|Children have a basic need for both indoor and outdoor play every day. These environments provide significantly different contexts for play. As compared with play indoors, outside play allows for more active play with fewer restrictions on noise and movement, and greater freedom with natural materials like water, sand, snow, and soil. Also, children revel in the variety inherent in the seasonal changes.
The purpose of this article is to assist individuals interested in providing and supporting outdoor play experiences for preschool children in a safe and developmentally appropriate outdoor environment. The benefits of outdoor play are maximized when developmentally appropriate equipment and materials are combined with adult supervision to support child-initiated learning.
Playground Design for Developmentally Appropriate Practice Playground design is changing. The move is away from the traditional playground characterized by swings, teeter-totters, slides, and jungle gyms set on concrete or asphalt surfacing. The change has been brought about, in part, by the number of injuries and deaths incurred on this type of playground. Safety is the main concern of those who construct, operate, and maintain developmentally appropriate playground environments. Safety First
Since skill building requires some risk taking, it is neither desirable nor possible to create a totally safe playground. However, we can eliminate unnecessary hazards and risks through attention to design and location of equipment. Surveys show that most playground injuries result from falls from or onto the equipment. Falls from swings, slides, and climbers account for 87 percent of all injuries. The remainder occur on merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters, and other equipment (For Kid's Sake, 1992). Thus, in selecting equipment, one must carefully consider the potential risks and determine whether the equipment will meet the needs of the children.
The severity of injuries resulting from falls is related to the type of ground surfacing and to the height of the fall. The use of resilient, shock-absorbing ground covers such as sand, pea gravel, wood fiber, or shredded rubber are recommended fall zone materials. Also, limiting the height of the equipment and selecting an appropriate location greatly reduce the likelihood and severity of falls.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission publication, Handbook for Public Playground Safety (1992) provides recommendations and guidelines relating to potential hazards and safety concerns in designing a playground. Consumer and manufacturer compliance with these guidelines is primarily voluntary but varies from state to state.