I’m always surprised, when talking to recreation managers and buyers about surfacing, to hear them say, “it’s expensive, and doesn't really add any play or fun to the site, but it’s something we have to do.” There’s good news; surfacing can actually be very playful, and new technology and formulations are adding to that ability.
The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is committed to getting as many students as possible on fun, safe playgrounds. Every year, we partner with Discovery Education to sponsor the Healthy Playground Makeover Sweepstakes, a contest where schools nationwide can compete for a brand new playground from Playworld Systems, Inc.
Throughout my childhood we played pretty much everywhere including the streets. Much of our play was kid-generated games and “projects.” During my daughter’s childhood, play happened in vacant lots, creek beds, and backyards. Now my grandchildren play on “safe” playgrounds, and the older kids opt for skateboarding and dirt bikes. So it doesn’t surprise me to see that the use of playgrounds today is predominately by parents with young children. Most playgrounds are designed for older children but the older kids find them boring. Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to entice older children back to the playgrounds?
You cannot even begin to design an inclusive playground if you have not dealt with that most basic concept of ensuring that everyone can access your space. The number one barrier to a playground is surfacing. When I was traveling this summer, I saw many instances of non-maintained surfacing that impacted not only the accessibility of the playground, but also the safety.
As we discussed in our last column, Laura Richardson’s insightful The Periodic Table of 21st Century Play poster can a powerful tool in the hands of designers and communities when they seek to create truly human and engaging places that support play. As an illustration of how this can work, I will use Laura’s 11 categories, which she refers to as the super powers of play, and create a virtual playground.
“Imagine if you could create a world for your children, one that they would never forget...a magical tree house land filled with action, excitement and squeals of delight, a tree house, fueled by make-believe and the imagination of the young or a tree house inviting journeys to far-off lands, yet still safe to explore...Imagine that your children they could run through the air and soar like an eagle and cross deep ravines and scale mountainous heights. Scramble over unchartered terrain and swing through the trees...and they could do all of this, without ever leaving their own back garden.”
As part of my Midwestern summer road trip, I stopped at Noah’s Playground for Everyone in Evanston, IL. Evanston is the home of Northwestern University and is just north of Chicago. The origins of this playground are similar to many inclusive playgrounds; it was built in memory of a young boy.