This Used To Be My Playground

I was sitting in a park yesterday eating my lunch and enjoying the beautiful, unusually warm, sunny weather here in Phoenix this January when I noticed a few small children playing on a structure in the playground area.

As I watched them play, I was transported back in time to my elementary school days and the hours I spent on the playground during recess.

But what caught my attention yesterday was the play equipment itself.

Playground equipment these days has become so sophisticated. It’s amazing to me to see the differently themed elements.

As landscape architects, I’m sure you are familiar with all of the available structures. Some of my favorites that I’ve seen over the years are the themed designs that incorporate more traditional play stations, like slides, monkey bars, and swing sets.

I remember seeing a play structure in a park near a beach once that resembled a pirate ship and thought it was a very creative choice for a themed structure. Judging from the number of active children using it, it was a very popular choice for them, as well.

When I was at a playground expo a couple of years ago, I remember seeing a really interesting play structure that looked like the treehouse I remember from the movie “Swiss Family Robinson.” It was quite elaborate, with stairs, ladders and rope bridges, and it looked like it would be a very popular play structure if used in an area with many old-growth trees.

The unique thing about play structures that is different from when I was growing up is the consolidated play stations.

When I was a kid, the different pieces of playground equipment were spread out across the playground and each had their own individual areas.

We didn’t have nearly the sophisticated play equipment you find now, either. Sure, we had swing sets, merry-go-rounds, monkey bars, teeter-totters and slides. But we also had simple things like balance bars and three-foot diameter concrete pipe to fuel our imaginations after a hearty lunch in the cafeteria.

The great thing about many of these non-traditional things we had for play equipment was that they allowed for such active use of our giant imaginations.

The consolidated play stations found in most play structures today really seem to promote social interaction among users.

With play stations located close together, kids can move from one station to the next quickly and stay involved with the interactive experience.

This arrangement also allows for easier monitoring of children’s activities by keeping the parents or adults closer to the play area, and it also allows for more open green space to be used for non-programmatic play of games such as tag, soccer, football, or Frisbee.

The use of ADA-complaint access and surfacing also allows physically challenged children an opportunity to participate in active play areas with an added measure of safety.

When I think back to my childhood years, most of our playground experiences revolved around non-programmed play. I’m not sure if the lack of play equipment was intentional or just a result of growing up in a small town with limited budgets.

When I see many parks and playgrounds today with dedicated play structures and equipment, I am encouraged to think of the investment that towns and schools are making in our children. I hope this is a trend that we see continued for many years to come.

Do you have any special or unique memories from your childhood related to playgrounds or recess? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience. Feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: