achieving a peak bone mass and mental well-being.

Evidence suggests that children who participate in physical activity improve their self-esteem. Ekeland, Heian and Hagan (2005) and Gruber found that exercise programmes had a significant positive effect on children's self-esteem.

Commentators argue that the quality of a child's exercise experience can affect their self-esteem. Ajzen TPB (1991) promotes the notion that children's self-esteem is enhanced through the encouragement of physical mastery and self-development. It can be seen that playgrounds provide an ideal opportunity for children to master physical skills, such as learning to swing, balance and climb. Personal development may be gained through the enhancement of skills, such as playing, communicating and cooperating with other children and adults in the playground.

It can also be seen that public and private playgrounds act as a preventative health measure amongst young people because they promote physical activity at a stage in children's lives when they are active and not yet at risk from opting out of physical activity.

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Seesaw with a crowd of children playing
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Rope bridge for improving balance

Children have devised many playground games and pastimes. But because playgrounds are usually subject to adult supervision and oversight, young children's street culture often struggles to fully thrive there. Research by Robin Moore concluded shown that playgrounds need to be balanced with marginal areas that (to adults) appear to be derelict or wasteground but to children they are area's that they can claim for themselves, ideally a wooded area or field.

Perivoj Zrinskih, Čakovec - tobogani na dječjem igralištu
Playground slides at Zrinski Park in Čakovec, Croatia

For many children, it is their favorite time of day when they get to be on the playground for free time or recess. It acts as a release for them from the pressures of learning during the day. They know that time on the playground is their own time.

A type of playground called a playscape can provide children with the necessary feeling of ownership that Moore describes above. Playscapes can also provide parents with the assurance of their child's safety and wellbeing, which may not be prevalent in an open field or wooded area.

Safety

Playground at Yonkers Ridge Hill January 2013
Playground in Yonkers, New York
Royal Oak, Monmouth - geograph.org.uk - 1586525
The Royal Oak, Monmouth playground

Safety, in the context of playgrounds, is generally understood as the prevention of injuries. Risk aversion and fear of lawsuits on the part of the adults who design playgrounds prioritizes injury prevention above other factors, such as cost or developmental benefit to the users. It is important that children gradually develop the skill of risk assessment, and a completely safe environment does not allow that.

Sometimes the safety of playgrounds is disputed in school or among regulators. Over at least the last twenty years, the kinds of equipment to be found in playgrounds has changed, often towards safer equipment built with plastic. For example, an older jungle gym might be constructed entirely from steel bars, while newer ones tend to have a minimal steel framework while providing a web of nylon ropes for children to climb on. Playgrounds with equipment that children may fall off often use rubber mulch on the ground to help cushion the impact.

Playgrounds are also made differently for different age groups. Often schools have a playground that is taller and more advanced for older schoolchildren and a lower playground with less risk of falling for younger children.

Safety discussions do not normally include an evaluation of the unintended consequences of injury prevention, such as older children who do not exercise at the playground because the playground is too boring.

Types

Fermilab Bubble Chamber and Park
The "proton playground" at Fermilab includes a Bubble Chamber model and encourages children to follow a path resembling protons in a collider.

Playgrounds can be

  • Built by collaborative support of corporate and community resources to achieve an immediate and visible "win" for their neighborhood.
  • Public, free of charge, like at most rural elementary schools
  • Connected to a business, for customers only, e.g., at McDonald's, IKEA, and Chuck E. Cheese's.
  • For-Profit business with an entrance fee, like those at the (now defunct) Discovery Zone, Zoom Zoom's Indoor Playground in Ancaster, Ontario, Jungle Jam Indoor Playground, and Kidtastic Indoor Playground.
  • Non-Profit organizations for edutainment as children's museums and science centers, some charge admission, some are free.

Inclusive playgrounds

Play Area at Suvarnabhumi Intl Airport, Bangkok
A play area, titled Wonder World, at the departure lounge of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok.
Wheelchair Playground Swing
Wheelchair Playground Swing

Universally designed playgrounds are created to be accessible to all children. There are three primary components to a higher level of inclusive play:

  • physical accessibility;
  • age and developmental appropriateness; and
  • sensory-stimulating activity.

Some children with disabilities or developmental differences do not interact with playgrounds in the same way as typical children. A playground designed without considering these children's needs may not be accessible or interesting to them.

Most efforts at inclusive playgrounds have been aimed at accommodating wheelchair users. For example, rubber paths and ramps replace sand pits and steps, some features are placed at ground level and wheelchair-enabled swings. Efforts to accommodate children on the autism spectrum, who may find playgrounds overstimulating or who may have difficulty interacting with other children, have been less common.

Natural playgrounds

"Natural playgrounds" are play environments that blend natural materials, features, and indigenous vegetation with creative landforms to create purposely complex interplays of natural, environmental objects in ways that challenge and fascinate children and teach them about the wonders and intricacies of the natural world while they play within it.

Play components may include earth shapes (sculptures), environmental art, indigenous vegetation (trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers, lichens, mosses), boulders or other rock structures, dirt and sand, natural fences (stone, willow, wooden), textured pathways, and natural water features.


Playground Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.