Co-authors: Sissy (age 10), Otter (age 8)
Additional contributors: Tango (age 6), Lil’ Mo (age 4)
We are kids bike touring across the country and we like playgrounds. Playgrounds are important because they help people get exercise, fresh air, build relationships with their community, stimulate imagination, and have fun. So far, we have been able to visit a lot of playgrounds and from those experiences we have opinions about what playgrounds should and shouldn’t have.
Playgrounds by definition have play equipment, but not all equipment is equal in our opinions. When we want to play fort or ship we generally use the springy animals and vehicles as our transportation devices and pets, and use the appropriate multi-layer structures as our buildings or vessels. Some of us like to play builder and use the diggers that dig deep in the sandbox. Our sister, Lil’ Mo, is quite a singer and musician. She loves to play instruments such as the bells, chimes, and drums and sing along with them. Climbing structures such as rock walls, rope spider webs, as well as metal bars are great for strengthening your muscles as well as your brain. Some of us get really excited for ziplines, merry-go-rounds, tire swings, and the walking barrels. We all either like feeling speedy or the daring feeling of taking risks. Tango and Lil’ Mo use the bouncy bridges as trampolines when they play games that include jumping. We all think it is important to have canopies or trees shading the structure to prevent people from getting sunburns.
If you want kids to play on the playground it has to be durable and get good maintenance. Poor maintenance or durability can make a playground somewhat unsafe. If you don’t take care of the equipment it increases the risk of a piece of play equipment breaking out from under somebody and the person getting hurt. We’ve discovered that the cheap brands of swings have more risk of the swings breaking and squeaking than the nicer brands of swings that can hold more weight and squeak less.
It also is very, very important that the playground has equipment for a wide range of ages so everyone can enjoy it. Things such as monkey bars, hanging bars, ladders, and swings should come in different sizes so all ages can access the equipment.
Another way to make your playground friendly to all ages is to add space and landscaping. A small park or playground is better than no playground, but if you really want to draw kids in a big open space is the right way to go. Big open space offers the ability to play games such as: soccer, tag, frisbee, nerf guns, dandelion picking, or simply running in circles. Landscaping can also help enable unstructured play. We find bushes, shrubs, and other foliage as great hiding places for hide-and-go-seek or for pretending we’re a hidden army in a mysterious shrub-like fort. Giant logs and boulders are great for playing boat or attempting flight. Trees are really good for climbing, getting shade, and collecting fruit for a snack. Sidewalks help enable kids to get to and from parks safely and gives them a chance to practice biking, scooting, roller skating, and more in a safe place off the road.
While playgrounds are for playing at, sometimes we have needs that amenities make a lot easier. For example, say you had a dog and it wanted water. Amenities such as water fountains and spigots help you get your dog water. Say you needed to go to the bathroom or your little brother or sister had to go. It’s a lot easier to go to a bathroom at the park you’re at than to walk all the way back to your house. If you were at a park to have a picnic and it started raining, it’s nice to have a sheltered area so you can continue your picnic. Trash and recycling can make it so you don’t have to bring trash and recyclables home with you, and it helps discourage littering. Since we are bike touring across the country, we find bike racks quite useful for locking up our bikes. Splash pads are great for hot days. They’re a really great addition if you have the money for it.
While playgrounds can have lots of good things, sometimes unnecessary features can get put in. We find that the spinny monkey bars and tic-tac-toe games get stiff and wobbly as they age and often don’t get used. The flat, metal slides don’t let you go very fast and get really hot in the sun, so they don’t get played on a whole lot. We don’t find a lot of fun in the low teeter-totters because we like to go high up in the air, not just 1 ¾ feet. Neglected landscaping also takes away fun from playgrounds. Intruding weeds and grass not only raises the risk of getting tick, mosquito, and other bug bites, but it also takes playing space away from playgrounds, which encourages more kids to play video games and do other activities that include screens, and discourages them from getting outside in nature and going to playgrounds and parks.
In the last four months, we have been to a lot of playgrounds in seven different states (Washington, Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) and our experiences have opened our eyes to good things playgrounds can have and unnecessary features playgrounds can have. We think that to have a good playground that draws kids in you should have: good equipment for all ages, maintain it, space, landscaping and other natural features, and amenities that include plumbing, sanitation, and drinking water.