Balancing Safety and Challenge in Playground Design

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Playgrounds are a place where children can learn and grow through exploration and social interaction. However, that development can’t take place without age and developmentally appropriate challenges. Playgrounds should ideally offer age appropriate challenges and a safe environment all in one. Unfortunately, this balance doesn’t always occur. Parental concern along with standards that have decreased design freedom are contributors to the lack of challenging opportunities in today’s play equipment. The balance between challenge and safety is important to childhood development, and society can reconcile the obstacles to create that healthy median.

When play equipment becomes increasingly “safe,” it may also appear to be generic. Kids are less likely to play on a jungle gym that does not present some new challenge or opportunity.

Age and developmentally appropriate challenge is healthy, but caution may be preventing kids from experiencing it. Well-designed playgrounds keep kids away from hazards while encouraging them to test their limits and learn to overcome challenges. Unfortunately, these positive results of experiencing challenging play may be in jeopardy because of a general mindset that puts excessive safety priorities above those of learning. Safety concerns are certainly relevant—proponents of challenge-supporting playgrounds are more than aware of that. Parents and lawmakers alike want to protect children as best as possible. However, sweeping regulations may not be the most beneficial way to do that.

 
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Parents generally fear outside influences most, which include factors such as equipment safety and the intentions of others. Compliance with playground industry safety standards help ease the minds of parents by addressing hazards. New designs make the balance between challenge and safety a possibility. For example, Landscape Structures designs and manufactures net-based climbers, boulder-climbing courses and zip line-type play components. Each piece of equipment offers kids a chance to challenge themselves physically and cognitively by creating an experience completely different from those offered by typical playstructures. Children must navigate sturdy nets, scale rock-style facades and race down a line placed at a safe height. Designs such as these can provide age and developmentally appropriate challenge while removing hazards, which should please both parents and regulators.

Playstructures are key components of childhood development as they provide kids with the opportunity to establish physical, psychological, emotional and social skills.

Playground manufacturers can offer age and developmentally appropriate challenge and create a safe environment by designing intelligent equipment. Playstructures are key components of childhood development as they provide kids with the opportunity to establish physical, psychological, emotional and social skills. While regulators and parents both want to protect children, they may be over compensating by creating safety standards that take away those playground benefits. Implementing designs that support the needs of both kids and parents may be more functional and beneficial than creating sweeping regulations. Age and developmentally appropriate challenge and playground safety can be reconciled, providing kids with the experiences they need to grow into well-balanced adults.

 
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Visit our portfolio page to see examples of how we’ve brought safe, challenging play throughout Wisconsin.

For more information on this topic, visit Landscape Structures to see the complete whitepapers and find details on research studies related to play.