Get ready to play as we climb our way through the facts on every kid’s favorite place
Whoosh! The air rushes in your face as your feet stretch forward, propelling you higher. Across the yard, shouts of laughter ring through the late-summer air as two boys perform acrobatic stunts on the bar above the slide and a little girl bravely tries the monkey bars for the first time. Welcome to the playground. It’s an integral part of many schools and neighborhoods — but did you know that it’s more than just a place to work off some energy? Playgrounds are actually places of learning for children of all ages. So get ready to play as we climb our way through the facts on every kid’s favorite place.
Getting into the Swing of Things
Mr. Shlomo Friedman, today the CEO of SwingIt Playsets, grew up as a city boy in Brooklyn, New York — where there was no space for backyard swing sets. When he moved to New Jersey, Mr. Friedman was thrilled to see how much space his new city had! Until today, he sees every backyard as a place that fosters creativity in kids. He loves taking a backyard and turning it into something magical, something the entire family can enjoy. Mr. Friedman firmly believes that outdoor play isn’t just “child’s play.” Actually, it’s pretty major stuff.
Playing Is Good for You
“People think of playing outdoors as only for spring or summer, but you should really get outside in all kinds of weather,” Mr. Friedman explains.
And he’s not the only one who thinks so. In fact, according to scientists who’ve studied this, it’s official: Playing outside is super-important for your growing body’s health. Running, climbing, and swinging are all forms of physical activity that keep you fit —something you don’t get from playing video games or even building Lego towers and reading books indoors.
The Outdoor Classroom
Playing is really learning (but don’t get too excited… you still gotta go to class). It’s imagination — and it’s important, maybe even more than the hard facts you’ll learn in school. After all, out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem-solving are major success tools in the grown-up world, whether you’re at work, at home, or out and about in the world.
Mr. Friedman points out that playing in person can help you learn basic rules of what it means to be a friend. Today’s tech-heavy world doesn’t allow for too much of that, so playing is getting more important by the day!
- Tower Playground: Copenhagen, Denmark Interested in touring, but don’t have the time or money to go all over? Try this playground. The whole thing is built like mini-replicas of Copenhagen’s most well-known landmarks — but it’s all decked out with ropes, climbing walls, slides, bridges, and more. So if you’ve ever dreamed of climbing up the side of a skyscraper, this one’s for you. Play electronic catch with the super cool toys near the stock exchange building or use the mic at Town Hall to proclaim anything you want. In case that’s not your style, try the puzzles and games inside the buildings or learn about the history of each building as you play.
- Clemyjontri Park: McLean, Virginia You’re in for some serious fun at this place — and every kid’s invited, those with special needs included. The park has ramps for wheelchairs, soft flooring, and lots of sensory stimulation. There are quiet areas for kids who get overwhelmed by crowds, signs in Braille for those who can’t see, and low monkey bars for young children or those with dwarfism.
Clemyjontri is split up into four unique “rooms.” There’s the Rainbow Room, with its rainbow-colored archway and equipment in a kaleidoscope of colors. In Schoolhouse and Maze, you’ll have to find your way through a paneled maze and where you’ll learn about time-telling, map-reading, and play all sorts of educational games. Movin’ and Groovin’ sports motorcycles, airplanes, and trains. Fitness and Fun is where you’ll find the main playground, with some pretty awesome equipment. As if that all weren’t enough, guess what you’ll find at the very center of the four rooms? A merry-go-round. Plus, you can ride the train if your feet are getting tired from all that running around!
- Jungle Gym: Nashville, Tennessee This zoo-themed park features a huge wooden play structure, real-looking snake tunnel, and a 35-foot tower at its center. It has climbing nets, a bridge, and multiple awesome hideaway spots. The remarkable thing is that it was entirely built by Nashville community members. Now that’s what I call team playing!
- Wall-holla: Purmerend, The Netherlands When you don’t have a lot of space, you need to be creative. (And what else is playing all about, if not creativity?) These builders came up with a great solution: Build a vertical play space! Surrounded by mesh wire, the securely enclosed area allows for parental supervision from the outside. Its height means lots of kids can fit in, using the ribbon-like surfaces that offer all the standard stuff like climbing walls, ropes, poles, and slides. Currently, the company is planning to send its play innovation abroad for schools who don’t have much yard area.
- Wild about Water! SwingIt has its own unique play options. They can wire a swing set with hidden tubes that spray water when you turn it on, so your swing set becomes a water park! Your swing set can also include a bridge with a trolley line below, where kids can push themselves along. And then there’s the in-ground, pool-style trampoline that sits flat above an open space in the ground for some serious bounce.
Sliding Back through History
- SWINGS They’ve been around for millennia. Even ancient Greek artists from the 400s BCE left paintings of children on swings. Pioneer families (Americans who moved out West in the 1800s) used wooden sticks and ropes to give their kids a tree-swing to play on. People have used vines, ropes, tires, and steel to design swings through the centuries. Only in the late 19th century, after it finally became illegal for kids to work in factories, did swings begin morphing into the more standard types we know today — but most were still made of steel. In the 1970s, manufacturers started producing soft, plastic swings for safer play.
- SLIDES Nobody really knows where slides were first invented, but they say the idea comes from places with a lot of hail, snow, and ice. Slides recreate the experience of sliding down steep, icy mountainsides. Charles Wicksteed, an engineer, invented the familiar playground slide in 1922.
- MONKEY BARS AND JUNGLE GYMS In 1920, a prominent Chicago lawyer by the name of Sebastian Hinton invented the Jungle Gym: A structure built of metal bars for children to climb on. An outgrowth was the monkey bars, which allowed kids to swing from bar to bar like little monkeys. For a while, the Jungle Gym was a central staple for playgrounds across America, but in recent years, they were deemed unsafe. Some playgrounds still sport smaller, lower, safer versions than the original — but most omit them completely. As for monkey bars, most of the old ones have come down over time as well, due to injuries and safety risk. The new sets you’ll find installed in playgrounds geared to older children sport a much more safety-conscious design.
- PLAYGROUNDS IN GENERAL have drastically changed since they were first invented in Manchester, England. London copied Manchester— and in 1887, the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California, brought the idea to American shores.
But playgrounds weren’t always like the ones you see today. Ask your parents: most of the parks they remember from childhood had metal slides, which get painfully hot in the sun. That’s why, nowadays, colorful plastic has replaced its metal predecessors. That plastic also makes sure you don’t get splinters, like many kids did on the wooden play-sets of last generation.
Today, many new playgrounds are built with more attention toward the needs of different children. They offer wide, wheelchair-accessible ramps or special swings to accommodate all kinds of kids. Lastly, while the old swing-sets were certainly lots of fun, they were also covered in chemicals. Today’s versions have much lower levels of chemicals than their elderly ancestors. What a relief… Now you can slide in peace!
Play areas have improved a lot in the last few decades — but it’s still important to be cautious while you climb, flip, and swing. For instance, rusty or broken playground equipment isn’t just less fun; it can also pose a health hazard. Be smart and keep your distance!
Does your school have special playground safety rules? Whether they do or don’t, here’s a good set to go by so everyone can have fun and stay safe at recess. In Bais Yaakov Elementary School in Baltimore, the playground is big — and these rules keep it a better place for all.
- Kids don’t push kids
- No standing or twisting
- No holding on to another swing
- Monkey Bars:
- One person at a time
- Go one direction only, or decide that each girl can go there and back
- No standing on the ladder while someone is on the bars
- No standing under the monkey bars while someone is on them
- No crossing on top of the monkey bars
- Check before going up or down that no one else is trying to go down or up
- One person at a time
- For wherever you play:
- Check for kids sitting on the bench or standing alone. Invite them to join you.
- Have fun, be mindful of others, and use kind words and actions towards everyone.
Mr. Friedman shares a funny experience: Once, a company transport truck carrying several swing-sets was driving on the highway — when a slide flew off! “Someone’s enjoying it somewhere,” he laughs.
Now that you’ve learned so much about outdoor play… What are you doing on the couch reading this Jr.? Get outside for some vitamin D and some good ol’ play!
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 778)
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