A trip to the playground should be every family’s favourite outing. The time spent in front of a screen is ever increasing, for both adults and children, and obesity is a real threat to too many lives – the playground should be the perfect antidote but too many of them are poorly planned.
The following is a list of everything I want in a playground.
I don’t care what else you’ve got, if you don’t have shade it’s not worth going. I took the kids to a playground this morning and half of the equipment couldn’t be used, it was just too hot. These hard plastic or metal slides become like hot plates in the Australian sun – Peter Combe used to sing a silly song about frying an egg on a slippery dip, I reckon you could actually do it at some of the parks I’ve been to lately. It’s all well and good to have fancy climbing frames and spinning things but you need to be able to use them. I shouldn’t have to plan these sorts of outings for before 9 am or after 6 pm – they should be accessible at all times of day.
A set of swings and a climbing frame that leads to a slide is not a playground; some people have that sort of set up in their back yards. I work with teenagers and a number of them have siblings that are toddlers or young children – if a playground is meant to be a place you take your family then it needs to cater for this differentiation. The best playgrounds I’ve been to recently had small slides and large slides, more than one set of swings and a diverse range of equipment. Where possible, you also don’t want this to be spread over a large area as parents will then struggle to supervise their children. Ideally, you’d have a space for onlookers in the middle of the play area.
3. Appeal to the adults
Aside from getting out of the house and giving the kids a place to play (where we don’t spend more time packing up their toys than they spent playing with them) there is no real incentive for an adult to go to a playground. What do I want? Something to occupy my time and the facilities to set up camp for a reasonable time. Give me some exercise equipment and/or a basketball ring and I’m pretty content but at some point someone is going to get hungry or need to go to the toilet. Most parks have tables and benches nowadays and many of these have bbq facilities but very few have toilets. This is like serving food without cutlery – you make people want something but don’t give them the tools to use it effectively. I get that city planners were initially reluctant to put these facilities in because they were worried about people using them to sell or take drugs (or at least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe) but modern toilets have uv lights and timed doors and whatnot.
4. A theme
This isn’t essential to a good playground but it certainly makes them memorable. Today’s park was musical with small drum sets and a big cymbal (inside a weird frog like thing); the one we went to the other day was like a farm with ride on animals, wooden fences in a maze-like formation and two climbing frame/slide combinations in the shape of a pig for smaller children and a windmill for the bigger kids.
One thing I have noticed is that themed playgrounds tend to have more activities between the big-ticket items. This helps to keep queues down as the kids become occupied on their way from the flying fox to the swings. More parks should take this on board, use your space creatively – this can be done with balancing beams and stepping stones but it could also be just as easily done colours and shapes on the ground. The highlight of today’s playground were mini trampolines built in to the flooring.
There you have it, a simple list of things I would like to see in our community play areas. A total of five items – not too much to ask for, I didn’t even mention my desire for a coffee van.
Now, if only the local council saw this before they signed off on their next playground proposal…