Equipment height is an important factor in making playground equipment interesting and challenging. Equipment that is too high can lead to severe injury. Equipment that is too low can be boring. Playground designers, owners, and operators must determine what heights are in the best interests of children that may use their equipment so the children can participate in activities that challenge their climbing instinct.
Climbing is a natural instinct for children. They will climb “…to test their abilities, to show off and compete with peers, and to engage in pretend games.”1 Playground designers are challenged to provide climbing opportunities that are age appropriate, accessible, fun, and challenging, that have an appropriate surfacing component, and that minimize the potential for severe injury.
Age appropriate equipment provides challenges that children can see and understand and choose to take. The three age categories as defined by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are: toddlers – 6 months through 2 years, pre-school – ages 2-5 and school age – ages 5-12.2 The play equipment identified for a particular age group should allow the children within that group to enjoy and be challenged by the playground equipment without undue risk of injury.
Playgrounds designed for younger children will be lower in height than those designed for older children. The height of various play components is determined in part from the 1992 recommendations of the National Recreation and Park Association on comparative anthropometrics.3 The 1992 study also provided some research on dimensions to make playground activities accessible.4
The height of playground equipment must be related to the type and depth of protective surfacing beneath it. The surface under the play equipment must have a critical height rating equal to the fall height between the highest designated play surface on the equipment and the protective surface below.5 Manufactured surface materials will have test information available to assure playground owners and operators that they are meeting the requirements for critical fall height on their playgrounds. The ASTM International (ASTM) Standard F1292, “Standard Specification of Surfacing Materials within the Use Zone of Playground Equipment,” provides the specification for impact absorption of playground surfacing materials.
There are Standards and Guidelines to assist playground designers, owners, and operators in determining height restrictions for various age groups and activities. The ASTM Standards F1487, “Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use,” and F2373, “Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Public Use Playground Equipment for Children 6 Months through 23 Months,” provide design specifications, including height in some cases, for public use playground equipment. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) publication #325, “Public Playground Safety Handbook,” provides guidelines for playground design.
Some examples of heights specified in playground design by ASTM F 1487 for pre-school children ages 2-5 and school age children who are 5-12 are:6
|Upper body equipment||60”||84”|
Other height dimensions not related to age found in ASTM F1487 are:
- Slide exit height
- Height of swings above the protective surface
- Height of see saws
- Transfer platform height
Some examples of height specifications for the “toddler” age group are found in ASTM F2373. They include:7
- The fall height of freestanding climbing equipment
- The exit height of the end of a slide chute
- The height of the pivot point of to-fro swings with and without adult assistance
- The height of an unoccupied swing seat
The CPSC Guidelines provide design information for children in all three age groups that include some height recommendations. These recommendations are taken from the ASTM design specifications.
- 1. Frost, Joe, John Sutterby, Pei-San Brown, and Candra Thornton. “The Relevance of Height for Child Development and Playground Safety,” University of Texas, p. 1.
- 2. “U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Publication #325-10, “Public Playground Safety Handbook, p. 3.
- 3. Caesar, Betsy et al., “Playground Equipment for Public Use,” National Recreation and Park Association, pp. 16-20.
- 4. Ibid, p. 15.
- 5. Op. cit., CPSC Publication #325, p. 8.
- 6. ASTM International Standard F 1487-11, “Standard Consumer Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use,” Section 8.
- 7. ASTM International Standard F 2373-11, “Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Public Use Play Equipment for Children 6 Months through 23 Months,” Section 9.