'Dumbed down' playgrounds could harm kids

By Joseph Aldridge -
Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

"Dumbed down" playgrounds designed to eliminate injuries to children may make them more dangerous by encouraging risky play, a researcher warns.

Playground researcher Dr Rebecca Sargisson said most playground injuries resulted from children using equipment in a way different from its intended use.

Children often introduced risk to their play because they were bored with the standard use of equipment, Dr Sargisson said.

A psychology lecturer at the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus, Dr Sargisson visited 56 playgrounds throughout the North Island as part of a study of playground safety and children's play preferences.

Her report, which she co-authored with her husband Dr Ian McLean, is due to be published in the academic journal Children, Youth, and Environments next year.

Dr Sargisson said she had seen children skateboard down slides, stand on see-saw seats, walk across the top bar of a swing set and climb around the outside of a bridge.

Tauranga City Council planners should consider designing challenging equipment for the playground planned for the new waterfront development, she said.

"[Children] will find their own risk so why not prepare them for that?

"The perception that an activity is safe may lead a child to take greater risks," Dr Sargisson's report concluded.

"Any further attempt to reduce injuries in playgrounds will likely be at the expense of challenging play opportunities, and risk-taking should be acknowledged as an important planned function of public playgrounds."

Dr Sargisson's research showed swings were the most popular pieces of equipment used at playgrounds, followed by roundabouts and climbing equipment. Most accidents happened on slides, usually because children were using the slide in an unintended way.

Planners should consider the direction in which slides were placed in relation to the sun, as many slides became too hot and children would not use them, Dr Sargisson said.

One way to make slides safer, without reducing the height, was to place them on hill slopes so that the distance between the slide and the ground was not too high at any point.

All in all, Dr Sargisson said Tauranga had good playgrounds.

Memorial Park was a good example of a fun playground with a mix of equipment for different levels of skill.

Bark was a better play surface than grass or concrete, however, sand would be safer and more fun for children, Dr Sargisson said.

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