Playgrounds are open all year long, so when is it safe to play on them and when isn’t it? Logically, playing outside in the summer seems normal, either in the street or on a playground. But, as hot playground equipment can cause injuries, many playgrounds have been replacing their older metal equipment with newer plastic designs. Unfortunately, in a recent severe playground injury in Loveland, CO, plastic equipment, and even rubber tires under the equipment, can heat up in the summer, even before noon. In the article mentioned, a toddler was playing on equipment and, when she kneeled down on a playground platform, she received third degree burns.
Also mentioned in the article was that, after this incident, playground equipment was tested in various areas, as well as the material beneath, for the temperature. Even before noon, plastic playground equipment can heat up to 100 degrees and, much like touching a hot oven, can cause burns within seconds. However, what appeared to be more startling was that the ground tire material cushioning the equipment in case of falls could heat up to 150 degrees. In that case, the protective material is no longer protective.
Children should be playing outside and, if you and your child want to go to the playground, the equipment should be checked first. Although the highest equipment could heat up to is in the afternoon, check it, especially if the playground equipment is fully in the sun. If certain pieces of equipment feel too hot for adult hands, they’re definitely too hot for children. If all equipment feels hot, look for play pieces that definitely won’t overheat, such as a sandbox or equipment made from wood. Also, make note of which playgrounds in your area have more shade than others. Although finding a shaded playground in a suburb can be difficult, some are available and, if you’re located in a city, playgrounds with shade should be more available.
A typical swing set often has a swing belt type of swing, which is a swing with a soft plastic seat that bends according to whoever sits in it. This swing is then connected to the main bar of the swing set with two chains. But, especially if you’re creating a swing set with older and younger children in mind, some swings are better than others for certain children. Makers of swings and swing sets have several different types of swings available. The key to choosing which swing sets are best is often going by the set up instructions and ANSI guide, as some swings need more space than others. In addition public playgrounds have various types of swings available and choosing the right one for your child can mean whether or not he or she will stay in the seat and not fall off.
Aside from a swing belt is a board swing. This type of swing has the same style, only the part where the user sits is solid plastic. Although this type of swing isn’t as common on playgrounds, many older plastic swing sets have one of these swings. Both of these swing types are for older children and additional swing suitable for older children include disc swings. Disc swings have a rope tied to the main bar of the swing set and a disc at the bottom. The user can sit on this disc and move in a range of 360 degrees. If you would like a disc swing as part of your swing set, it should be set apart from other swings, as the user could crash into the standard swings while using a disc swing. For an additional feature, some disc swings come with a spring on top for a combined swinging and spring effect.
Swings for toddlers and babies can be attached to a standard size swing set, although they can be attached to a smaller plastic swing set, as well. Toddler swings at home and on the playground are usually bucket swings, and a parent will need to lift a child up into these swings. This design, with a bucket-shaped seat and holes for the child’s legs, keeps a child in the swing. Another option is a half bucket swing, in which the seat is shaped like half of a bucket and the front has a guard that a parent will need to attach to keep a child in the seat. A baby seat, in addition, has a similar design to a half-bucket seat, only its small enough for a baby and plastic.
Playhouses are often part of many playgrounds, from home playgrounds in the backyard to public playgrounds. Traditionally, when one thinks about playground equipment, a “playhouse” is usually a house-like structure. For many playhouses in the past, this included being a plastic playhouse that looked like a house on the inside and had open space inside, as well as a door and windows. Modern playhouses, much like other pieces of playground equipment, are often structures that rely on a central platform above the ground – these are usually accompanied by a roof above – and have other pieces of equipment coming off the platform, including bridges, climbing equipment, and slides.
Stores for playground equipment offer playhouses in both of these types. For the traditional, on-the-ground playhouse, options include plastic playhouses and wooden playhouses. These two styles are shaped like small houses, with a basic home shape with space inside and windows and doors on the outside. Some of the more high-end models, particularly the wood playhouses, may have a porch attached in front. But, if a child wants to play house and use an interactive and creative toy, a wood or plastic traditional playhouse is one such toy that, for someone small, looks like a real house and can be filled with similar small home objects.
Another newer playhouse is the play center or play gym type of playhouse. This type of playground equipment resembles a house in appearance, as its centerpiece is typically a platform with railings and a roof on top. But, instead of looking like a small house, this playhouse is much like a smaller tree house that is closer to the ground. Coming off of the center platform are other pieces of playground equipment like slides and bridges and, in some cases, these other pieces of equipment connect two or more platforms together.
The most common reason for replacing playground equipment is that’s no longer safe to play on. Safety rules have changed over time, especially since the 1950’s and ‘60s when many metal playgrounds were set up. Now, as playgrounds become filled with plastic, wooden, or plastic-coated metal equipment that is no more than six feet above the ground, older playgrounds in public parks and schools are being replaced. But, what if the playground equipment in a school playground has arsenic-treated wood below it? In the case of a playground in Livonia, MI, older playground equipment was removed due to wear and tear and also due to location of a large play set near arsenic contaminated wood.
In the case of the article, the first set of playground equipment removed had been deemed unsafe but won’t be replaced, as the playground already has existing safe equipment. When equipment like this gets replaced, it’s often because the equipment no longer lives up to certain safety codes. This can be that the equipment is too far off the ground or that it has a metal surface that is rusted or with chipping paint.
The other issue in this article addressed is the location of a play set in another school in Livonia. In this case, the play set is located above arsenic-wood chips that were below the surface of the equipment. Regardless, playground equipment shouldn’t be placed near any toxic chemicals and removing the equipment is necessary for a safe play space. If chemical emitted from ground tires cushioning a play area are put into question, then levels of arsenic, or any other toxic chemical, should also be in question, as a play area should be safe, with safe equipment and a clean atmosphere, and toxic chemical free.
Sometimes cleaning up a park isn’t all about installing new playground equipment. In the case of Kansas City, the city started making an effort six years ago to clean up their parks and playgrounds and, now, the work looks like it’s paying off for the city’s parks. Problems before appeared to be broken glass, closed bathrooms, unsafe equipment, and broken water fountains, and now, many of those problems have been fixed. The parks now appear to have the broken glass and most of the graffiti removed, the grass mowed, and new trees planted. As far as playgrounds are concerned, the city installed new equipment, as well as new tennis courts through SHAPE, or Safe, Healthy, and Attractive Public Environments, the city’s program for cleaning up and maintaining public parks.
Every neighborhood deserves to have a clean and safe park, so how do parks, and playgrounds for that matter, start to fall into disrepair? In the case of the parks mentioned in the article, it’s a combination of disrespect toward the park – graffiti on walls and leaving broken bottles around, for example – that seem to build up over time. When the park starts having a dilapidated appearance and lowlifes start hanging around the area, the park becomes a place to avoid.
Parks, like all places, need constant maintenance. If you stopped cleaning your home, would you want to live there after a while? A park has much of the same concept only, if residents aren’t cleaning up the area, a parks and recreation organization through a town or city should be doing some maintenance. Whether picking up new trash or installing safety-compliant playground equipment is needed, a park needs to be clean and in solid shape for neighborhood residents to want to use it.
As with seen in the previous post, many parks across the country are changing their appearance, and much of that includes changing or adding new playground equipment. As all-metal playground equipment becomes a thing of the past due to its lack of safety (rust, sharp edges, overheating and causing burns), parks are raising money to overhaul the appearance of their playground. In Ohio, park Village South in Hudson prepares for new playground equipment. Although, according to this article, playground pieces aren’t specified yet, the playground will be including a swing set.
The aim, as it seems by this article, is to make the park have activities for all ages, including things for children, teens, and adults, and to also include green space to be used by everyone. So far, the space that is now Village South has a corner of 120 feet by 120 feet squared off for a playground in the northwest portion of the park. As a community playground for Hudson, the space will include swing sets, as well as other pieces of safety-compliant equipment.
Providing outdoor activities for all appears to be the goal of a revitalized Village South and, for teenagers, the park will be introducing the first basketball courts outside of a school setting. More specifically, Village South, after completion, will have two basketball courts, a tether ball area, and swing sets. So far, the only basketball courts in Hudson, OH are located in schools.
So far, although the park has been planned out, the city of Hudson has gotten a $10,000 grant for the park. However, the city needs to raise $150,000 more for the park to be completed. But, if the community realizes how important having a clean park is, with safe playground equipment for children to use, the money should be able to be raised and make the new Village South a reality.
Many public parks with playgrounds are replacing their old equipment with newer, safer pieces. Parks that have been replacing equipment are often doing away with older metal equipment, which was standard until about 15 years ago, and replacing it with plastic or metal coated in plastic equipment. In the article about playground equipment in Alton, IL, the old playground gets replaced with newer equipment, including swing sets and a large jungle gym-like piece that has been the staple of many playgrounds over the past fifteen years. For specifics, the large set of connected playground equipment is 40 feet nine inches by 53.5 feet. A swing set is an additional piece of equipment not attached to this larger jungle gym. According to the article, all pieces are by brand Game Time and the new equipment meet requirements by the ADA.
The equipment, as with any public playground, needs to be supported by wood chips, as dirt or any hard surface isn’t sufficient enough in case of falls from the equipment. Wood chips, as is standard for all public playgrounds now, were put down under the new equipment, at a depth of twelve inches. The wood chips, in addition, were treated to be fire retardant and insect repellant.
As stated in the article, the park did $90,000 worth of changes, and that includes new playground equipment and fixing up places or activities geared toward adults. Olin Park in Alton, like many newer parks after many changes, has areas for adults, as well. While older metal equipment needs to get replaced with safety-compliant, non-metal equipment, areas for adults, including walking paths, need to be cleaned up, as well. In the case of this park, an asphalt walking path was put down with lights to illuminate it at night and, for families, picnic shelters with grills.
Both metal and wood swing set designs are popular for home play areas. When designing a play area, especially one for children above five years of age, one option for having a varied play area, but fewer pieces of separate equipment, is to have a play apparatus. These are more common on public playgrounds, with various pieces connected together – including slides, bridges, swings, climbing equipment, and platforms of varying heights – to form on large jungle gym allowing children to move between types of equipment. This type of play apparatus can be purchased through a retailer like Swing Sets Depot and set up at home.
While a full size play apparatus like the ones seen in public playgrounds isn’t feasible for a backyard (you’ll need six feet between the equipment and all other objects like trees, fences, or walls), swing sets retailers carry similar set ups on a smaller scale and, in some cases, seem to rise up instead of expand out while staying within safety codes. All of these play sets, however, start with a basic wood swing set that consists of a wood frame with two swings attached. As the wood pieces are thicker and sturdier than metal bars, other pieces of equipment can attach to them easily and stay in place without slipping.
What can you add to your wooden swing set? While some wood swing sets already come with other pieces of equipment ready to be installed, others can be added over time to a standard wooden swing set. Some options include:
• Platforms or play houses. The playhouses are essentially platforms with a roof over them. Platforms allow children to climb up to various heights, but, when installing a platform to a wooden swing set, make sure it is no more than eight feet above the ground and has a guardrail to prevent falls. More than one platform can be used and they can be set at various heights within eight feet.
• Slides. These come in straight, wavy, and corkscrew shapes and are plastic. Many of these can attach to a platform or they can have their own ladder.
• Climbers. Climbers can be miniature rock climbing walls, rope rungs, or ladders made of plastic or wood. These can lead up to a platform in a play set.
Although as long as the piece of equipment falls within safety standards the possibilities are limitless, these are the most common pieces of equipment to attach to a wooden swing set to create a unique outdoor play area.
Some accidents can’t be avoided and, in the case of a Utah toddler shocked on a swing set, this playground accident wasn’t a typical accident. When you hear about playground accidents, most of the time, children fall off the playground equipment or the equipment itself isn’t safe – too hot, too many sharp edges – and a child gets hurt while playing. Other times, children may roughhouse on a piece of equipment causing injury. In the case of this freak accident involving a toddler and a swing set, the accident probably happened so quickly that it couldn’t be avoided. After all, the swing set, at least mentioned by this article, was not in poor condition.
In terms of playground safety, few safety guidelines, including ASTM, have standards regarding swing sets and their relationship to power lines. Safety standards talk about surface materials, spacing equipment away from each other, and making sure the area is clear of trip hazards and trees. Power lines can run by homes, or even close to public playgrounds, but it’s seldom that a power line falls down without a storm causing branches or full trees to fall down.
In the case of this incident, the toddler mentioned was in a swing set and wind blew a tree branch into power lines above. The power lines broke, fell on the swing set, and shocked the child with thousands of volts while the child was on the swing set. The current went from his shoulder, through his body, and out his feet. In examining this type of situation, the child was, in essence, in a death trap. Had the electrical current taken a different path, then the child might have been executed. However, one aspect that could have prevented this from happening is if a parent were watching. Playground safety asks that parents be watching their children at all times, especially children younger than five, in case of injuries.
Both older and younger children play on playground equipment but, as children of different ages come in different sizes, the types of playground equipment for children under five years differ from equipment geared toward children between five and 12 years of age. Although the playground equipment is similar in design, the equipment geared toward younger children is smaller and no spinning pieces of playground equipment are included for younger children. Most playgrounds have areas dedicated toward children under five years, and these areas are separate from swings and larger pieces of playground equipment.
Still, if you’re having a difficult time deciding what equipment your young child should be playing on, the best way to determine is measuring the equipment to see if it’s under four feet tall. Equipment with a platform that goes higher than four feet above the ground is designed for older children. If playground equipment has climbing features, equipment for younger children should allow a child to climb no higher than five to seven feet above the ground. Playgrounds may have merry-go-rounds and swing sets, but merry-go-rounds, and any other spinning or raising equipment like a seesaw, is designed for children eight years or older. Younger children may lose their balance on a merry-go-round or seesaw. Swing sets, in addition, while separate from equipment for children under five years, may have baby swings or swings with a strap to keep a younger child inside while being pushed.
The same types of rules apply for both home and public playgrounds. If you’re designing a home play area in your back or front yard for children under five, home playground for this age group includes a mix of plastic and wood equipment. Common pieces of equipment for younger children at home include plastic swing sets and various plastic play apparatus. For the latter, these jungle gyms or play apparatus have a combination of platforms, slides, activity panels, climbers, tunnels, and swings attached together.