Designing for Fun
April 22, 2007 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Super(-expensive) Playgrounds are nice to look at, but what makes a playground fun? Experiments in play: Snug & Outdoor (1, 2, 3) Mcdonald's (1, 2, 3) KaBOOM! (1, 2, 3) Boundless Play (1, 2, 3)
posted by anotherpanacea (34 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
My father got together with all the other dads and built the playground at my elementary school. I think that's pretty common in smaller communities. It's a lost art, but a worthwhile one.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:23 AM on April 22, 2007


Excellent post. Suggest architecture and design tags!
posted by nthdegx at 11:29 AM on April 22, 2007


Cool links, poster!

The Snug & Outdoor stuff looks great, but how much you want to bet potential lawsuits in the U.S. will keep them from being installed en masse here. Rotating platforms? Kids might fall! Forest of Poles? Forest of Things to Gash Your Head is more like it! Kids could strangle on those den supplies! Plus they could get thier fingers stuck in the holes on the poles! And those painted surfaces on the uneven ground... falling hazard!!! Look kids, just stay inside and play your video games. But not the Wii... too much movement. Too dangerous.
posted by The Deej at 11:32 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


My favorite playground when I was little was made of wood and could probably give you splinters. You fell onto wood chips of some sort that have probably since been declared unsafe. It was not accessible to the handicapped; there were one or two little parts that I, in full health, was not agile or brave enough to reach.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:34 AM on April 22, 2007


I totally want slides installed into workplaces.

Alas, I know a) some dumbass will try to do something "extreme" like rail grind it and die, and b) some one else will think it cute to smear fecal matter along the way.

This is why we can't have nice things...
posted by yeloson at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


You fell onto wood chips of some sort that have probably since been declared unsafe

Wood chips? Unsafe? Luxury! You kids have no idea: back in the day we had two choices of what to fall onto:

1. Gravel
2. Concrete
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:02 PM on April 22, 2007


Did anyone else have chicken fights on the monkey bars? You and your opponent each went hand over hand until you met in the middle where you fought it out with your legs until the loser fell onto the aforementioned concrete and gravel. Sweet childhood memories...
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:05 PM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wood chips? Unsafe? Luxury! You kids have no idea: back in the day we had two choices of what to fall onto:

1. Gravel
2. Concrete


I thought sand was the usual and customary...

BTW, I don't think you are supposed to call them "monkey bars" anymore, I assume for fear of offending someone.

Personally, I dig geodesic domes, and wish that I had been able to play on something like that as a child.
posted by Tube at 12:11 PM on April 22, 2007


Criticism noted, Tube. I intended to say "highly evolved simian companion death battle maiming structures."
posted by Turtles all the way down at 12:16 PM on April 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


I was all ready to snark about the cost of some of these but, heck, I can think of worse uses for the money, and some of them are pretty darn cool. How awesome would it be to have a career where people pay you to dream up forts for their kids?

14 grandchildren? Apparently birth control wasn't a big part of their family's curriculum...
posted by maxwelton at 12:17 PM on April 22, 2007


When I was a kid I remember the day they unveiled this community neighborhood playground and it was awesome. Made of wood, but didn't give ya splinters cuz they sanded down all the wood and weather treated it with stuff that smelled kinda like syrup but wasn't sticky to the touch. Kids licked it and made icky faces. I may have been one of them. I don't recall it being toxic.

I'm sure there were probably parts of it that would be deemed unsuitable today. Surely it was very NOT environmentally friendly - it was a bunch of dead trees. and it was obvious that whoever designed it were toying with the variables of functionality versus artistic expression. It was very crazy with curves and angles and lots of stairs and slides all over the place. It worked like an elaborate fort on the inside of it. Depending on where you were standing, outside it looked like a dinosaur, a spaceship, a giant bug, and other weird things all merged together. It was kinda Gigeresque, looking at it in hindsight, with some metal, but mostly wood. Ugly in a most beautiful way. I recall there being mixed reactions by the grownups, but I don't recall a complaint by us kids. Great fun that summer.

Nowadays on rare occasion I'll drive by a park, but won't see any playground equiptment. Just walkways being used by bicyclists and runners. They still make playgrounds? I thought all children today just play video games inside their homes; probably wearing helmets and covered lovingly in bubblewrap by overprotective parents.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:30 PM on April 22, 2007


The OP asks, "What makes a playground fun?"
The answer to that is obvious: the kids.

The converse question: What makes a playground boring?
The answer to that is equally obvious: liability lawyers.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:05 PM on April 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


I broke my nose in first grade because it had a bad run-in with the blacktop at the playground. Not a bad memory though... my mom felt so guilty whenever she looked at the big scab on my cute little face that she took me out for ice cream almost every day. My sister was totally jealous.

I was sooooo pissed off when my face healed.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:13 PM on April 22, 2007


The answer to that is equally obvious: liability lawyers

. . . and wrong, as usual. Lawyers don't hand out the money, juries do.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:13 PM on April 22, 2007


14 grandchildren? Apparently birth control wasn't a big part of their family's curriculum...

How many kids did they have? If they had 4 kids, each of the 4 kids could have 4 or fewer kids and still come up with 14 grandkids. 4 is a fairly high number but it's not like 'ZOMG, take the pill already' high.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:15 PM on April 22, 2007


14 grandchildren? Apparently birth control wasn't a big part of their family's curriculum...

Or maybe they were all adopted former crack-babies. Dang.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:23 PM on April 22, 2007


A lot of hate for today's supposedly risk-averse parents, eh? I'm not sure my own experience mirrors yours, but I would argue that:

1. Parents who build their own playground won't sue each other when the structure results in injury. They scrimp and save to afford the things, and they don't blame each other unless there's gross negligence involved. (KaBOOM! provides planning kits, linked above, for civic-minded moms and dads.)

2. Today's playgrounds are much cooler than the playgrounds of my youth, but in general urban playgrounds suck. Rural/suburban playgrounds are where it's at, because the parents do participate in planning and building them, not some anonymous school board with a budget and no emotional connection to the space. I've linked to a few counter examples above: Snug & Outdoor, especially, take limited resources as a welcome challenge.

3. McDonalds has privatized the playground. They own most of the playgrounds in the world, and their playgrounds are actually pretty cool. Contrary to the perception that liability lawyers are buzz-killers, Micky-D's has started building 'R Gyms,' which are more active and potentially risky. See the video in #2. Still, it's not the same as a public playground.

4. Contrary to other commentors, I think the new movement in handicap-accessible playgrounds is a Good Thing. I'd like to throw a shoutout to W. D. Kellogg's Able to Play grants, which are responsible for some pretty nifty design innovations in the 'state of play.' They're making things cooler for both disabled and healthy kids, so i don't see the problem.

My 2 cents.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:26 PM on April 22, 2007


Well, ya know... something has to weed out the stupid from the gene pool.
posted by The Deej at 1:33 PM on April 22, 2007


There are still wooden playgrounds being built, and they are more fun than those 'designer' concrete places look to be.

Vandals are a problem. My daughter's favorite thing was a long rubber walk, suspended at the ends. She'd sit in the middle while I pushed down on one end, which made her bounce up & down. Some pinhead cut it in half.

Dogs are another problem. Whenever some genius brings their dog into the wood-chip-floored playground, the dog inevitably thinks it's just right for taking a dump. Half the time, the crown of creation that brought the dog in disappears with the animal, but without its product. Beyond that, I don't care how well-behaved your pet is back at Wayne Manor, he's not going to stay calm when surrounded by running, screaming children. Their parents should not have to keep an eye on your dog; it's hard enough to keep track of a child. Keep your dogs out of playgrounds, please.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:43 PM on April 22, 2007


I wish I could find better pictures, but the Alameda Park playground in Santa Barbara, CA and the Legion Keener Park playground in Latrobe, PA (home of Rolling Rock) are amazing. Wooden playgrounds do rock.
posted by Methylviolet at 2:19 PM on April 22, 2007


I'd like to remind ya'll that grownups can have playgrounds too, but you're required to call them obstacle courses.
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:48 PM on April 22, 2007


Now I want to build my own playground in the backyard.
posted by yohko at 3:14 PM on April 22, 2007


Wow, there are some amazing playgrounds and play forts linked. Truly inspiring. We have a cedar tree-house without a tree in our yard...And, about 10-15ft from a beautiful old split-leaf maple. The link to the fort making lady in VERY inspiring. Maybe my girls will benefit!

The city I live does have some wooden playgrounds still, but once the wood dries out enough, it does start to splinter and becomes no fun. They usually take the wooden one out, and then a couple years later a colourful plastic thing shows up to replace it. I've yet to be able to see how well the plastic ones age.

Great post!
posted by Richat at 4:02 PM on April 22, 2007


This park in the Houston Heights is pretty awesome, and it was built by volunteers.

Now I want to go out and play!
posted by found dog one eye at 4:19 PM on April 22, 2007


Now I want to build my own playground in the backyard.

OBSTACLE COURSE! OBSTACLE COURSE!
posted by Citizen Premier at 4:59 PM on April 22, 2007


this is awesome.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:16 PM on April 22, 2007


Yes, I too grew up with a wood (and tractor-tire) playground built by school parents - it was awesome.

That said, these are extraordinary Japanese playgrounds that make me want to be a kid all over again. So imaginative!
posted by marlys at 6:21 PM on April 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Given that a lot fewer kids are getting injured and killed these days, the bitching about overprotective parents and liability lawyers, from a humanitarian perspective, looks awfully foolish.

But hey, life was better when more kids were being exposed to carcinogenic wood treatments and falling onto concrete and gravel instead of wood chips or shredded tires, right?
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:40 PM on April 22, 2007


That said, I'm really looking forward to when Keita Takahashi starts designing playgrounds.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:41 PM on April 22, 2007


But hey, life was better when more kids were being exposed to carcinogenic wood treatments and falling onto concrete and gravel instead of wood chips or shredded tires, right?

The story of the laboratory mouse is educational here.
"The greater strength of wild mice makes it impossible to subject them to some behavioral tests designed for the comparatively feeble lab mice. For instance, a standard test of muscle endurance is called the cord drop. The test is quite simple: a mouse is dangled from a taut cord by its front feet—your basic pull-up position—and scored according to how many seconds it can hang on before dropping to the ground. A robust young laboratory mouse is doing well to hang on for thirty or forty seconds. When we tried this test with our wild mice, they simply pulled themselves up onto the top of the cord and walked off. We didn’t actually see them sneer with contempt, but they may have."
As a young child I was given to crying and suffering if I cut or burned myself. Now I can cut or burn myself while barely noticing. Imagine if I had never been cut or burned as a young child. Here I would be, a fully grown man, in tears and incapacitated after the slightest mishap.

Besides, the kids probably get driven to the playground. It's probably safer to let them play drunk on a playground made of splinters and rusty nails than to put them in a car.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:50 PM on April 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ahh, marlys, those playgrounds you linked to are great. This one reminds me of the time my brother an I were climbing among the rafters in a house being built on our street. It was all fun and games until the home owners and builders came over for a site tour. Much to our surprise (and relief), they never looked up to see two kids clinging tightly to the trusses. Ahh, childhood...
posted by lucidprose at 12:09 AM on April 23, 2007


(Not to derail but) Wild mice are not even in the same category as lab mice. We once needed to use wild mice in the lab for a genetic study. When you change the cage of a regular lab mouse you lift the top off, it looks at you, you look at it, you pick it up by the tail, it hangs there, and you put it in the clean cage. With the wild mice, a microsecond after you took the cage top off they were across the room, out the door, and running down the street. They were like insane, amphetamine-jacked, turbo charged versions of their docile inbred cousins.

How do you actually change the cages, then, I hear you asking? You put the cage in the bottom of a big plastic garbage can--even the wild supermice can't climb or jump the three feet to the top.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:24 AM on April 23, 2007


Ugh. Playgrounds as mice mazes? Or are they closer to Habitrails?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:50 AM on April 23, 2007


It's a fun derail, so...
The first time I went to the animal house by myself to get the week's rats, I was so nervous I dropped one on the floor. In that split second I'm going, ohshitohshit, these animals have been grown for weeks under treatment, maybe this will compromise every other experiment in the animal house, I am going to get fired ... Then I saw that the rat was sitting right there where she fell, looking a little dazed. So I picked her up and put her in the cage. What a sweetie.

And yeah, there used to be an indoor playground chain featuring what essentially was a habitrail -- kids loved it.
posted by Methylviolet at 1:16 PM on April 23, 2007


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