Tim Gill, of the popular blog “Rethinking Childhood,” tackles the controversial topic of playground structures. Gill asks his readers to rethink their preconceived notions of playground safety. All risks can never be fully eliminated from a playground, he reasons. Children need to face challenges on the playground, so that they can deal with them in real life.
Gill shows 5 unique and challenging playground structures from around the world:
The Danish landscape architect, Helle Nebelong, takes a naturalistic, sophisticated approach to playground design. Nebelong believes that challenging, unorthodox structures can be safer than standardized playgrounds.
“Standardization is dangerous,” he says, “because play becomes simplified and the child does not have to worry about his movements. This lesson cannot be carried over to all the knobbly and asymmetrical forms, with which one is confronted throughout life.”
Located near Rockefeller Park, Teardrop Park was designed in collaboration with play experts from the Natural Learning Initiative. Elements are integrated into the landscape to allow city children to interact with natural materials such as water, plants, rock, and sand.
Gill notes the hazardous boulders, and uneven landing space in this playground.
At first, this playground looks dangerous with the lack of fencing, and steep slope into a deep lake. However, this playground mirrors Dutch topography, like dykes, ditches, and gardens dropping off into water, which children have to face daily.
On a trip to the Netherlands, Gill asked some parents whether they thought it was safe to have unprotected water at the bottom of their garden. “When our children cannot swim well, we always keep an eye on them,” they answered. “Once they learn, we trust them to keep themselves safe.”
Gill notes this playground’s dangerous aspects, like the dodgy steps leading to the top landing. Uneven stairs are against UK playground standards as the inclination of stairs are supposed to always be constant.
However, Gill points out that this example typifies problems raised by playground equipment standards around the world, a topic he discusses in Managing Risk in Play Provision―a UK guide which explains how risk should always be balanced with challenging play experiences.
A pocket park on a housing estate in Camden, this playground was clearly designed for older children due to it’s challenging balancing and climbing structures.
Risk cannot be completely eliminated from life. Children learn quickly, and overcoming problems on the playground will help prepare them to better tackle problems later in life. This is why proper playground design needs to balance safety with a stimulating play experience.