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Playground Equipment: Asking the Right Questions

What makes for an ideal school playground? Building a successful play area does not have to be intimidating. By answering the most common playground planning questions, you can avoid many of the pitfalls associated with design, installation, and maintenance issues.

Carefully considering and answering some important questions will help you make informed decisions about what's right for your play area. By making informed decisions, you will be creating a unique play environment that emphasizes both fun and safety for all children.

Needs Assessment
Look at the factors affecting the design of the new playground. Here are some questions to ask.

How big should the new play area be?
The size of any new play area is usually determined by balancing the available space, the number of children who will be using the equipment and the project budget.

To develop a well-planned play area, follow this simple guideline:

* The site should be large enough to accommodate both active and quiet play areas.
* The site should have enough activities to keep all children interested and involved.

What is the age distribution of the children using the playground?
Be sure the play area is designed for use by the proper age group. Both the CPSC and ASTM have established specific playground safety guidelines for children ages 2-5 and 5-12. CPSC/ASTM recommends that separate play areas be created for each age group with age-appropriate equipment for each.

What special needs or disabilities should be considered?
ADA guidelines mandate that portions of all new playgrounds be accessible to children with disabilities. Your playground consultant can assist you in meeting all requirements of the law as well as the spirit of equal play for all children.

Other questions include:

* How many children will be using the playground at any one time?
* What local codes or requirements must be considered?
* What existing equipment is to be retained?
* Has the equipment to be retained been audited to current standards and guidelines? If not, when will this be done?
* Will this equipment be updated and remain on the playground?
* What are the exact dimensions and shape of the play area?
* What underground utilities, pipelines, etc. must be considered?

Your budget should include several expense categories that need to be considered in the planning stages.

1. Play Equipment and Freight
Your playground equipment manufacturer can assist you with determining both equipment and freight costs to your site.

2. Site Preparation
This can vary greatly, depending upon the amount of grading, excavation, etc. that is necessary to prepare a level site for your play equipment. Your playground consultant or local contractor will be good source of advice.

3. Installation
Determine if you will do your own installation using the instructions provided by the manufacturer or have the system installed for you. Costs vary greatly by area, but are generally 25% to 45% of the cost of the play equipment.

4. Surfacing
Every playground must have a resilient surface for the safety of your children. These surfaces vary from inexpensive materials such as sand or wood mulch to more costly materials like recycled rubber padding. Certain portions of the play area must be accessible. Your playground consultant can guide you through the entire process and keep costs as reasonable as possible.

Types of Surfacing
Seventy percent of playground injuries result from falls off equipment onto unforgiving surfaces. How you handle surfacing is very important to your students’ safety and risk management efforts.

The surface under and around your playground equipment is critical to preventing the injury potential from a fall. Hard surfacing materials, such as concrete or asphalt are unsuitable for under and around play equipment. Grass or packed earth are also not recommended because they have poor shock-absorbing properties and injury may occur from a maximum fall height.

1. Loose-Fill Materials
Engineered Wood Fiber is a special type of ground wood fiber, often with a unique sub-base for drainage. Sold under brand names such as "Fiber" and "Wood Carpet," these products meet both safety guidelines (CPSC/ASTM) and ADA requirements for accessibility.

Sand, peagravel, and wood chips are cost-effective and traditional favorites that can be used under and around all of your playground equipment because of their acceptable shock-absorbing properties when installed and maintained at a sufficient depth.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has conducted tests on these materials to determine the relative shock absorbing properties. It is recommended that a loose-fill surfacing of 12 inches should be maintained for maximum Critical Height protection based upon ASTM and CPSC testing.

While these materials do comply with all impact-absorbing requirements when installed and maintained at proper depths, they do not meet the ADA guidelines for accessibility.

2. Unitary Materials
There are two types of unitary surfaces, usually manufactured from recycled rubber tires with a special binding material.

Rubber Tiles are manufactured by a variety of companies and come in several thicknesses for different fall heights. Advantages include: very long life span, virtually no maintenance, and variety of color choices. Disadvantages include: high initial cost and more complex installation.

Poured-in-Place is made of similar materials but is mixed in liquid form on location, poured into forms, and allowed to cure. Advantages include: the ability to create interesting forms, color combinations and designs. Disadvantages include: high initial cost of both the product and installation.

Building a playground is quite an undertaking. It requires an investment of considerable time, energy, and financial resources to do it right. But asking the right questions along the way will make the process easier.

This article is courtesy of Playworld Systems, www.playworldsystems.com.

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Playground Q&A

According to the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA), www.ipema.org, the following are the most frequently asked questions about playgrounds.

What are the key issues affecting the playground industry today?
The disappearance of playtime for kids is the most pressing issue affecting the industry today. It’s alarming because of the overwhelming amount of research pointing directly to outdoor free play as a necessary part of a child’s healthy physical and mental development. Also, industry attention is always focused on playground safety and innovation in age-appropriate equipment.

Why is play important to kids? Are there any studies about that?
Play is very important in a child’s development. In addition to the physical benefits of play, numerous studies have shown that kids learn and develop in other ways through play, including:

* Emotional, social and cognitive skills
* Motor development
* Negotiation and problem-solving skills
* Independent thinking
* A greater imagination
* Creativity
* Valuable knowledge about social norms, risk-taking, and group interactions

How do kids benefit from playground play vs. free play or structured activities?
There are many benefits to both free play and structured activities, and striking a balance is important. Free play encourages kids to use their brains in a different way, to think independently and to create their own fun and activities. This helps kids alleviate boredom and teaches them how to learn and have fun on their own and with others. Free play also encourages interaction with nature and the outside world.

What is the ideal playground environment?
The ideal playground is one that has children in mind from the start. It should:

* Encourage movement
* Include unique features that encourage both social and alone time for play
* Have soft, impact-absorbing surfacing
* Offer age-appropriate, accessible equipment to all children and be limited in height to reduce fall hazards
* Include elements of nature incorporated into the playground

 Product Roundup

EveryBODY Plays Program Guide from GameTime
GameTime believes that everyone has the right to play, regardless of age or ability, and that everyone should play together. That was the motivation behind the development of their 7 Principals of Inclusive Design, used as the framework for their EveryBODY Plays Program Guide. The EveryBODY Plays Program Guide was developed to serve as an educational resource for groups that are planning, revitalizing, and/or building playgrounds.

Grounds For Play’s Adventures in Growing
Perfect for the “under two” crowd, the varied physical activities of the Adventures in Growing series develop a wide range of physical skills and stimulate active play. The high sidewalls and narrow slide bed allow even the youngest users to safely enjoy sliding. With multiple 2-sided, 3-sided, or 4-sided combinations available, the Adventure Tower, Adventure Challenge, Alpine Adventure, and slide fit the needs of your crawlers, climbers, steppers, and sliders. You can link multiple units together for more complex play.

Play It Safe Enterprises
Play It Safe Enterprises represents many fine product lines in the park and recreation industry. They offer complete site planning, play system design and sales, installation of equipment, and all the services required to complete an exciting and safe environment. Their collective years of experience in the park and recreation industry along with their design abilities and certified install crews enable them to provide the necessary ingredients to create a successful project. Play It Safe has many representatives throughout Florida and Georgia.

Kidstuff Playsystems
Kidstuff Playsystems has been providing top-quality playground equipment since it was started in 1982. Their IPEMA certification assures that the equipment will stand up to enormous use and abuse. It also means that the equipment meets all the latest safety standards. Their ISO certification assures that the equipment is built to a set of highly exacting quality standards. Kidstuff will install what they make and do the safety surfacing as well, taking the pain out of playground purchasing. 

Intensity from BCI Burke
BCI Burke’s Intensity was developed to counteract the detrimental effects of inactivity targeted specifically for the 5 to 12-plus age group. Rather than traditional slides, decks and climbers, Intensity components are more fitness-oriented and challenging to include grids of rope to work muscles whether climbing up or down, spinners that promote flexibility and core torso strengthening, discs that call for balance and agility or a glider that promotes coordination. 

Play & Park Structures Music Makers
Play & Park Structures Music Makers encourages socialization and imagination as children work together to play their favorite tune. Each order of Music Makers components comes with standards-based music activity cards to be used outdoors on the playground. Each activity teaches children about a different aspect of music, including tone, rhythm, and much more. Physical activity is incorporated into each card with ideas to encourage creative movement.

SofTILE from Sof Surfaces
SofTILE has been developed, engineered, and thoroughly tested to offer superior fall protection for any play environment. SofTILE features a unique 10-year fall protection guarantee. Their patented KrosLOCK edge is an exclusive SofTILE design feature. Each safety tile has a built-in locking mechanism that attaches to the adjacent tile, providing a unitary surface that is secure and vandal resistant. Contact them for a free interactive guide to safety surfacing available on CD.

Playland International is a leading manufacturer of commercial playground equipment. As part of Superior International, the company offers Playland commercial playgrounds, Superior Shade structures, SII Steel Structures, Play On Surfacing, Webcoat Site Amenities, and Childworks products. The company has become the one-stop shop for all of your playground needs.

Recreation Creations
Recreation Creations’ equipment is durable, safe, environmentally friendly, and addresses the physical activity necessary for children to maintain good health, weight, and fitness. RCI offers a colorful bonanza of age and ability appropriate play structures. Choose from panels, slides, conventional climbers, rock climbers, net climbers, decks, entries, overheads, and roofs. Post-consumer recycled material is used in producing RCI’s environmentally friendly playground equipment. 

International Play Company
International Play Company (IPC) was proud to introduce its line of Outdoor Products used in schools in the spring of 2005. IPC researched the outdoor market exhaustively prior to introducing its new “heavy duty” line of outdoor play structures. IPC reviewed countless designs and numerous installations before deciding on a product line that is challenging, safe, and built to last. IPC’s Outdoor Products include heavily reinforced decks. The product line also includes redesigned heavy duty clamping systems, oversized uprights, and engineered metal structural elements. 

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