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When the Playgrounds Closed

My Playground Journey

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 4:16am
Last updated
1 month ago
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In every episode of the Bachelor or American Idol, the contestants frequently discuss their journey. Since I have not found any everlasting love and I am not a singer, I thought I would share with you my journey with playgrounds.  

When I was in grade school, my school did not have a playground and the class played tag, kickball, or jump rope during lunchtime on a level blacktop play area.  Now, every time I go to Mass on Sunday, I park in the same lot.  I see the colorful playground that stands there now and admire the poured rubber surfacing beneath to protect the children.

At Springfield College, I majored in outdoor recreation and learned the importance of play and parks.  My college roommate also studied recreation, and her recreation class volunteered to build a castle-like wooden playground at a nearby elementary school.

After graduation, I worked at an insurance company, as a safety professional for public schools and municipalities.  I began evaluating playgrounds and my friends labeled me the “Queen of the Playground”. 

When I was on a playground, I was responsible for pointing out the problems, explaining the safety hazards involved, and submitting recommendations in writing to each insured. My visits led to the removal of many of these previously mentioned monstrous wood playground structures which resembled the ones my former roommate had constructed.  

There were many changes related to playgrounds and safety, such as:

  • Playground design was updated to be more open, providing better sightlines and allowing for improved supervision, 
  • Plastic and metal playgrounds became more popular than wooden ones,
  • Homemade playgrounds were removed, and;
  • More surfacing was installed beneath the playgrounds to protect the users.

I attended many 3-day workshops to be a Certified Playground Safety Inspector.  This CPSI certification is obtained through the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).  Every three years, I repeat the class to learn what is new in the field. I always bring along index cards to help me to pass the exam again.

Currently, I am employed at a firm that inspects and repairs playgrounds. Now, not only do I understand what is hazardous about playgrounds, but now I also am educated about how to repair the broken parts and what it should cost.  

I have also written many articles about playgrounds and related themes: vandalism, signage, bullying, and other topics.  Sometimes I train staff who supervise or maintain the playgrounds.

Unfortunately, today we are all in quarantine and all of our journeys are on hold.  No professional education or reading material could have prepared us for this stressful time or predicted this unforeseen lockdown.  

It is a sad time where children cannot play with their friends, step onto any playgrounds, or even leave their homes. This is an unprecedented event.  

No longer do I worry about kids falling off a playground or being injured while playing, instead I worry about the children going back out into a topsy-turvy world. I am afraid that in this historic time there will be no amount of playground surfacing deep or resilient enough to protect them.

Joann Robertson CPSI CSP ARM CPCU works at Playground Medic of Hawthorne, NY as a certified playground inspector and certified safety professional.  She represents the playground inspection and repair firm...