13 September 2011

Natural play equipment remains popular

Natural play equipment fuels children's imaginations

When the government launched the Playbuilder/Pathfinder scheme three years ago, the introduction of Play England’s ten design principles for play saw the emergence of a new trend for playgrounds across the country – natural play equipment.

After years of installations of large steel structures, increasingly abstract playground equipment and the developing trend of electronic outdoor play, communities and local authorities across the UK began to move away from these trends to appreciate the aesthetics of natural play. Blending seamlessly into the natural environment, and encouraging children to use their imaginations; a whole new genre of play equipment was born.

Logs and boulders became makeshift seats and clambering obstacles, while climbing frames took on a new, more natural appearance. The development of the Jungle Climbers range identified a huge gap in the market for attractive, abstract climbing structures that encouraged children to develop long-forgotten adventurous skills such as climbing trees. 

Natural play equipment remains popular today, and also works well alongside some traditional items of playground equipment too. For example, stainless steel slides can sit on top of natural embankments to create a new dimension in the playground, while natural-looking mounds can also be created, with tunnels stretching through them, to create a fun ‘underground’ appearance that children love.

Other dynamic items that sit well within a natural environment include the much loved aerial runway and timber adventure trail equipment such as canyon bridges and webnets. For inspiration, you can view a gallery of sites influenced by natural play equipment, and start planning your new play area.

9 September 2011

Risk-taking in the playground

Thank heavens for the prevalence of common sense, at last! Coverage in several newspapers this week tells of playgrounds being encouraged to ‘revive potential dangers’. 

Monkey bars encourage challenges
In plain terms, this simply means a return to traditional playground equipment, such as climbing frames, monkey bars and sand and water play, that our compensation culture has previously deemed undesirable to leisure operators and local authorities alike.

With the risk of litigation too great, play providers have gradually opted for low-risk equipment that offers children little opportunity for adventure, or to calculate risk or overcome fears. Our children have been wrapped in the proverbial ‘cotton wool’ and kept close at hand, probably encouraged to seek entertainment and risk within the constraints of their four walls, on a games console or similar.

The Sunday Times quoted Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway, on the perceived benefits of overcoming fears about risk in the playground. Writing in the scientific journal Evolutionary Psychology, she said: “Children must encounter risks and overcome playground fears – monkey bars and tall slides are great. They approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, let them encounter these challenges from an early age and they will master them through play over the years.”

Of course, rigorous safety requirements demand that all playground equipment is safe anyway – the risk offered by any respected supplier’s equipment will only be within the boundaries of the appropriate safety assessor’s recommendations, and all playgrounds should be subject to regular maintenance checks to ensure their continued safety too - but a little adventure never hurt anyone…