Balancing Playground Safety with Healthy Child Development
Is it possible for a commercial playground to be too safe? No, nor should it be. Risk is something that many child development experts are considering as they evaluate the measures (and consequences) of insulating children from what many would consider to be normal, healthy learning.
In 2011, John Tierney for the New York Times wrote an article that addressed the North American obsession with what he described as excessive safety measures. In the article the author interviewed several experts, including a professor of psychology from Norway, who conducted a study of risk taking and benefits for cognitive development.
“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground.” - Ellen Sandseter.
Research conducted by Professor Sandseter was published in his article, “Categorising risky play-how can we identify risk-taking in children’s play?” and he discussed the balance between child safety and allowing children to experience stimulating activities to develop necessary physical and emotional skill training.
The study observed six categories of ‘risky play’ that could be observed in average playground structures and activities:
- Explore heights (slides, climbers, and play decks)
- Experience high speed (swings, spinners, track rides)
- Handle dangerous tools
- Play near dangerous elements (like water or fire)
- Rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling)
- Wandering alone (independent play activities)
What the research concluded was that playgrounds which eliminated (for safety concerns) any of the six elements of meaningful risk for children greatly reduced both the sense of natural exploration as well as the challenge for children, and minimized their healthy learning outcomes. While school, church, or municipal playgrounds can't necessarily offer all of those styles of play (such as the use of dangerous tools) for legal reasons, the rest are available in many commercial playground structures.
In 2013 and 2014, there has been a growing trend in Europe that rebukes the “insular” playground. These are playgrounds that “insulate” children from healthy risk and challenging forms of play due to fear of injury. Instead, new playground types are on the rise in some European countries that may seem unsafe by North American standards, but are designed to engage children on all six levels of ‘risky play’ to optimize learning and development.
These new playgrounds are called “Adventure Parks,” and the concept is catching on in the United States as well, with one of the first adventure park installations in Berkeley Marina, California. This playground was nominated as one of the Top Ten Playgrounds by National Geographic, and is unlike what many people would expect of a children’s playground.
It is important to note that in North American, commercial playground equipment is governed by several regulatory institutions that ensure safety standards and accessibility for public use. Our playgrounds incorporate healthy risk in many play activities that have mitigated all safety concerns during their design phase.
At American Parks Company, we provide ASTM and CPSC safety certified ADA accessible park and playground equipment. We also provide IPEMA certified quality playground surfacing options to help minimize injury. We also work with a nationwide network of NPSI certified playground installers to ensure that any safety concerns caused by improper construction practices are non-existent.
When you select any of our commercial play structures, all the safety and accessibility concerns you may have are already eliminated. We’ve organized the play structures into groups of age appropriate ranges, because the play activities included have been developed to challenge children in those age ranges. Unsure of what playground activities with which to challenge your kids? Talk to one of our playground specialists at 1-800-381-4491.