Where Our Children Play

Where Our Children Play

Where Our Children Play: Community Park Playground Equipment was edited by Donna Thompson and Louis Bowers. The book was published in 1989 by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

The book represents the second of three national efforts undertaken by the Committee on Play, a committee of the American Association for Leisure and Recreation, whose parent group was the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (now known as SHAPE America). The other two surveys studied elementary school playgrounds (1985) and playgrounds for young children (1990).

Chapter 1, “Introduction,” was written by Donna Thompson. This book reports the findings of the National Survey of Community Park Playground Equipment that was conducted in 1987-88 to determine the environmental conditions which support play. Donna Thompson was the chair of the Committee on Play and Louis Bowers designed the survey instruments for the project. They contributed chapters to the book as well as other authors who were recreation specialists and one author who was a physical education specialist with a law degree.

The purpose of the book was to describe the type and condition of playground equipment in community parks in the United States as well as to determine the current status and safety of that equipment. To explore the ways the environment stimulates play, the results of their survey were compared to play theories and appropriate suggestions for change were made.

Chapter 2, “The National Survey of Community Park Playground Equipment” written by Louis Bowers, describes the procedures for the survey that was conducted. The Committee on Play made the decision to use the 1985 National Survey of Elementary School Playground Equipment with some revisions that was designed by Dr. Bowers with input from others on the Committee. The six-page survey “was designed to secure information regarding: 1) the type and the quantity of play structures, 2) location of each play structure on the playground, 3) the maintenance status of each play structure, 4) the height and configuration of each play structure, and 5) the type of surface material under each play structure.”1

Chapter 3, “Results of the Survey,” was also written by Louis Bowers and provides 21 tables showing the results of the National Survey of Community Park Playground Equipment. A total of 1,745 play structures were surveyed in 198 parks in 18 states. The play equipment was categorized as swinging, sliding, climbing, rotating, rocking, seesaws, sand play, or wading pool type equipment.

Chapter 4, “Location, Accessibility and Equipment on Park Playgrounds,” was written by Susan Hudson. Citing the views of play theorist Michael Ellis who contended that children want arousal-seeking experiences on playground equipment, the results of the National Survey showed the most common pieces of equipment (swings, slides, and climbing structures) do not stimulate children’s interest for long. The survey also gave low marks for community parks not providing accessibility for all.

Chapter 5, “Swings, Slides, and Climbing Equipment” written by Michael Crawford, explores these three most popular play equipment elements children enjoy along with their high percentage of injury. Safety issues are reported from the findings of the National Survey with the admonition to designers to consider how children play more than why children play when designing playground equipment and the surfaces installed under them.

Chapter 6, “Rotating, Spring Rocking and Seesaw Equipment,” was written by Marcia Carter, who studied the results of the survey for merry-go-rounds, spring rockers, and teeter totters. She points out the percentages of use on each type of equipment, the safety concerns found, and the surfaces used under the equipment. She also outlines various play theories about the motivations for play for children on these types of equipment and their developmental and therapeutic implications.

Chapter 7, “Sand Play Containers, Wading Pools, Signs, Trees, and Pathways,” was written by Frances Wallach. She shows the high play value of sand and water for children, but also cites the maintenance and safety issues they incur. She also explores the implications of lack of signage, trees, and pathways used for community parks.

Chapter 8, “Litigation and Playgrounds” written by Annie Clement, explores the legal theories of negligence and intentional torts and summarizes a study of the patterns of playground litigations. The chapter also references the results of the National Survey of the patterns of playground equipment accidents for parks contained in this document and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission research and handbooks on public playground safety, and then recommends a system of risk management for playground personnel.

Chapter 9, “Plan of Action: Reflections and Recommendations” was written by Ralph W. Smith. He points out the failures found in community playgrounds: a lack of appropriate play environments for younger children; a failure to provide adequate accommodations for adult supervisors; a lack of proper signage; and the lack of accommodation for children with disabilities. He also points out the poor play value provided on the playground equipment as well as the safety issues. His recommendations for change include: developing a multi-disciplinary approach; forming a nationwide task force; initiating an intensive information and education campaign; and upgrading and retrofitting America’s community playgrounds.
  • 1. Thompson, Donna and Louis Bowers. Where Our Children Play: Community Park Playground Equipment. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. 1989. p. 10.