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The History of Playground Equipment

It may be difficult to imagine a time when children did not have fun, safe playground equipment to use. Today, children can slide, swing, run, spin, and jump on a wide variety of creative structures. Schools, parks, and even shopping centers have playgrounds. Manufacturers are required to meet safety regulations, and consumers can buy children's playgrounds online. From the introduction of early playground activities to the current equipment children use, there has been a consistent movement to make play time safer and more accessible.

Playground Beginnings

The idea for supervised playgrounds originated in Germany as a way to keep children from playing in the streets. These playgrounds were piles of sand, and police supervised the children. Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska, a German woman, brought the idea to Boston in 1885. The Boston Sand Gardens became the first supervised playground in the U.S. A few years later, the Charlesbank Outdoor Gymnasium opened in Boston. This large play area included a running track, rowing activities on the Charles River, and playground equipment such as swings, seesaws, and ladders. The playground idea spread to New York City, which established sand gardens near settlement houses. Later, schools created playgrounds for students. In 1906, the Playground Association of America was organized with the support of President Theodore Roosevelt to help further the development of playgrounds in communities.

Swings and Other Playground Things

Early playgrounds did not have all of the safety features children enjoy today. The maypole swing did not have a seat: Chains hung from the top of a tall pole, and a child would hold onto a ring at the end of the chain while running around the pole and swinging into the air. Children risked losing their grip and falling or accidentally swinging into the pole. The jungle gym was patented in 1920 by Sebastian Hinton. While it was a sturdy structure, the rough surfaces often placed beneath it weren't safe to land on if a child fell. Early versions of swing seats, seesaws, and slides were made of wood, which deteriorated quickly and became unsafe. Merry-go-rounds were made of metal and did not have protective sides.

Early Playground Games

Red Rover was an early playground game. Children formed two teams and held hands in a line with their teammates. A leader from the first team would yell the following command, inserting the name of an opposing player: "Red Rover, Red Rover, send ___ right over." The player would run and try break through the first team's line. If caught, the player stayed with the first team. If the player broke through the line, that player selected a member of the first team and both of them went to the second team. Anti-Over was popular in rural schools where children could throw a ball over the building and tag opponents. Tug-of-war and hopscotch were other early playground games.

The Development of Safe and Accessible Playground Equipment

With the development of more durable materials and increased safety standards, companies began manufacturing safer equipment for children to use. Guidelines for playground equipment are now set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Manufacturers must meet standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials. In addition to being safer, playgrounds are becoming more accessible to children with disabilities. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice adopted the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. When existing playgrounds are altered or new ones are built, they must comply with these standards. Whether a person chooses to buy children's playgrounds online or in a store, the equipment must comply with these government requirements.

Bringing Imagination to the Playground

Play spaces continue to evolve. Playgrounds of today are full of color and variety. A playground might focus on a theme, such as the railroad. Some have interactive games that create sounds when touched. Shopping centers feature indoor playgrounds with soft surfaces. Parks might have climbing walls, nets, walking bridges, speaker devices, and tic-tac-toe activities built into their playgrounds. Adventure and imagination playgrounds encourage children to move objects around and experiment with creative ideas. Children have many ways to play and have fun on the playground.