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A Blast From the Past: Old and New Playground Equipment

A Blast From the Past: Old And New Playground Equipment

If you’ve been to a playground in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed they’re significantly different from the ones you knew and loved as a kid. Playgrounds have changed a lot since their inception in the mid-1800s, but they’re not entirely new. Many of the same elements from your childhood will still be present for your kids — just in a different, safer way. Plus, future generations have access to a wider variety of equipment than you did, some of which are more inclusive or educational.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how playgrounds have changed and what that means for the play spaces in your community.

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A Walk Down Memory Lane

Think back to your time on the playground. You probably have plenty of positive memories to attribute to that rickety old steel structure in your neighborhood. You fondly remember the rattle of that tall metal slide and the burn it left on your skin on a hot summer day.

You probably learned a lot of tricks on that playground — like how to avoid a hit from the teeter-totter. Or, choosing where to sit on the merry-go-round so you didn’t go skidding into the dirt. You might have even gained some upper arm strength from powering through the monkey bars, knowing a long fall awaited you if you slipped.

Old school playground equipment had you seeking out thrills through risks, but you also knew misusing the equipment could lead to injury. Remember these popular pieces of vintage playground equipment? Though they hail from yesteryear, the memories are still fresh:

  • Metal slides: Tall and terrifying, metal slides required some bravery to use. They quickly got hot in the sun and could rise to impressive heights, but kids loved the speed and motion that came from these slides.
  • Maypoles: Kids would grab on to the hanging arms of maypoles, or “giant strides,” as the earliest iterations were called, and spin several feet above the ground. Because there was little separation between riders, uncoordinated spinning could result in painful collisions. Plus, the old grips provided kids with little to hold onto, which sent kids with low grip strength flying. Safer versions have emerged in recent years, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a vintage model anywhere.
  • Witch’s hats: Also known as the ocean wave, the witch’s hat involved a cone-shaped swing balanced from a metal pole that spun riders around. This piece of equipment was deemed unsafe due to several injuries. It has all but disappeared from playgrounds, but it gave kids of all ages plenty of thrills in the last century.
  • Sandboxes: Many playgrounds used to have areas where children could play in a shallow pit of sand, but it turns out that sandboxes are a breeding ground for bacteria, yeast and mold. When neighborhood animals like raccoons and cats treat it as a giant litter box, kids also run the risk of coming into contact with fecal matter and parasites — and most parents don’t want their kids to play in that.
  • Seesaws: A playground staple for many, seesaws were the source of plenty of injuries. These teetering bars could smack an unsuspecting child or lift them high enough to fall and get hurt. They’re less common now than they once were.
  • Trampolines: While once a common sight on old-school playgrounds, trampolines are no longer as popular at outdoor public parks due to their high risk of injury. Instead, trampolines have migrated indoors to family entertainment centers and trampoline parks, where it’s easier to supervise kids as they bounce and play.
  • Wooden playgrounds: You might remember playing in enormous wooden castles as a kid. These structures had all sorts of exciting nooks and crannies for kids to explore, but most wooden playgrounds built before 2004 were treated with the preservative chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which contains arsenic. For this reason, many wooden playgrounds have been replaced with heavy-duty plastic sets.

You can probably think of many more features of your favorite play area that aren’t around today. But why is that?

In the ’70s, the United States government started to look more closely at playground injuries. Standardization came about, and playgrounds began to change dramatically. Later, the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) created a set of standards that the industry adopted to change the landscape of play and old playground equipment further.

Little Boy Sliding Down A Slide

Where Things Are Changing

Of course, there was a certain charm to most of the old school playground equipment. The rush of spinning quickly and the thrill of flying down the slide are some of the things that kept us coming back. Playground designers understand this appeal, and modern-day equipment tends to incorporate those fundamental thrills. Most of the things you remember from your childhood didn’t go away completely. Instead, they’ve changed in a way that improves safety for your kids and grandkids. Here’s how some of your iconic favorites have transformed:

  • Surfaces: Instead of letting kids fall onto hard asphalt or dirt, playgrounds now use things like poured rubber, rubber mulch or engineered wood fiber. Several new materials exist that are softer for kids to land on. They can enjoy heights or climb on structures without hurting themselves if they fall.
  • Bouncers: Although you won’t find an old-school trampoline on any new playgrounds, safe bouncers like the Multi-Bouncer are here to stay. These spring-powered bouncing machines allow several kids to bounce at once without such an extreme risk of injury.
  • Dome climbers: While you probably remember these large dome-shaped webs of bars, you might not notice the changes they’ve undergone. In the past, these domes were made of metal. Modern climbers consist of safer plastic with better padding and reinforcements. They’re similar to older models but updated for enhanced safety.
  • Slides: Metal slides aren’t as common anymore, as plastic has taken over as the material of choice. It also allows for many more options regarding design and color. Kids can ride a dual slide with waves, one with rolling tubes to guide them down, and even extra-wide inclusive slides.
  • Spinners: Witch’s hats may be a thing of the past, but new, safer spinners like Cyclo-Cone Spinners have taken their place. These cone-shaped spinners allow kids to climb and interact with the structure while still enjoying the classic spinning action of the witch’s hat.
  • Merry-go-round: While merry-go-rounds still exist, you might find other spinning options too, like the Teeter Spin or the Ten Spin. These can be more inclusive and enclosed, reducing the risk of kids falling off without taking away the thrill of the spin.
  • Monkey bars: If you see traditional monkey bars on a modern playground, they might be lower to the ground than you’re used to. An alternative to monkey bars might include Gliders or S-Rails.
  • Swings: Old-school swing sets used to pack kids close together. More recent swing set models space swings out so kids have room to move without the risk of colliding with other riders. Additionally, innovations in technology have allowed companies to build inclusive swing seats so all kids can join in the fun.
  • Seesaws: Safer versions of the traditional seesaw tend to use designs that don’t have the same loose, high-swinging bar as their predecessor. You might find a larger plastic version that sits lower to the ground, like the Tri-Totter, which also accommodates a third child.
  • Site amenities: No outdoor space is complete without the right amenities. Picnic tables, charcoal grills and trash receptacles are increasingly common sights at public parks. Hand sanitation stations are also popping up at an increased rate and provide a convenient way to keep kids’ hands clean when access to running water and soap is limited.
  • Safer structures: Gone are the days of slide burns and enormous splinters from playing on metal and wooden playgrounds. Plastic and PVC-coated playground equipment have become increasingly common in recent years, as it’s much safer for kids and doesn’t require harsh chemical treatments. Plus, recent developments in playground surfacing, like innovative antimicrobial coatings, help to make playgrounds more secure without sacrificing the thrill of playtime.

Young Boy Using Monkey Bars

Traditional playgrounds have opened many doors for thrilling, creative and experimental play. Playground designers consider many elements when developing and improving safe, innovative equipment. In addition to updates on classic favorites, we are also seeing changes in playground trends as a whole. Here are some upcoming popular trends you might notice in new playground equipment.

Inclusive Playgrounds

Inclusive playground design is great for all kids. An inclusive playground contains accessible equipment which helps encompass social equity and various physical needs. This trend encourages playground designers to ensure all kids can have a safe and fun environment to play in regardless of their abilities.

An inclusive playground also keeps disability or special needs playground equipment in common areas where everyone plays.  This helps encourage togetherness and prevent feelings of separation. Mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, should have free movement around equipment and facilitate easy interaction between kids and adults of all needs.

Sustainable Playgrounds

Environmentally friendly playground equipment benefits sustainability and encourages kids to engage in more physical activity. Replacing or reducing battery-operated activities with manual or human-powered handles and products can help inspire kids’ imaginations and the use of their senses. Disposing of excessive batteries can have detrimental effects on the environment, so making a sustainable switch is becoming a worthy trend.

Playground designers can make lights, music and sounds power up with pedals, wheels and buttons instead of batteries. This type of playground equipment can help support social interaction and teamwork while reducing maintenance and costs.

Themed Playgrounds

Creativity and imagination are encouraged with themed playgrounds. As kids navigate fun structures and obstacles, they will have plenty of mental and physical challenges to overcome. Themed playgrounds are customizable and unique options that can influence social interaction, as kids will have fun making up active, exciting stories and games. This type of playground might incorporate various animals, occupations, nature, castles, pirates, music or other enjoyable themes.

Nature-Inspired Playgrounds

Incorporating the natural environment in a playground has many advantages, which makes it a popular trend. Kids can explore their environment in a hands-on way during playtime and learn about natural resources with fun games like rope activities and net or rock climbing. Utilizing the natural landscape in a custom-designed playground can involve rocks, water, sand or other elements that allow kids to have safe, fun play. Incorporating nature such as animal and plant elements in a playground may also help integrate more physical activity for kids to enjoy.

boys playing with playground sensory panels

Sensory Playgrounds

Sensory play is often included in many playgrounds to help utilize outdoor spaces for learning. It has become more popular to incorporate in play as it helps kids learn to use their senses and consider other perspectives. Multi-sensory play equipment can include textured panels, mazes and double-sided walls. These elements help kids grow their skills and confidence, express emotions and find solutions to conflicts.

Playground equipment that offers sensory components can also empower kids to discover new abilities and enhance their creative and cognitive development.

Our Commitment to Safety

Most of the changes that antique playground equipment underwent occurred for safety reasons. In the past, play spaces haven’t always been as secure as they are now. Certain safety risks accompanied the slides and swings many of us grew up with, as anyone who got a playground injury can attest to. Now, we can offer parents, schools and landscape architects a perceived risk that gives kids the thrills of motion and adventure without putting them in a harmful situation.

At Miracle® Recreation, we take our commitment to safety very seriously. It’s our goal to make a safe, positive environment for play — and we can’t do that without a certain level of dependable manufacturing practices.

We also take an active role in standards development with ASTM and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC,) and we maintain an active membership with the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA).

At every level of business within Miracle Recreation, from sales to design to installation, you’ll find that we take great pride in creating safe environments without sacrificing the thrill of play.

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Miracle Keeps up With the Times

While you might hold some fond memories of old school playground equipment, they could be riskier than you realize. Thankfully, newer versions of your favorites exist — ones that prioritize safety and still allow kids to get excited and experience a fun rush.

We’ve been working toward that goal for quite a while — since 1927, to be exact. That’s given us a lot of time to perfect our craft. We’re always innovating and coming up with better ways to improve the safety and experience of kids across playgrounds. We carry a wide array of equipment designed for this purpose.

If you’re interested in adding modern, safe facilities to a play area, explore our products to see how they can help.